BOISE, Idaho — By his estimate, Stephen Veals spent more time fishing in 2018 than many anglers spend in a lifetime.
The Boise man cast a fly every single day last year. Yep, 365 days straight.
“This was going to be the only way I’d survive 2018,” Veals, 31, wrote in a blog post chronicling the effort. “I had to just keep my mind occupied on the positive thoughts of fishing. I needed this.” The effort started off as lighthearted competition to best a fishing buddy’s goal of 75 days on the water in 2018. Slowly, it became something that buoyed Veals through a tumultuous year.
“(I thought) ‘Man, 2018’s not looking good,’ “ Veals said in an interview. “My father-in-law’s health was declining, (my wife, Laura, and I) were flying out every other week to visit.” Plus, he said, he lost his job as a videographer for a mobile accessories company, had to put down his 12-year-old yellow lab and learned the vehicle he’d driven since high school was broken beyond repair.
“Plus, for a public lands fan and advocate, it’s been a tough administration,” Veals said, referring to the Trump White House. “That was all weighing on me as I evaluated what makes me happy.” Fishing was it.
From the outset, Veals created rules: He’d have to fish a minimum of 15 minutes per day in a body of water with fish in it. As a now-freelance cinematographer, Veals is often on the road. To ensure he didn’t miss a day of fishing, he’d set a 24-hour timer from his last cast to stay consistent across time zones.
“Traveling caused the most anxiety,” he said. “I was sweating plane delays, lost luggage. That could end my streak, and it’s out of my control.” He set reminders on his phone. Sometimes he would dash out of the house late at night, trying to beat the clock and keep working towards his goal.
“I’d leave my wife on our comfy couch during a Wednesday Netflix night only to go fish right at 11:40 p.m. just so I could log a day’s fishing,” he wrote in his blog. “I’d sweat the short 5-minute drive down to the water while mentally scolding myself on how reckless I was acting by nearly forgetting to fish that day.” He fished across the country and the globe — from the Boise River to California mountains to a pond beside the Oslo Airport — trying new techniques and reeling in fish he’d never dreamed of catching.
Veals headed to Jim Schwartz’s private pond in Parma to try his hand at sturgeon fishing on a fly rod. After a three-and-a-half-hour fight, he brought in a 6-foot-6-inch fish weighing in at over 100 pounds.
In California, his search for golden trout came to an end after four years and hundreds of miles hiking along streams to outsmart the elusive fish.
“You stare at this fish in your hand and it’s like the golden ticket from Willy Wonka,” Veals said.
And on Halloween night, dressed as a 1920s butler, Veals unearthed a real monster — a 24-and-a-half-inch brown trout on the Boise River. In the stillness of the fall evening, Veals said, the fish’s thrashing sounded like whitewater rapids.
“To be able to hold up a 24-and-a-half-inch brown trout caught 5 minutes from my house is unreal,” Veals said.
That brown trout could still be in the Boise River — Veals is almost exclusively a catch-and-release fisherman who, ironically, doesn’t much enjoy the taste of fish.
While 365 days of just about anything seems like a pretty daunting task, Veals said he was surprised at how quickly a year went by.
“On day 330, I was like, ‘I don’t want this to end,’ “ Veals said.
He toyed with the idea of a 500-day challenge instead. His wife, Laura, who’d created a trophy to commemorate 365 days of angling, urged him to stick to the original goal.
“I never once was like, ‘No, he can’t do it,’ “ Laura said. “It was more, ‘How are we going to do this when things get real?’ Because we knew things were going to get real.”
It won’t surprise many anglers that Veals’ time on the water helped him feel at peace.
“Very few things I do just by myself,” he said. “I had to lean more on fishing to recharge my battery so I could support my wife.” For much of the year, the two traveled to visit Laura’s father, John Clough, who was fighting cancer. When the stress and anguish of that situation started to feel overwhelming, fishing was a way for Veals to ground himself.
“It’s an amazing stress reliever to feel the water around you, be in tune with the seasons,” Veals said. “There’s something about being connected to that natural change. You can’t help but feel humbled.” As more things went haywire through 2018, fishing was Veals’ constant. His wife said that likely helped him succeed in his goal.
“It was the one thing (he) had control over every single day,” Laura said.
Not to mention, the constant practice was starting to pay off.
“I don’t want to say I was a better angler, but it made me more willing to experiment and fail,” he said.
The 365-day challenge started as something Veals could do for himself. Soon, he found the greatest reward was to bring others along.
His uncle was beside him when he reeled in that massive sturgeon. As a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program, he took his “little brother” out to fish for the first time. And before his father-in-law died of cancer in June of 2018, Veals had taught John to fly fish on Boulder Creek near the Cloughs’ Colorado home.
“I still fished on the day my father-in-law passed away,” Veals said. “I went back to (Boulder Creek) the day of his funeral. It felt like he was looking down on me and it was a really moving experience.” Laura, who at times became frustrated with her husband’s pursuit of the challenge, eventually found it helped her carve out some personal time, too. During one fishing detour, she had a revelation.
“Instead of sitting in the car ... for 20 minutes thinking about how my dad had just died, I thought, ‘This is my space for 20 minutes,’ “ Laura said.
She got out of the car and spent the quick fishing trip stretching. Soon she began practicing yoga, and today she’s taken up aerial dancing. She doesn’t follow her husband’s every-single-day itinerary, but his spirit is part of what drives her.
“It taught me to find something for me,” Laura said.
Veals said he learned several lessons over the course of the year, but the most important was learning to make — and maintain — time for his own happiness. It’s a tenet he hopes others will aspire to.
“You can do a 365-day challenge with whatever makes you happiest,” Veals said. “Try 15 minutes a day for yourself. Day by day, you’ll be surprised at how much you accomplish.”