Fishing with Birdie – Coming Full Circle at the Circle Shoe Ranch
The first time Bob Peters set foot on the Circle Shoe Ranch, it was for a fishing lesson. He didn’t know it at the time – he had dropped in to visit friends Tom and Birdie Rossetter and check out their newly purchased ranch on the outskirts of Wilson, Wyoming, and had brought his fishing gear just in case. A short walk from where the main house would someday be, a path led away from the main channel of Fish Creek, over to a slow, deep, and clear side channel that would be known for years to come simply as “the Oxbow”. On this particular late August day trout were literally bubbling up all around him to feed on the PMD hatch (a type of aquatic insect). But he couldn’t catch a single one. Birdie stepped in, encouraging Bob to “mend” his fishing line a few times before she realized that he didn’t know what she meant. So she took it upon herself to teach Bob, an Iowa native accustomed to fishing in lakes and ponds, how to mend – a flick of the rod to correct the drifting line so that the fly floats naturally towards an unsuspecting trout – and he began to catch them by the droves. That day was a memorable one in a friendship between Bob and Birdie that has spanned over 35 years, with adventures, the Circle Shoe, and above all, fishing as the constants.
The Circle Shoe is at its heart a fishing ranch. On its 33 acres, the main channel of Fish Creek, the Oxbow, and a spring creek flow and create aquatic habitat for cutthroat trout and riparian habitat for a host of wildlife species. Blue herons, osprey, otters, and anglers alike can consider themselves lucky to fish at the Circle Shoe, and fishing was the main reason that drew the Rossetters to the property in 1985. They had moved to Teton Village in the late 70s from Chicago, first part-time, then permanently. Embedding themselves in community life, they made fast friends in the valley – among them a young ski guide, Bob, and his wife Ruthie. Tom was a mentor to Bob, and they spent a lot of time together, fishing, skiing, and going on adventures where they would on occasion get lost or stuck and have to find a way to extricate themselves. “Tom was one of the most fun and alive people I ever met, and I hugely admired him,” Bob remembers. As for the Circle Shoe, Bob notes with a grin, “I was down there fishing as often as they’d let me.”
When Birdie found the Circle Shoe Ranch, she fell in love with it for the creeks and the fishing they promised, but Tom thought it was too expensive. However, her persistence paid off, and as Birdie likes to tell the story, she “cried and whined until Tom gave in, and then he thanked [her] for the rest of his life.” As they lived there, they discovered how important it was for wildlife – moose, elk, deer, coyotes, osprey, herons, eagles, otters, migratory birds, and once, even a pair of orphaned mountain lion cubs. Tom was passionate about protecting the character of Jackson Hole, and became involved with the Jackson Hole Land Trust board to help with the Hardeman Barns and Meadows campaign, later serving as board president and emeritus board member. He and Birdie placed the Circle Shoe under easement with the Land Trust in 1989, the same year as the Hardeman Barns and Meadows, and the Fish Creek Ranch, their direct neighbors to the east and south. “Having the Circle Shoe and adjoining properties in easements means that the incredible views and wildlife habitat around Wilson are protected forever. This place has given me and my family so much joy over the years, and it’s deeply important to me to have been able to pass that on for the future,” reflects Birdie.
After Tom passed away in 2005, Bob became Birdie’s main fishing partner. He wanted to make sure that she was still able to get out and do what she loved, and so he makes sure they get to fish together each week that she’s here during fishing season. These days, he does the driving, scouts out friendly water for wading, occasionally ties flies on for her, and gives her a steady arm to lean on in the current. Sometimes, he even gets to remind her to mend – and that it was she who taught him to mend so many years ago. At 83, Birdie still savors the beauty of Jackson Hole, and her love of fishing, of the Circle Shoe, and of Tom remain as strong as ever.
Special thanks to Jackson Hole Land Trust Open Space Council chair Bob Peters for his contributions to this story.