Looking Ahead

Friday, August 9, 2019 - 11:06am


Natalie Pontikes


Each HFF intern came out to Ashton in June with the hopes of the next 10 weeks being remarkable and memorable. Though we each arrived with varying ideas of what to expect, we all hoped to balance work and time off to gain a holistic perspective and appreciation for the region. It is amusing to look back to June when people would throw around names like “Last Chance,” “Fun Farm,” “Big Springs,” and “The Box,” and I would have no idea where they were referring to. These locations on the Henry’s Fork have become quite familiar to me after the weeks I have spent photographing them, posting current condition reports along the river, and tagging along on field work projects (not to mention the time I have spent fishing several spots). I feel very fulfilled knowing that this region has really become “home” to me over the summer.

In addition to learning the physical characteristics of the area, I have learned an immense amount about the history of the region through readings and research for a literature review. My parents came out for a visit a few weeks ago, and I was surprised by just how much information I could share with them regarding the social, geological, and ecological history of the Henry’s Fork. From PhD students, to communications manager Jamie Laatsch, to head scientist Rob Van Kirk, the knowledge and passion that surrounds me at HFF is tremendous. I feel lucky to have been given the chance to work with so many brilliant people.

When I come out to the Greater Yellowstone Region each summer I leave home in the midwest or school in the northeast and enter a world that feels dreamlike and surreal. The weeks fly by, and I struggle to pick out individual workdays or tasks as they all seamlessly blend together into one excellent summer. I end each summer out here with a full heart, as if I pressed a reset button on my life, fulfilled with the ways in which I grew over the weeks. Driving back out east and beginning school again can be a tough transition, even after this “reset.” For the first few weeks back in the “real world” of studying, books, and full course loads, I find myself trying to relive the splendor of my summer. My friends are sure to get sick of all my talk about trout, hydrology and minimum streamflow quite quickly. It can be hard to let go of the summer bliss.


A few days ago, a dream of mine came true when Bryce Oldemeyer, manager of the South Fork Initiative project of HFF, set up an evening float for us on the incredible canyon section of the South Fork. My purpose was primarily to take scenic photographs, but I definitely did a fair amount of fishing as well. Bryce and I went out with guide Zach Peyton, and he couldn’t help himself from offering corrections and instruction throughout the float. I soon began to realize that the South Fork was kicking my butt, and my novice skills were not cutting it.


I quickly learned that I was going to have to make some adjustments to my technique on the South Fork. After fishing flows around 1000 cfs on the Henrys Fork all summer, 9000 cfs made me feel weak and timid. “This is big water, you’re going to need to mend a whole lot bigger,” Zach instructed, “You can’t be timid on a river like this.” I was messing up drift after drift, and passing excellent spot after excellent spot. I formed a habit of trying to recast behind me to get another shot at each location I messed up. “Stop living in the past, Natalie, that hole is done, you missed it,” Zach continued to remind me. 

I was grateful to get on a couple of good looking fish that evening, despite the struggle. It is a natural reaction to want to try to relive good moments, make the most out of them, or get as many chances at an opportunity as possible. Zach’s words continue to ring through my mind as my internship comes to an end. After a summer like this one, it is easy to remain wrapped up in it all long after its end when it becomes the past. I will admit that the idea of beginning my final fall semester in two weeks is a little nerve wracking. I can never be reminded enough, however, of the importance of learning from the past, but then letting it go in order to focus on applying those lessons learned to the future. I learned more than I even hoped for coming into this internship, and now the real task will be using all of those skills in the coming school year and beyond. I can also promise that if I ever get a chance to float the South Fork again, I will make sure to “mend big, set with purpose, and keep my gaze ahead,” as I was told countless times by Zach.