SHIVERING JESUS


SHIVERING JESUS

By

Robert Robinson

After five months of hunkering at the house and listening to snow and sleet rattle the windows, I’m running on negative pressure.

Fly boxes are filled, rods repaired, and fly lines and reels cleaned. I start checking weather reports, looking for any break that will let me get a jump on the season. Perhaps thinking that—by sheer willpower—I can force a change in the weather. I mean, I’m ready to do some fishing, weather be damned.

Memories of those first cold, miserable days when I find myself standing on the banks of an icy stream, shivering like I’m passing a peach seed, wishing I was back at the house holding a hot cup of Irish coffee in my hands are forgotten. I try not to think about breaking through hard-crust snow and going in up to my waist. I try not to remember the throbbing joints in my hands and the brittle ache in my feet.

I pull out the cold weather gear and look through my survival kit. I restock my ruck with power bars and instant coffee, and I make sure I have three ways to start a fire. I repack the ruck with camp stove, coffee pot, tin cup, dry socks, and poncho. I sharpen my K-bar and strap it to the ruck.

The oilskin duster that I cut down into a field jacket is good to go, and leaky waders have been repaired. My buffalo hair watch cap and shamagh are right where I tossed them last spring. Then I see them, the chink in my cold-weather armor—cold-weather fishing gloves. A chill runs up my spine.

I found these medieval torture devices on the discount table at a local fly-shop/gas station/bar & grill one summer. They are made of the same space age material wetsuits are made of—rubber. Actually they call the stuff neoprene, and when I looked it up in the dictionary to get the spelling right, I discovered that they had the unmitigated gonads to mention gloves in the definition. But In that August heat, they looked like they’d be downright hot to wear. I checked the tag—MADE IN CHINA.

That next winter, when I was standing up to my waist in freezing water, wondering how many fingers I was going to lose to frostbite, I had a clear mental picture of two Chinamen slapping each other on the back and yukking it up on their way to the bank: “Cold-weather fishing gloves . . . haw, haw, hawwwwwww!”

Designed with anglers in mind, they fit tight, and the thumbs and forefingers can be folded back and held “out of the way” with Velcro—to facilitate tying on tippet and flies and stripping line, I presume. But the only thing I found I could consistently do well with the gloves on was soil my pants.

The instructions said to wet your hands before putting the gloves on. Right. I’m supposed to stick my hands—hands already frozen from rigging up a fly rod and pulling on waders—into ice cold water, trusting that Chinese rubber gloves will somehow miraculously generate heat. Okay, I can see where a layer of ice between your fingers and the rubber might act as insulation.

I never came up with the intestinal fortitude to do that. You’d stand a better chance of getting your picture taken shaking hands with the Pope than you would of getting me to stick my hands into icy water after I’ve been fumbling with tippets and #20 Griffith’s Gnats in below freezing conditions. But I did wet my hands once, when the Velcro—which adheres well to tippet material and snags, snags, snags on anything else within a ten-foot radius—got hung up in my shorts while I was digging through three-inches of clothes and cursing cold-weather shrinkage during an emergency.

My exposed fingers got so cold I had to constantly look down to see if I was holding the fly line or if my fingers had snapped off. My hands got what my father would have described as cold as a well digger’s ass, or cold as a witch’s teat. I have no experience with either of those. I call it “shivering Jesus” cold—because all I could do was stand there shivering and hollering, “JESUS!”

My hands got so cold that I stopped fishing, started a fire, and put on a pot of coffee. I held the hot tin cup in my hands until the rubber softened and homogeneously bonded to the palms of my hands. Hair and lint stuck to my hands like poop to a blanket for weeks. And I began thirsting to whip somebody’s ass.

The more I stared at the cold-weather fishing gloves, the more my eagerness to get an early start on the fishing season and test my arctic survival skills weakened. Staying holed up at the house for a couple of more weeks, holding a nice hot cup of Irish coffee in my hands, and waiting for better weather seemed like a good idea. Actually, it seemed like a damn good idea.

So when my buddy called to see if I wanted to head up on the mountain and get a jump on fishing season, I told him I’d love to but something had come up; however, in an effort to ensure the success of his expedition and add to his fishing enjoyment, I sold him the cold-weather fishing gloves—at a modest profit, of course.

“Don’t forget to wet your hands before you put the gloves on,” I told him as he pulled out of my driveway.

“Huh?”

“Haw, haw, hawwwwwww!”

© Robert Robinson 2017 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

COOPER’S CREEK


Author’s note: I hope everybody had a good Thanksgiving.

With the current political climate, I thought I’d pass along some advice my father gave me: “Never talk politics at the dinner table. Take it outside where there’s room to talk. And when you’re feelin’ for the other fella’s eyeball, don’t get careless and let him chaw your ear off.”

 

COOPER’S CREEK

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,181

I made my bones on Cooper’s Creek. It’s a trout stream in the North Georgia Mountains, a marvelous, clear running, cobblestone bottomed creek lined with mountain laurel and pine.  I’d disappear there for weeks at a time, living on hoecakes washed down with Guinness and Bushmills. I remember afternoon thunderstorms and lying in my tent, listening to the rain’s cadence on the roof, and reading a good book—very pleasant. Thirty years ago, when I fished and camped there regularly, it was undeveloped. I hear that has sadly changed.

I don’t remember running into other fly fishers. The people who fished there were mountain folk, fishing with corn and worms—sometimes doing so with an old fly rod and automatic reel. They followed the hatchery trucks to the creek every spring, harvesting the little browns the same way they harvested wild berries on the ridges above the creek—when they were in season.

I was a novice fly-fisher then. It took a while, but I managed to acquire the requisite fly fishing equipment that set me apart from the local yokels. Armed with the best in sporting equipment—and an unhealthy holier-than-thou attitude—I started looking down my nose at these simple mountain folk. I was a catch & release fly-fisherman, a cut above, marching through the land in indignation. And discounting the fact that I’d been a sailor in my youth, I felt I held the moral high ground.

I had no legitimate reason to think I was better than these simple people. I’d come from a long line of hillbillies who’d fled an uncertain mountain life for steady work in the glass factories in Indiana. My people had been out of the mountains long enough that when we spoke of hillbillies, we were speaking of the others. But these people were my people: Scotch-Irish, always willing to fight the rich man’s wars, ever looking to escape hardscrabble lives.

The fish I caught were nine-to-twelve inch stockers. So it wasn’t long before I started thinking about the headwaters. I wanted to get away from hatchery-truck stalkers, do some exploring, and catch bigger fish. I thought if I could get into the headwaters I’d find fish that had somehow managed to escape the frying pan, fish that had wintered over, eked out a living, and become wild.

I went up the creek until the fisherman’s path petered out and I was sure I had the place to myself. So I was surprised when I ran into an old corn soaker and his wife. They must have been in their seventies. He was sitting on the bank with his pant leg rolled up. His old, light blue work shirt—frayed at the collar, buttons missing from the cuffs—was stretched tight over his midsection. A greasy ball cap with an unreadable logo sat on the back of his head. The old woman, dressed in faded Levies and sweat shirt, was pouring cold creek water on his badly skinned shin.

He told me he’d just taken a bad fall. I asked if he needed help getting out of there but he said he reckoned they could manage. “This ain’t the first time I’ve limped out of here,” he said. “Them rocks is slick as a gut.”

As I watched the old gal bathe his ugly wound, he told me they came up there every year looking for the “big uns.” His cloudy eyes lit up as he talked of the fish he’d caught there over the years. He smiled a toothless grin and I could see his excitement was still there.

They had all the equipment they needed: cane poles, well-worn coffee can for worms, old Styrofoam cooler for their drinks and lunch. I felt self-conscious and out of place in my new “Joe Orvis” fishing gear.

I could see the old woman was getting their lunch ready, and I was about to be on my way when she handed me a plate loaded down with an egg sandwich, potato salad, and pickled okra. After lunch the old woman shoved a cathead biscuit piled with country ham and wrapped in a paper towel into my hand.

As I took my leave, the old man told me to watch out for a hornet’s nest—“big as a jug”—hanging in a tree over the creek. “They’ll cover you up,” he warned.

Before I was out of earshot, I heard the old woman say something and the old man reply, “It’s one of them fancy rods.” I smiled and thought, “Yeah, I’m a fancy son-of-a-bitch alright.”

I fished up the creek keeping an eye peeled for the Hornet’s nest, but not spotting it. I figured I’d gotten passed where the old couple had saw the wasp’s nest when I got my fly hung in a Laurel. By pulling the lower branches down and grabbing the next higher ones, I was able to work my fly down within reach and retrieve it. I sat down on a rock to rebuild my leader, tie the fly back on, and smoke a cigarette. I was about to get up and start fishing when I happened to look up, and there it was, big as a gallon jug, hanging right over my head. I slowly backed away and, giving the nest a wide berth, headed on up the creek.

I hiked until I came to a deep pool, the kind where your vision fades to black when you look for the bottom, the kind that would allow a trout to hide from corn soakers and worm drowners. I drifted my fly through and got a good rise, but failed to set the hook. I tried a few more times with no luck. I sat down and tied on another fly and waited about twenty minutes and tried again with the same result. I repeated the process. On my fourth try I set the hook and landed a fourteen-inch brookie. I’d never caught anything but stocker browns, so I took a piece of cardboard out of my pack, traced the fish on it, and released the fish back into the pool—I think I still have the tracing somewhere.

I sat down on a log quite satisfied with myself and pulled out the old woman’s biscuit. I hadn’t tasted a biscuit that good since my mother died. And why not? They were probably made from the same handed-down recipe.

I thought about the old couple. We were after the same things: solitude, adventure, bigger fish. They fished in their work clothes because that was all they had. They kept everything they caught because they needed to. They fished the way their fathers had, and I found no harm in that—or in them.

It’s been thirty years since I fished Cooper’s Creek. I left it behind when I moved west in search of wild cutthroats. But I didn’t leave my hillbilly roots behind. I still miss Mom’s cathead biscuits—and I still know what a croker sack full of lighter knots is.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

TEQUILA SUNRISE


 

TEQUILA SUNRISE

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 902

Cutthroat trout are as sure a sign you’re in the Wild West as the smell of Copenhagen on a cowgirl’s breath. Cutthroats hold a special place in the hearts of western fly-fishers. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t go out of the way to fish a stream purported to hold a population of cutts. In my mind, streams are automatically elevated in status from trout stream to blue-ribbon trout stream when cutts are found there. I don’t presume to know what God was thinking when he created them, but I know he was having a good day.

I can imagine the delight he took choosing their dazzling colors, the care he took fashioning their delicate environment. Even the flies upon which it feeds are fragile creatures, beginning life as unassuming larva, changing at the moment of their most spectacular interaction with the trout into benign beings of color and light designed to mate, and then die in a state of sexual exhaustion. For me, catching just one cutt, even if it’s the only fish caught that day, means I’m having a good day. They leave me with a sense of pristine wilderness, a sense that all is right in the world, a sense of wonder for their mysteries.

All trout are remarkably colored, but cutthroats are truly a delight to behold—they never fail to bring a smile to my face. I believe most art to be feeble attempts to interpret the natural beauty around us, and I’ve seen artist’s renderings of cutthroats, but they fall short of my memory of them. When I have one in my hand, I could look at them for hours, but I get them back into the water as quickly as I can, so my mental picture of them is an accumulation of quick glimpses gathered over time: from the crimson slash under the rosy gill plates, which gives it its name, to the clean white underbelly that seamlessly transcends into a subtle mix of yellow, orange, pink, and bronze, forming a color that has no name, reminding me of a tequila sunrise.

Some anglers consider the cutthroat a dumb fish because of the supposed ease with which they are caught. I haven’t noticed them being any easier to catch than other trout; besides, any attempt to quantify levels of intelligence by fishermen must be viewed as presumptuous.

Survival is a full time job in the cutthroat’s environs and involves risk taking. They’re less nocturnal than most trout. They live in high-country streams where summers are short and winters are long and brutal. The time they have to fatten up for those long winters—when valleys quietly fill with snow, creeks freeze to a trickle, and trout retreat to deep pools to lie in a state of suspended animation—is short. Every opportunity to feed must be taken. I believe it’s this urgency that makes them take a dry fly with savage abandon.

Most of the time I mechanically work the water, casting to likely holds, hoping for a rise. But when I come across a pod of rising cutthroats, I sit and watch—rebuilding tippet and tying on another fly with shaking hands—until I think I’ve found their rhythm. My heart beats fast as I cast to the risers and watch my fly tip into a feeding lane, and by the time the fly is over the fish, I’m so keyed up I often jerk the fly from its mouth. It’s hard to let the fish take the fly and make its turn, but when I get it right, I become part of a beautiful scene: I’m holding a trembling bamboo rod against a backdrop of blue sage, and when the fish jumps, glittering prisms explode as the sun flashes off its wet, iridescent skin. The problems I woke up with are, for the moment, gone, and nothing matters but landing the fish.

I use barbless hooks, or mash the barb on barbed hooks. This cuts down on the panic I feel during the release. Most of the time the fish slips off on its final flip at my feet. And that’s good; I don’t have to handle them—I’m not worthy, anyway. Holding a pulsing cutthroat, working the hook from its jaw, I feel guilty. When releasing them, I catch myself commenting on their vivid colors, telling them how glad I am to see them—apologizing for the intrusion. Watching it move slowly away hugging the bottom, I feel part of my soul escaping with it.

There’s a stream where I frequently catch Cutts over twenty-inches. It’s closed to fishing for six-months a year for spawning. Opening day is a cluster.

An infestation of worm-drowning, corn-soaking, spinner-slinging Huns—the kinds of people mothers only love out of instinct or a sense of duty—descends on the creek.

I never go on opening day. By the time I get there, gut piles, fish heads, and ass-wipes line the banks of the bend pools, and the reasons I seek the cutthroat’s environs are gone.

Mostly I go to see if there are any survivors. After I’ve caught a couple, I start wondering what the point would be to catch more. After all, any season is a good season when you’ve caught a couple of twenty-inch-plus cutts. And for me, the satisfaction is in knowing they’re still there.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHO GOOSED THE MOOSE?


Who Goosed the Moose?

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,195

Moose attacks are rarely fatal, but moose attack more people than bears and wolves combined. Having seen film clips of these attacks, I give moose a wide berth when I run up on them. The spooky thing about moose is they seem overly interested in human activity. I had one follow me one afternoon, moving when I moved, keeping the same distance, watching me fish till I got the willies and called it a day.

When I come on moose standing in the middle of the road, having heard stories of them charging vehicles that honk their horns or get too close, I stop well back from them and just wait for them to move on. With Utah home to the southernmost herd of moose on the North American continent, sightings of these magnificent animals are common in the back country. Every high-country cowboy I know has a moose story. I’m no exception.

***

Arriving at my campsite too late to fish, I used the remaining daylight to pitch my tent, dig a fire pit, and gather wood for a fire.

Campfires fascinate me. I believe they are the perfect medium for contemplation, reflection, and innovation. I think some of humanity’s greatest ideas were first formed by somebody staring blankly into a campfire—“You know what? Naked sucks. Let’s start wearing hides tomorrow.”

Late that night, sipping whiskey from a tin cup, staring blankly into the campfire, and not coming up with any great ideas, I heard something moving in my direction through the brush. I banged my cup on a rock, and it took off uttering a high-pitched, bird-like coo. I couldn’t fathom what would make such a sound; however, the noise it made crashing through the brush told me it was big, whatever it was. This was repeated three more times. After not hearing anything for a while and thinking I’d succeeded in discouraging whatever it was, I crawled into my tent and went to sleep.

The next morning, enjoying the warmth of my sleeping bag in the predawn light and thinking about starting a fire and building a pot of coffee, I heard heavy footsteps just outside the tent. I’d seen cattle in the area and assumed it was a cow moving through camp. I rolled over and, peeking through the tent flap, saw a bull moose standing close enough I could have reached out and touched him.

I figured this must be what had tried getting into camp the night before. Being keenly aware that lying prone at the hooves of this massive animal wasn’t the safest place to be, I stayed quiet and watched as he moved to the fire-pit and sniffed my camp chair. He then walked over and stuck his head into the bed of my truck. After sniffing and snorting a few times, he moved off in the direction of the creek. That’s when I remembered to breathe. I waited until I could no longer hear him before crawling out of the tent.

He’d crossed the creek and was standing head and shoulders above the thick willows about a hundred yards away. I was clearly visible to him, but he seemed satisfied with his investigation of me and the camp and appeared to take no further interest, so I coaxed the fire back to life and put on that pot of coffee.

I was leaning against the fender of the truck sipping coffee and watching the moose brows on the tinder willows when I spotted two moose cows heading up the creek in his direction. One of the cows stopped and was watching me, but the other one seemed intent on catching up to the bull. When she was about twenty-five yards from him, kinetic power rippled over his chest and shoulders and he lowered his head and charged. His antlers scythed through the willows with the sound of rushing wind. Clearly, he wasn’t interested in female companionship. My heart went out to him; I’ve been known to show females the gate myself—just not with his style and the absence of paperwork.

The speed and ease with which he knifed through that thick undergrowth was most impressive. I could see I’d be a goner should one of these beasts charge me. There’s really no way a puny human can get away from them in their element. I looked at the single-action .44 mag. on my hip and realized it was a placebo; I’d never clear leather, let alone get a shot off. I still carry heat in the backcountry, but it’s more so I can put myself out of my misery should I get stomped or gored than for protection.

The rebuked cow hightailed it—literally—down the middle of the creek and disappeared around a bend. The bull, satisfied his point had been made, marked the spot and moseyed off in the opposite direction.

I was heading back to the fire for another cup of coffee when a moose calf hopped out of the willows about twenty feet from me. It was leaping and frolicking around and hadn’t noticed me, so I began rapping my tin cup on the bumper of the truck to get its attention and scare it away. That worked. The calf shot back into the undergrowth, but moments later mom showed up and stuck her head out of the willows to give me the hairy eyeball. Deciding I posed no threat, she turned and faded into the willows. One second she was there, the next second she was gone so completely I wondered if she’d been there at all.

With all the moose activity along the creek, I decided to take my time making breakfast and put off fishing until things died down a bit. That afternoon I made my way down the creek to a beaver pond I wanted to fish.

The thick willows lining the creek forced me to wade down the center of the stream, so when I got to the pond, I sat down on the bank to give the fish time to settle and start feeding again before fishing my way back to camp. I was about to start fishing when I noticed a beaver swimming back and forth in front of the dam. Not wanting the beaver to see me and sound the alarm by slapping its tail on the water and spooking the fish, I made myself small and watched it for several minutes before realizing there was a moose cow standing on top of the dam watching me. I’d been so focused on the beaver that I hadn’t noticed it. I slowly backed away until I thought I’d put the proper distance between me and the moose and fished my way back to camp. That morning I spotted six moose in and around camp. I camped there two more days without seeing another moose.

When I thought back on how close I’d been to that bull moose, on how vulnerable I’d been lying at its feet, I wasn’t sure if I’d been lucky or unlucky, cursed or blessed. I finally went with blessed.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

TRAILS


 

 

TRAILS

BY

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,032

I’m not a because-it’s-there hiker. I hike trails for a reason—fishing.

Some trails are old friends, and I know every bend and rise. Others are infrequently traveled, and, occasionally, some are new and exciting. I like the confidence of a new trailhead, before the uncertainty of the hike and the fatigue at its conclusion.

Tracks on the trail tell me all I need to know, like who’s here, who’s been here, what the weather’s been like, and which way to go at the fork—the other way. Smooth footprints belong to fly-fishers—old-timers still bitterly clinging to their felt-soled waders. Patagonia’s distinctive tread belongs to wet waders, and road apples and hoofprints are left by elk hunters scouting the fall hunt.

Sometimes a trail is blocked by downed trees or rockslides, forcing you to blaze a new trail. You think about going back for the axe in the bed of the truck and wonder if it’s worth the hump. It usually isn’t.

Some trails peter out on hillsides leaving you ledged up with no way to go but straight down. And some vanish on scree-strewn slopes and you have to decide if the destination is worth the risk—it usually is.

I bet I’m a real pain in the ass to hike and fish with now; I’ve heard rumors it wasn’t all that in the first place. I can’t push to the top like I used to. I sometimes have to stop, take aspirin, and wait for the pain in my chest to subside. I haven’t used the nitroglycerin pills yet. I’m too far from civilization to use them, as I’m unable to follow the second step of the instructions for their use—dial 911.

On steep climbs I have to stop every five minutes to get my breath and let my heartrate go down. I don’t mind. It gives me a chance to look around. I see in greater detail now. I’ve already seen a chipmunk and lizard that I’d’ve missed last year. The lizard bobs, checking the world out with a high-low visual.

I approach nature with more thought and patience, but only because I have to. Otherwise I’d still be moving fast, head down, ass up, face set in a determined grimace. I no longer observe the yearly ritual of keeping a few fish to remind myself of the original purpose of fly-fishing. (In some circles, that alone plants me firmly in camp with the highly condensed Pains in the ass.) Anyway, I’m not sure I have time to be screwing around like that. You Know. I don’t want to show up at my next gig with shit on my hat.

When I finally get to the creek, I spend as much time resting as I do fishing. But that has its rewards—I catch fewer but bigger fish now that I’m not churning up the creek in a mad dash to nowhere. I doubt I’ll be able to sell anybody on my new modus operandi, though.

It’s mid-summer, and long grasses are turning brown. Some wildflowers have gone to seed, others are just starting to bloom. The aquamarine slopes are covered in blue sage, and the smoky tree line is a mix of the soft green of aspen and the hard green of pine. I stop, pull leaves off sage, roll them in my hands, hold them to my nose; it’s the freshest smell in nature. I rub some on sunburned lips. (It’s not good for sunburned lips—I just want to taste it.)

A robin hops along in front of me keeping 10- to 15-yards ahead. When I stop to lean on my stick and get my breath, he waits for me. He stays with me for over a mile until we reach a fork in the trail where I head downstream and he heads up. He stops and looks back, waiting on me. I wave to him and thank him for his company. I’ve hiked with less companionable trail mates. I’m sorry our paths diverged. I hope I’ll see him again on the way out. Thanks to him I’ll remember this trail.

Trails are memorable for any number of reasons. Once remembered they’re mine, and I travel them anytime I want . . . in my mind. Next winter, when rumors of remote-cabin ax murders are whispered through the frozen valley, I’ll hike this sun-bathed summer trail again with my friendly escort.

I can see the creek below me now. This stretch looks promising—sun sparkled riffs, shadowy, mysterious bend pools. I’m breathing hard from the climb and wonder if I’ll be like Moses—allowed to see the Promised Land . . . but not allowed to get there. I’m down with it. I don’t have a choice, having reached an age where early-morning hours are spent trying to do yourself a solid—there’s the way things should be, then there’s the way things are. Most of the time they’re not the same.

I scan the sky for thunderheads and the water ahead to judge flow. The deep snowbanks that highlighted the ridges until the fourth of July are gone, and the water runs clear after the melt. I read the fast water for feeding lanes and study a beaver pond, hoping for the ring of a rise. I’ve been accused of watching for a rise in mud puddles. What can I say? I’m a fly-fisherman: in deception lies victory; in rhythm, harmony; in water, life.  I’ll check the beaver dam for hiking sticks on the way out. I give them away. People genuinely seem to like them. The beaver cuts have chew marks on the big ends and are always the perfect length. How do they know?

The creek reflects a cloudless sky before plunging into a narrow canyon, a deep cut   with sheer cliffs on each side. I can see whitewater below, leaping, frothing, and boiling into a glittering wall of sound. I’ll make a crossing to the trail that bypasses the rocky walls of the gorge and skirt the rim of the little narrows to the waterfall . . . there’s a trail I remember there.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

FIDDLER’S GREEN


Fiddler’s Green

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 836

 

“Now Fiddler’s Green is the place I’ve heard tell”

                  “Where fisherman go if they don’t go to hell.” 

    

Standing knee deep in a fast flowing creek at the bottom of a wind scoured canyon, mechanically casting to bright cutthroats rising to an early hatch, hoping to hold one in my hand just to see the colors, I remember God is life and feel guilty.

But if God is life, are the cutthroat trout I love to catch God? When I’m holding one in my hand, am I holding God? Would He put these wonderful creatures here just for me to play with? And what gives me the right to do that? Then again, maybe He wants me to get a closer look at one of the most spectacular examples of His handiwork. I don’t like to think too much about it. I feel bad enough as it is—especially when I occasionally roll God in cornmeal and fry Him in bacon grease. I know; that’s just wrong.

Job was told to look to nature for evidence of God—wind, water, morning light . . . treasures of snow, every green thing, life. I, too, was stubborn and had to be smacked in the face by nature’s beauty and humbled by its enormity to be convinced. I was. When the long, purple shadows of afternoon leave me sated, as if I’m in the only place on earth that matters, the only place I should be, I think I’m glimpsing heaven.

I wonder if atheists, while not believing in God or heaven, believe in an afterlife, and I wonder if those glimpses of heaven I catch in the high country are its reality. While I, myself, believe in an afterlife, what I don’t believe in is an afterlife where I don’t have a say in how it’s set up. That would be somebody else’s afterlife. And while I may’ve caught glimpses of heaven in the mountains (and one night in a cathouse in Nevada), there are a few things I’d get straight. First, if I’m setting up an afterlife, I’ll be by God fly-fishing and catching cutthroat trout.

There will be restaurants at the mouth of every canyon, serving heart-healthy breakfasts of greasy bacon & eggs, hash browns, and sourdough bread.

Mountains will be snowcapped, outlined by cold blue skies and cottony clouds. And it will always be summer . . . with the colors of fall. Aspens will shimmer in lucent yellows, forest greens, and burnt oranges. Firs will be living green, and gone will be the rusty browns and muting grays of the beetle killed. Slopes will be covered with summer’s wildflowers in bloom and dotted with fall’s scrub oaks in vivid reds.

Streams will run clear over cobblestoned bottoms where footing is sure. They’ll be filled with sixteen to twenty-inch cutthroats in spawning colors. And they’ll be just hard enough to catch to make it interesting. The banks will be lined with mermaids calling out encouragement, clapping at my delicate casts, and commenting on my fishing prowess.

The pine-scented air will have the hint of fall, and I’ll have the taste of crisp, cold apples in my mouth. Good sitting rocks and logs will be strategically placed alongside fountains of Kentucky Bourbon. The whiskey will make me happy, never drunk . . . and be good for my liver.

I’ll never get wind knots, my tippet will never need changing, and my flies will ride high and dry and never need dressing. The wind will never be strong enough to hinder casting, and the rain never hard enough to put the fish down. Mayfly wings will sparkle in the sun, and hatches will be constant and constantly changing—an Adams always the perfect choice.

There’ll be no litter—empty beer cans, spinner packages, and worm containers—to spoil the view. But more importantly, there’ll be no crowds of anglers—bait fishers, hardware slingers, and treble-hook dredgers of uncertain ancestry—to spoil the fishing.

My fishing partner will be breathtakingly beautiful, tie her own flies, build a great bamboo fly rod, and make damn good biscuits. And she’ll be just sleazy enough to make it interesting. We’ll weave wildflowers in our hair, rub juniper berries on our lips, and hummingbirds will rest on our shoulders . . . and we’ll both be young.

There really isn’t anyone I’ve met in this life that I’d care to hang with for eternity, but there are a few good dogs I’d like to see again. I’ve never figured out why dogs don’t have a lifespan closer to their human companions, or vice versa. I’d take the hit. There have been times when I thought ten to twelve-years would’ve been more than enough for me; it’s pretty much been downhill since I was thirteen. All the good dogs I’ve owned will be in my afterlife, and they’ll be able to talk—I just hope they’re not talking about how hot it is.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

BOOK OF ESSAYS PUBLISHED


There’s nothing that turns me off more than going to a blog and discovering that it’s all about self-promoting somebody’s book. Yet here I am self-promoting a collection of essays I just published. By my calculations, I’ve less than a dozen loyal readers, so I will only bother you this one time.

I just published a collection of essays titled “Rocky Mountain Pastels.” It’s available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Rocky+Mountain+Pastels+by+Robert+Robinson

I would appreciate your support. Thank you.

 

Please forgive the intrusion. Rob

UNFORGIVING COUNTRY


UNFORGIVING COUNTRY

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,459

 

The Mountain West is a hard, unforgiving country. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security by its disarming beauty. How could anything bad happen in the midst of these majestic mountains? I often find myself in remote canyons marveling at this stunning, wild land, giving no thought to the many ways these mountains claim lives. But spring runoffs can trap you for days; rock slides tumble without warning; summer’s flash floods riot through slot canyons without a cloud in the sky; winter’s avalanches whisper down slopes, flattening and covering everything in their path; and unpredictable mountain weather can surprise and kill at any time of the year. But I hear the mountains’ siren call and go, giving little thought to their dangers.

Twenty-one people lost their lives to flash flooding in Utah last year—in one day. There were others lost: some fell off trails, some became lost and died of hypothermia, some were killed in back-country avalanches, and at least one I know of walked into the high country and just disappeared (those are the ones I envy). To walk into majestic beauty and disappear, become a permanent part of the country I love, fade into a mystery. What could be better than that?

The mountains hide their mysteries, like Everett Ruess, who in 1934 went in fully equipped with two mules and all the gear never to be seen again. They found the mules and gear, but they never found him. He loved the country he wrote about—loved it, walked into it, and became permanently part of it.

I like to think I’m prepared to survive the high country when I’m up there, but there’s really no way to be totally prepared. When the mountains claim lives it’s always sudden, and nature’s awesome power seems inevitable, as if it’s your destiny.

Surprisingly, flash floods aren’t the number one killer in the backcountry. That designation goes to gravity through falls and avalanches (40%). I would have thought lightning the number one killer, as that’s what I see the most of and what gives me the greatest concern. But death in the backcountry mostly boils down to unfamiliarity with the country (which leads to unpreparedness), stupidity (nature has a way of culling the stupid), and bad juju (being in the wrong place at the wrong time). While only 1% of backcountry fatalities are due to animal attacks, bears do take a few here and there—about one every five- to seven-years nationwide. The bear population in Utah has doubled in the last 15 years, going from 2,000- to 4,100, so the number of bear encounters will likely go up. It’s been a while since a fatal bear encounter in Utah, but not that long sense a mauling. It’s hard to know who’s at fault when it happens. Last year 91 bears were euthanized for aggressive behavior—no humans were put down for stupidity, as far as I know.

I don’t know anybody who doesn’t get the bear boogers from time to time in the backcountry—that feeling that something’s watching you. The good news is bears usually un-ass the area if they know you’re around—what’s watching you is probably just a mountain lion. They don’t run away; they hide and watch. I ran into a sport from California at the fly-shop who thought what was needed was a bear repellant similar to mosquito repellant that you could just smear on and be good to go. I told him there was some stuff called bacon grease . . . but it only worked on people from California and New York City.

Although I’ve camped and fished in bear country for over thirty years, I’ve only seen three bears in the wild. One crossed the road in front of me when I was on my way to go fishing and camping and I had to slow down to keep from hitting it. It was a huge cinnamon colored black bear that went from ambling along fat, dumb, and happy to an impressive burst of speed that demonstrated, indeed, there’d be no outrunning a bear if one was after you. I knew that area had a substantial bear population from the many bear encounters I’d heard about over the years. One incident in particular stuck with me, as when it happened I was sleeping under the stars in my bedroll just a few miles away.

A bear broke into a camper shell, grabbed a twelve-year-old girl, and was dragging her off when her grandfather managed to beat it off with a flashlight. I learned later that she’d went to sleep with chips and snacks in her sleeping bag, which is always a bad idea in bear country—unless you’re from California or New York City.

Last spring, I topped out on a rise and spotted a bear hauling ass up the opposite ridge—nothing runs like that but a bear. The speed and ease with which that bear navigated that steep slope was impressive, and I was glad it was headed the other way.

Another time I was driving up a road that parallels a river I regularly fish and came up on a guy and two children approaching a bear that was busy devouring a road-kill deer. The Guy and his children were within twenty-foot of the bear. The guy was snapping pictures and encouraging the children to stand closer. The bear was totally focused on what it was doing and unaware of the spectators. It reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw that read, “Stupid kills, but not enough to really help.”

The high foreheads say we don’t have grizzlies in Utah, but they have them in Wyoming and Idaho, so I’m left to assume they stop and turn around at the state line. And we all know what happens when we assume.

I spent one summer in Wyoming fishing an area known for its grizzly population and found the blasé attitudes of the locals interesting. A rouge bear was killing cattle in the area, and the local newspaper had a contest—“Name the cow killing bear.” That fall a local bow hunter was mauled and chased up a tree by the bear.

I was fishing a small creek in the mountains above Star Valley, Wyoming that was loaded with twelve- to fourteen-inch brookies and had decided to keep three or four for supper. I’d forgotten my creel and was just tapping them on the head and dropping them into the leg of my hip waders. I ran into another fisherman coming from the opposite direction who asked, “Did you see those bears?”

“What bears?”

“A sow and two cubs just crossed the creek right behind you.”

“Cool,” I replied.

I started to head on up the creek when I remembered the dead fish stuffed inside my waders. I was a walking fish Taco. I decided to get my fish smellin’ ass back to the truck most ricky tick. My pucker factor was off the scale as I made my way back, and I wondered just how much stupid a guy could get away with before it did kill.

On one drainage I fished that summer, I ran into a wild-eyed fisherman who was babbling about a bear chasing a yearling deer right through his camp, which gave me the boogers for the rest of the day.

The more you learn about bear attacks the easier it is to booger yourself. For instance, most people are attacked from behind after being stalked and never know the bear is there—comforting to think about when you’re hiking down a trail. And bears don’t lumber through the woods like drunken sailors. They move silent and cat-like—especially when they’re stalking. Again, tidings of comfort and joy. If you frequent bear country, the best thing you can do is embrace the old maxim—sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you.

The forest service thoughtfully puts up notices informing the public that they are in bear country. I hadn’t paid much attention to them—I already knew I was in bear country. I figured they just passed on the most basic of information like, “This is moose country. Don’t you eat that yellow snow!”

Once, when I stopped to use the last facilities between me and the howling wilderness, I found one of these notices tacked to the door of the shitter declaring this bear country and warning menstruating women to be especially weary. I’d never given that much thought until then, but I could see the hand of God at work. I started thinking I should’ve done more camping when I was married.

 

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

STUFF


STUFF

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,177

If you’re new to fly-fishing, the first thing you need to wrap your head around is you need lots of stuff. And to be successful, you need to spend as much money as financially possible on this stuff. A lack of stuff leads to feelings of inadequacy on the stream that extends beyond fly-fishing into your personal life. This will be made clear to you by the proprietor of your local fly shop.

They have lots of stuff at the fly shop, and all of it is essential for fishing success and creating the image that must be projected on the stream, the image you have in your head of what a fly-fisherman is supposed to look like—tweed jacket, floppy hat, wicker creel, bamboo rod, waders, and fishing vest.

The first thing you need to purchase—even before a rod—is the fishing vest. You need the vest because it has lots of pockets for stuff; it has pockets in front, pockets in back, hidden pockets, side pockets, and inside pockets all of which, regardless of the financial pain, must be filled with stuff. Do not concern yourself that  in your ignorance you’ll purchase too much stuff—between the pockets are hooks and tabs from which to hang the stuff that won’t fit in the pockets. Remember, just as there’s no such thing as enough money; there’s no such thing as enough stuff. The owner of the fly shop will gently guide you through the selection process.

The most important thing you will learn from the fly-shop proprietor is if you are not catching fish, if you are not catching big fish, if you are not catching lots of big fish, you either don’t have enough stuff, or you don’t have the right stuff. You’ve heard of the right stuff, they even made a movie about it, but they got it wrong or something because there wasn’t a thing in the movie about fly-fishing. The right stuff is, of course, the stuff you don’t have. At some point, the proprietor of your local fly shop will reveal to you the cosmic law of stuff—the more expensive the stuff, the better the stuff.

You’ll need the stuff you are going to use . . . and backup stuff in case you lose stuff. And all this stuff must be changed out with new stuff periodically. Eventually, your weekly trip to the fly shop on payday will become a sacred ritual, the fly shop your holy of holies, and the guy behind the counter full of stuff your personal holy-man. His declaration, “I’ve got just what you need right over here” will become your mantra, and should you unwisely leave the shop without buying the stuff he suggests, it will burden your soul day and night, haunting your dreams until you go back and do the right thing and buy the right stuff.

You will never be able to have all the stuff you want or need, nor will you be able to explain or justify your thirst for stuff. People will tell you that you can’t take your stuff with you when you tip over. But that’s not true. This will become clear to you when you start thinking about who to leave your stuff to—certainly not your son (the one who finds self-expression through sleeping on his mother’s couch and night-shitting his ex-wife’s porch), and not your grandson (the one with the pink Mohawk, eyebrow ring, and tattoo of Chaz Bono on his butt cheek). You will make arrangements with your holy man to have your stuff cremated with you and scattered in a secret, sacred setting—in the alley behind the fly shop.

Significant others will mumble under their breath against you and your stuff, going so far as to claim you’re spending too much on stuff; this, of course, is nonsense—you must never allow anyone or anything to come between you and your stuff.

One of the coolest things about fly-fishing stuff is it’s seasonal—you’ve got your spring stuff, summer stuff, fall stuff, and winter stuff. Fly-fishing stuff is geographic, as well—there’s your lake stuff, reservoir stuff, tail-water stuff, river stuff, creek stuff, and crick stuff. There’s even stuff to make more stuff (yes, you can make your own stuff, but for that you need the stuff to make stuff with). Then there’s task-specific Stuff.

You’ll need dry-fly stuff and nymphing stuff, stuff for fishing from the bank and stuff for fishing from a boat, and you’ll need stuff for fishing from a float-tube and all the stuff for that. There’s no chance of running out of stuff you need. There are legions of Chinese children laboring away night and day manufacturing more stuff at this very moment.

You’ll need stuff to wear while you’re fishing, as well. The stuff you wear must reflect your status as a fly fisher. And have lots of pockets for you to put stuff in. Fishing apparel is seasonal and geographic as well—there’s really no end to it.

Eventually, you’ll need an extra room for your stuff, a place where you can lay it all out on the floor and look at it, touch it, hold it, admire it, get naked and lay in it. You will lock this room . . . because you don’t want people touching your stuff . . . because it’s yours . . . all yours.

Instead of fishing, you’re prime motivation will become the accumulation of stuff, and you will begin operating in the dark underworld of stuff. You will wind up with so much stuff that you’ll sell stuff on e-bay in order to finance the purchase of more stuff. Your wife will say you don’t need any more stuff. . . . And you’ll hate her for it. You’ll go to the fly-shop and demand to buy stuff. You’ll get catalogs in the mail filled with the newest and best stuff, and you’ll look through them longingly and lovingly. And you will order stuff. (There will be khaki-chick-magnet cargo pants in these catalogs, with lots of pockets . . . for stuff.) The stuff you order from this catalog will be obsolete by the time the next catalog comes out, but you must purchase stuff from this catalog in order to stay on the current mailing list.

When your vest induces hernias, when you can build fly rods out of the back of your truck, when you can set up a fly-tying operation on the bank of a creek . . . you’re almost there.

In an effort to stay up-to-date on equipment, fashionable with attire, and current on catalog mailing lists anglers often find themselves adrift in a back-eddy of slightly used, outdated stuff. Seasoned anglers are able to turn this to their advantage by cycling this inventory through unwary fishing buddies—slightly marked up from cost (a finder’s fee if you will)—generating a self-sustaining revenue that can then be used to purchase more stuff.

 

© Robert Robinson 2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

PRIORITIZE


PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE

BY

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,243

Of the many skills that must be mastered in fly-fishing, the most important and useful is the skill of prioritization, an attribute that, once honed, can be used in every aspect of life to ensure proper balance when allocating time and finances to the pursuit of the sport.

Correct prioritization, achieved through the application of logic after a review of the facts, is quite useful in the acquisition of the best in sporting equipment, without which fly-fishing cannot properly be pursued.

Let’s say you find yourself in need of a new fly rod (cost: $1,500.00), but it has been brought to your attention that your house is in need of new shingles (cost: $1,500.00). Using the fundamentals of prioritization, the proper priority can quickly be determined. First, review the known facts surrounding the case in question: (a) The roof is not currently leaking, and rain is not forecasted for the immediate future. (b) You will need the new fly rod for fishing long before the roof actually starts to leak. (c) The new fly rod will greatly enhance your ability to catch fish, which can then be eaten, increasing your capacity to provide for your family (a circumstance that can be pointed out once the roof does start to leak). Logical, right-minded thinking should now justify the purchase of the fly rod and place it at the top of your list of priorities.

Similarly, let’s say your wife’s car is leaking oil, and the cost of the engine repair would impact your bank account in such a way as to make the purchase of a new fly-tying vise prohibitive. The application of logic after a quick review of the facts should put things in perspective: (a) The engine repair can be moved lower down your list of priorities by simply instructing her to add a quart of oil to the engine when the level gets low. (b) At some point, she will be adding oil frequently enough to make periodic oil changes unnecessary. (c) This cost savings can then be applied to a new tying desk, as well. This method of prioritization can be used in acquiring most all angling accoutrements. In fact, this method can be used to place just about anything into proper prospective.

Say you’ve been asked to pick up a gallon of milk on your way home from work, but when you get to the store you realize that you only have enough money for that six-pack you’ve been thinking about since noon. Again, review the facts: (a) You know you will need the beer long before you get hungry and need a bowl of cereal. (b) You know that you can go longer without food than you can water. (c) You know that beer is 90% water. The priority of your purchase should now be clear.

The other thing you need to pursue the sport of fly-fishing is time, and prioritization is even more useful in securing that valuable commodity.

Work is often the most formidable obstacle to having the proper amount of time available for fishing. Having no control over the perceived notions of importance others may have, you may find yourself working for a guy who expects you to cancel a fishing trip just because things get a little hectic at work, a guy who puts profits above the happiness of his employees, a guy who is—and not for lack of a better word—a jerk. Quickly review the facts: (a) You were looking for a job when you found that one, so nothing from nothing leaves nothing. (b) Nobody lies around on their deathbed wishing they could spend one more day at work. (c) The extra time you will have on your hands after you’re fired can be devoted to fishing. By applying this line of reasoning, the correct course of action can now be taken with a clear conscience.

Social gatherings are another big drain on fishing time. Many of these will be in-law events that are obviously low-priority in nature (such as reunions, anniversaries, birthdays, and holiday dinners). Quite often these events can be avoided by feigning illness or simply lying your way out, which can be justified by, again, a review of the facts. (a) They never liked you anyway. Remember how your mother-in-law shook when she kissed you at your wedding? And how it reminded you of the Corleone kiss of death? (b) People like that don’t die, so you’ll unfortunately have many more opportunities to attend in-law events in the future. (c) Your absence will be looked upon favorably by most everybody concerned; however, there may be those whose judgement will be clouded due to their close association with these people. Note: When prioritizing in-law events, positive outcomes have a much greater probability of success once all hope of domestic tranquility has been abandoned. Prioritizing social events involving your immediate family can be a bit trickier, requiring more in-depth analysis of the facts.

For example, your daughter is getting married and has unwisely chosen a date for the wedding that conflicts with opening day of trout season. A review of the facts will quickly put things into proper prospective: (a) You know the divorce rate is currently at 75% (give or take), and from personal observation, you suspect it’s likely to go higher. (b) This is probably just one of your daughter’s many weddings, so you can go ahead with your fishing plans with the understanding that you will attend one of her future weddings. (c) She never liked you anyway.

There’s a cosmic order, or balance if you will, to the life events that present themselves for our attention that can often be maintained by simply doing nothing. I call this self-prioritization, a process in which situations are simply ignored until the natural selection process allows one to rise to the top of the priority list before action is taken. This method works well with domestic situations, which, if ignored long enough, very often resolve themselves (a process called self-resolution). A case in point would be the time I was preparing for a three-day float-trip.

I was packing my gear when I detected an atmosphere of crop-failure permeating the room and turned to find my girlfriend standing there with her arms crossed tightly over her breasts and her foot tapping like a jackhammer. Note: This particular body language is indicative of a situation that cannot possibly get worse. Your best course of action at this time is to move forward with your plans in the hope that the situation will resolve itself during your absence.

I said, “I thought you were at work.”

“We need to talk,” she replied.

“What about?”

“US!” she said, thrusting her index finger in my direction.

“I’m good. . . . Hey, did you see what I did with that spare 4-weight line?”

Just before dropping into the canyon and losing cell-service, I texted her, telling her I was looking forward to having our talk when I got back and reminding her the next day was garbage day and she needed to haul the can down to the road. I returned home three days later to find she had moved out and the situation (whatever it was) had resolved itself.

Warning: While the methods of prioritization discussed here are indeed useful, they should not be employed by anglers with moderate- to low-levels of testosterone.

© Robert Robinson 2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.