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Bridger-Teton National Forest ranger remembered as ‘quiet giant,’ night owl and ‘super fisherman’

Living the Wild Life

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Photos: Bill Schiess |

Death took a great friend, companion and fellow nature-lover last Sunday.

Wayne Clayton, who worked for the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Jackson for 36 years, spent his life working in nature. He was a quiet giant of a man who passed away of lingering intestinal problems for the last few years.

Wayne claimed he “had the perfect job, out in the forest, checking on guard stations, water systems, and campground facilities.” After retiring, he still spent two days each week helping the forest service with these activities for the privilege to get a spot for a trailer in a campground.

Those of you who follow this column will recall that Wayne was part of many of my outdoor activities. He was the one who taught me the fine art of catching fish on Jackson Lake. We hiked, chasing bear, elk and moose for pictures and stories.

The first time we met was in 2013 when he retired. He and his wife, Judy, moved to Rexburg and Gary Owens introduced Clayton to me as “a super fisherman who knew how to catch lake trout through the ice on Jackson Lake.” The three of us ice fished not only Jackson Lake but Henrys Lake and Ririe Reservoir many times.

One of our most memorable trips was when we had to protect our catch from the fox that tried stealing it. But my favorite fishing trip was when I took him and his niece trolling for kokanee on Ririe Reservoir. When the six-year-old got home, she announced to her mother and aunt that she had out fished the two old men. We did not argue with her.

I don’t know when Wayne became a night-owl. He hated to get up early in the mornings and I am a very early riser. When ice fishing, I usually like to be on the ice an hour before sun-up and when visiting sage grouse leks, I like to be there about 4 a.m. before the grouse fly into their drumming grounds. Wayne liked to leave home between 9 or 10.

One day I invited him to go rock hunting with me and I suggested leaving at 5.

“I can’t leave at that time because it would make me miss my dinner,” he told me.

“I mean we need to leave at 5 in the morning,” I replied.

“Bill, there is only one five o-clock in a day and that is in the evening,” he shot back.

We compromised. We usually started our trips together around 7 a.m. It worked out well enough for us, and when I wanted to be on the ice or water for the early morning bite, I went early and he and Gary would come later. One day on Ririe, I caught my limit before they got there and then, using my rods, they limited out in about a half-hour. He thought that was a perfect way to catch “little fish.”

This year we had many memorable outings as we hiked the Bear Gulch area along the snowmobile trail on the old railroad tracks. We made three trips into Yellowstone National Park and two to Jackson Hole. With Wayne’s love for those areas and his knowledge from working there for 36 years, he was able to show me many of his secret places. He even had the best and cleanest restrooms identified along our trips.

Gary and I will keep the appointment in December to go to Wayne’s favorite spot to fish on Jackson Lake, use the special jigs I tied for him, have some laughs and enjoy our memories of him. A person cannot have too many outdoor friends – especially when you are 75.