Meet Jackson’s own fly fisherman-foodie-journalist-politician.
// interview by jim stanford
Paul Bruun caught his first Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout on upper Flat Creek in 1969. Thus began a lifelong passion for the region’s premier native fish and eventually a guiding career that spanned 37 years on the Snake. In 1973, the Miami native moved here to become editor of the Jackson Hole Guide. Today, at age 78, Bruun is nearing 50 years of writing for Jackson Hole newspapers, mostly about fishing and food, and his “Outdoors” column still appears every other week in the News&Guide. Along the way, the “Fishin’ Politician” served 12 years on the Jackson Town Council. A Patagonia fishing ambassador and the co-creator of the South Fork Skiff, a highly mobile fiberglass craft unlike any prior float-fishing boat, Bruun was inducted into the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame in Livingston Manor, New York, in 2021, and he received the 2022 Izaak Walton Award from the American Museum of Fly Fishing for his contributions to the sport. Bruun answered some questions for Jackson Hole magazine readers.
Q: You grew up in a newspaper family, with your dad, “Big Paul,” publishing the Miami Beach Reporter. What did you learn about journalism from him?
PB: What struck me about my dad was he gave the same attention to the waiter, the bartender, the carhops, that he did to the hotel owners, the big entertainment stars, and big-time businessmen. He had time for every one of them, and he cared about every one of them. There was not a division of labor, or people. I thought, “That’s the way to treat people.”
Q: You were the first “outsider,” or non-native, elected to the Jackson Town Council. What made you think you could win?
PB: I had been going to city council meetings for years and writing about them. I also felt that if I worked harder than anyone else, I could do it. Going door to door, you learned an awful lot from people who would invite you in. You weren’t campaigning, you were learning, taking an on-street course in communities.
Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of from your time in office?
PB: The Home Ranch, Snow King Avenue, Bruun Boulevard, building the new Town Hall. These weren’t easy, and they were expensive, but we had the luxury of doing it on our own time. Also, convincing Josie Horn to donate Powderhorn Park for women’s softball and local architect Bob Corbett to design it—generous donations that have lasted.
Q: You’ve fished from Florida to the Yukon, Mexico, and Tierra del Fuego to New Zealand. What’s your favorite fish?
PB: You can’t have one answer to that—it’s like saying pick your favorite child. For cold water, fresh water, the Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat. Every time I go where they are, I am absolutely flabbergasted at how they survive the conditions they survive in. That’s a special fish. For warm water, fresh water, smallmouth bass. He’s very clever. His diet is expansive, from tiny insects up to large baits. And they are so, so strong; and they’re found in a lot of very nice places. And for salt water, the common snook. He can be found along docks and seawalls, on reefs or wrecks in the Gulf or the ocean, and he can be found in very fresh water rivers. He’s a fabulous athlete. And when they don’t want to eat, they don’t eat.
Q: Besides the outdoors, you wrote a longtime “Exit Eating” column about food. Your last supper?
PB: Stone crabs with malt vinegar, with coleslaw and hash browns.
Q: For many years you were a notorious bachelor. What was it like to find a love like Jean, who shares your passion for fishing, and get
married at age 65?
PB: Of the things I can talk about intelligently, it is by far the greatest event of my existence.
“If I have to pick a fly and my life depends on it, you can bet Jay Buchner would have tied it. It’s going to be around a long time.”
3 flies to save your life
“First and foremost is the Clouser Minnow—maybe in three colors, or three sizes.” Bruun has fished this pattern, created by Pennsylvania fly shop owner Bob Clouser, around the world. He relies on the artistry of his friend and master Jackson fly tier, Jay Buchner. “If I have to pick a fly and my life depends on it, you can bet Jay Buchner would have tied it. It’s going to be around a long time.” Tied with weighted dumbbell eyes and a bucktail body with strands of Krystal Flash, riding the hook point up, the Clouser Minnow is basically fly fishing’s version of a jig, one of the most common and versatile lures for spin casters.
Bruun recalls how Bill Mason, owner of Snug Fly Fishing in Sun Valley, Idaho, used to joke that an angler only needs one fly, a Parachute Adams—“and a pair of scissors!” At full size or when snipped, this versatile pattern, tied with a dubbed gray body of muskrat fur with a mix of grizzly and brown hackle fibers, can be an adult mayfly, caddis, midge, nymph, emerger, or wet fly. “It can be anything. It’s really a fabulous fly.” Leonard Halladay originally designed the Adams on the Boardman River in Michigan.
Rounding out Bruun’s must-haves is the Pheasant Tail Nymph, created by Frank J. Sawyer in the north country of England. Tied with wire and bits of pheasant feathers, this fly can be effective in small spring creeks and even high-altitude lakes in the Wind River Mountains, south and east of Jackson Hole, where golden trout can make an angler look foolish. “It’s not guaranteed, but it’s the next best thing. If you have to have a closer, something you have enormous confidence in, it’s like calling up Aaron Judge.”
All three patterns are available at Jackson Hole fly shops, and, with a little internet sleuthing, anglers can learn how to tie their own during the cold winter months. Fly tier Buchner has posted how-to videos on YouTube, sells custom-order flies (307/733-4944), and teaches classes in February and March at JD High Country Outfitters. Contact the store at 307/733-3270 or jdhcoutfitters.com. JH