IT’S GOOD TO BE THE GUIDE


IT’S GOOD TO BE THE GUIDE

BY

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1422

The economic collapse of ’08 forced people all across the country to launch cottage industries. My neighbors were no exception. They went from peddling eggs and honey to selling chickens and bees, giving riding lessons to selling horses, raising alpacas to selling real estate. My first entrepreneurial venture was in herbal medicine.

While walking in the back pasture one day, I noticed an abundance of rabbit pellets. I figured I could sell them to my aging friends as an herbal remedy for dementia, or as a dietary supplement for raising IQ. They looked nutritious; were definitely organic; and the rabbits were wild, so manufacturing costs would be zero. With the right marketing strategy, I’d be in the chips in no time. I test-marketed the “smart pills” on my ol’ buddy, Appleton.

I gave Appleton an ample supply of smart pills with instructions to take 12 pills three times a day, cautioning him not to exceed the recommended dosage: “You don’t want to get too smart too quick. Being a genius is a huge responsibility.”

When I called to see if he needed more smart pills, he said, “I don’t think these pills work. I’m not feeling any smarter. As a matter of fact—”

“Yours is a tough case. We may have to up the dosage.”

“They taste like crap.”

“I think they’re starting to work. Besides, you can’t come off them cold turkey. You have to reduce the dosage slowly over several years,” I explained.

My career as a river guide started about a month later, when the FDA took the short sighted position that rabbit pellets had no nutritional or medicinal value, abruptly ending my career as an herbalist.

I was casting about for my next entrepreneurial venture when I remembered the half-finished plywood johnboat in the barn. I figured with the judicial application of some caulk, nails, and duct-tape I could have the boat shipshape in no time and hire out as a river guide. It sounded easy enough; the river would do most of the heavy lifting, and I already had plenty of excuses as to why fish aren’t biting.

I talked it over with my friend Spider, of Spider John’s Bait Shop, who sells beer, bait, gas, bootleg Sunday-liquor, and uncertain hotdogs that fossilize shortly after purchase and double as crawdad bait. He said I could use the bait shop as a base of operations as long as I kept his name out of it.

We decided I should make a trial run to get a feel for the river and test the durability of the boat and equipment. “You’ll need ballast,” Spider told me.

“Ballast?”

“Yeah, something to represent the weight of the sports in the boat, so you can see how the boat handles the rap . . . uh . . . faster water.”

“Oh . . . ballast . . .  dead weight, I gotchya, I’ll use Appleton. But you know the river, Spider, maybe you should go with me,” I suggested.

“It’ll be better if you use Appleton. You have life vests right?”

“Life vests? Oh, I figured I could make some out of duct tape and old Styrofoam coolers.”

“Yeah, it’ll be better if you use Appleton. Put in at Big Hole and I’ll pick you boys up at Last Chance. If you make it that far, just look for my old red truck. Don’t go past Last Chance or you’ll wind up in Dead Man’s Canyon, and it can be a little rough. There’s no way out of Dead Man’s except through Red Canyon, and it’s even rougher.”

“De—De—Dead Man’s Canyon?”

“Yeah, it’s right after Dead Man’s Rock and Dead Man’s Chute. Don’t worry. Just look for my truck and pull in there.”

 

“It’ll be a breeze,” I told Appleton over the phone the next day. “All you gotta do is sit back, enjoy the scenery, and fish.”

“You’ve scouted it, right?” he asked.

I figured it would be a waste of time scouting the river, seeing as how we were going to go down it anyway, so I said, “You bet. We’re good to go. Spider told me where to put in.”

“Spider? What’s he got to do with this? That SOB still owes me five bucks for some flies I tied for him.”

“Well, there you go,” I said. “You can hit him up when he picks us up at the end of our run. You’ll get a nice, relaxing float trip and five bucks to boot. Come to think of it, that SOB owes me five bucks. I’ll tell him to bring our money when he comes to pick us up. I’ll pick you up in the morning.”

 

I got Appleton seated in the front of the boat and handed him one of the homemade life vests.

“What the hell is that?” he asked.

“Life vest.”

“That ain’t no life vest. I ain’t wearin’ that.”

“Suit yourself,” I said as we shoved off.

We drifted along lazy-like for the first couple of miles. Appleton fished, while I worked the boat. But watching somebody else fish is like going to a topless bar when you’re horny. I soon had a rod strung up and we were both catching some nice cutts. We were so busy catching fish that we never did see Last Chance, the red truck, or Spider come to think of it.

By the time I saw the water boiling around Dead Man’s Rock it was too late; the river had us in its clutches and we were headed straight for the rock at a pretty good clip.

Appleton turned, grinned, and said, “I told you them pills ain’t workin’! Gimme one of them vests!” It was a disturbing grin—his lips were peeled back from his clinched teeth like a mule eating thistles—a grin normally associated with psychotic monkeys. I handed him a vest and grinned back as we spun into the chute bisected by Dead Man’s Rock.

We kissed Dead Man’s Rock passionately as we went by, and I lost track of Appleton until he popped to the surface like a cork when we entered the flat water below the rapids. I was surprised at how well the life vest was holding up and made a mental note to check with Spider about selling them out of the bait shop. “Hang on, buddy! I’ll save you!” I shouted. To which he turned, grinned, and struck out for the bank. Appleton is a surprisingly strong swimmer when properly motivated—he almost made it.

He was obviously disorientated, swimming away from the boat like that. It took everything I had to grab him and haul him halfway back into the boat before we were sucked into lower Dead Man’s Chute. I chalked his cursing, scratching, and biting up to drowning-man’s panic and was finally able to pin him down against the gunwale with my knee just as we dropped into the plunge pool below Dead Man’s Fall.

By then we could hear the roar emanating from Red Canyon, and Appleton’s on-board antics had become an element for concern; his mental stability had begun to deteriorate—the monkey grin now seemed permanent—he became delusional, claiming that I was somehow responsible for our predicament, and his frantic attempts to exit the boat were causing us to take on water. While I’m widely known to be long suffering, caring, and compassionate, my patience had worn thin, so I beached the boat so he could regain his composure.

Appleton took off across the sandbar like a striped-ass ape. Realizing his escape was blocked by the sheer cliffs of Red Canyon he began hopping up and down in frustration. I’d had just about enough, so I informed him that if he didn’t calm down he would have to be restrained for the remainder of the trip. That’s when he—still grinning—picked up a piece of driftwood and advanced on me with what can best be described as a bughouse shuffle.

Now I enjoy hate-and-discontent as much as the next man—as long as it’s not focused on me. It was my success in channeling his anger by pointing out that it was Spider who’d failed to meet us at the takeout, Spider who’d endorsed using him as ballast, and Spider who’d suggested the trip in the first place that encouraged me to give up river guiding in favor of my latest venture—psychiatry.

 

© 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

ANGER MANAGEMENT


AUTHORS NOTE: I had an editor tell me that I was getting too depressing, so I thought I’d lighten up a bit.

ANGER MANAGEMENT

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1616

Appleton has issues. I’m not talking about his cursing and fist shaking when I jump ahead of him to get to the good bend pools, or conveniently leave my wallet at home when it’s my turn to buy breakfast or gas. At those times, I patiently point out that these are behaviors all seasoned anglers engage in, which in the name of friendship must be overlooked. I’m talking about tin-foil-hat conspiracy theories and repeated attempts on my life.

When his fly got hung in the top of a pine tree, I watched with concern as he climbed to the top of a boulder, balanced himself on one knee, used his other leg as a counter weight, and stretched out to make several grabs for the fly. If he slipped, he was looking at a twelve-foot drop into the crick.

“Big fish—behind rock—jerked it—out of—his mouth,” he explained between lunges for the fly.

“Big fish? Where? What rock?”

“Rock—at—head—of pool,” he grunted between grabs.

My immediate concern was for his safety, and as my fly settled gently behind the rock I called out, “You almost had it that time. You just need a little more stretch. . . . Just . . . a little more . . . stretch,” I said between casts.

I’d like to take a moment to clear something up. I deny Appleton’s accusation that I was responsible for his fall. He slipped off of that rock when he lunged for my throat as I was showing him the big fish I had just landed.

Lately he’s been concentrating on conserving tippet material by tying knots with ridiculously short tag ends that take twice as long to tie and require magnifying glasses and tweezers. The other day as we were stringing up our rods I found a long forgotten roll of tippet in the recesses of my vest. That fat-happy glow of the well-stocked angler washed over me.

“Hey, check it out,” I said. “You’re in luck. I just found a whole roll of 6x.”

“It looks old,” said Appleton, looking at it over his magnifying glasses. “I don’t think they even make that brand anymore.”

“Couldn’t be more than ten years old,” I said, blowing the lint off of it.

“I think that stuff has a shelf life.”

“Huh? Naw, that’s just if it’s been in the sunlight. This has been in my vest,” I explained as I unselfishly handed him the spool.

Appleton’s allegation that it was old, brittle tippet material that caused him to lose those three twenty-inch cutthroats is false. He was setting the hook too hard. I tried pointing this out to him at the time, but he refused to listen and kept lunging for my throat.

Another sign of his descent into madness is the reesty, scruffy, Duck Dynasty look that he thinks is so cool. Unlike Appleton, I like the people I kiss. His wife was unaware of what was causing the whisker burn until I pointed it out to her. She then initiated a dry spell that lasted until Appleton resumed daily shaving. I’d just like to say that when my fly got tangled in Appleton’s chin whiskers on a back cast, it was an accident. His shouts alerted me to the situation, and by leaning back, raising my rod tip, and ripping the fly from his beard I was able to quickly free him up so he could resume fishing. When I kindly thanked him for the whiskers that made my Adams ride nice and high in the water, froth dribbled onto the bare spot on his chin as he lunged for my throat.

At times Appleton’s tantrums seem to be tied to his loss of memory. When he thought he’d left his wading shoes at home, I watched him search in vain through his bag of gear and the back of his truck. I tried to help by asking, “You’re sure they’re not in your bag?” and, “Did you look under the seat?” This caused him to retrace his steps the first few times, but my well intentioned efforts to help eventually seemed only to irritate. “They say the memory is the first thing to go,” I good-naturedly pointed out. “They’re wrong,” he whispered through clinched teeth as the muscles in his neck began to twitch. “The first thing to go is the smartass.”

With Appleton relegated to fishing from the bank, I was able to outdistance him for the first time since we had been fishing together. It was heartbreaking to look back and see him   standing there looking dejected and abandoned. My eyes welled with tears as I waved and disappeared around a bend in the river.

Appleton’s reaction to finding his wading shoes under my duffle bag was, in my opinion, over the top, and his charge that I hid them in order to gain some advantage is totally unfounded.

One of the things that got left behind recently was a water bottle. Well, to be more specific, Appleton’s water bottle. I saw him set his bottle on the cab of the truck just before we set out, but I didn’t think it worth mentioning at the time. He didn’t notice it missing until he saw me take a cool, refreshing drink from my canteen after our hot three mile hike. I coughed and charitably told him that I would be glad to share my water with him, but I thought that I was coming down with something. Luckily, Appleton relies heavily on my considerable knowledge of outdoor survival techniques and I was able to advise him that he could safely drink from the crick by straining the water through his teeth.

Thirty minutes later he expressed some regret at neglecting to bring along emergency toilet paper. Fortunately, I had some and told him I would be happy to share with him. I tore off one square of the paper and was handing it to him when he did this rapid movement thing with his eyes and lunged for my throat. It was when he broke concentration to make the attempt on my life that he had what we now refer to as “the accident.”

In the interest of being fair, I should tell what happened to me last week. While in the middle of the winter doldrums, I decided that ordering a new fly rod would be just the thing to lift my spirits, but after the initial excitement upon its arrival, I found my boredom replaced by an overwhelming itch to take it fishing. It would be another month before winter released its hold on the high country, but I figured that I could make a quick run up the canyon during a break in the weather and put the new rod through the paces.

It took five phone calls, a promise that it would be a quick trip, and assurances that we wouldn’t go in uncertain weather before Appleton agreed to go with me. I picked up Appleton that morning and he immediately started whining about how cloudy it was and how he wished he’d worn another layer of clothes. “You checked the weather reports right?” he whined.

“Huh? Oh yeah, we’re good to go.”

“It looks socked in up top,” he sniveled.

“We won’t stay long. If it turns cold, I’ve got an extra coat behind the seat you can use,” I reassured him.

It was an hour and a half drive up to this section of crick that I thought would be the perfect spot to put the new rod to the test. I parked the truck into the wind, jumped out, and began rigging up. I pulled the rod from its tube and removed it from the rod sack. I slipped the tip section onto the butt section and checked that the guides were lined up. I seated the ferrules and turned to get the reel—I couldn’t find my reel bag. I went back to the cab of the truck and looked on the seat, behind the seat, and under the seat . . . nothing. I went back to the tailgate and stared at the pile of gear. I had a clear mental picture of the reel bag sitting by my tying desk where I had put it months ago after cleaning fly lines.

By that time, Appleton had rigged up and was a hundred-yards down the crick and it was starting to snow. The wind was picking up so I had to shout, “I’M GOING HOME TO GET MY REEL!”

“What the . . . COAT!” he shouted back.

I cupped my hands and shouted into the wind, “OK THEN. I’LL BE RIGHT BACK.” And if I hadn’t gotten stuck behind that snowplow on the way back I would have made good time.

Luckily, I spotted Appleton on the side of the road in my headlights. I noticed with interest that he’d developed a twitch in his left eye that caused ice crystals to pop off his eyebrow and float down to rest on, and no doubt give some relief to, his cracked and bleeding lips. He was strangely silent on the way home, and it wasn’t until I told him that I thought the snow that had drifted onto his shoulders made him look Christmassy that he became agitated and lunged for my throat.

Appleton rests quietly on most days now, but remains delusional and continues to blame me for his lack of angling skills and questionable woodcraft; however, I will not abandon him in his hour of need—as soon as he’s released, I’m takin’ him fishing.

© 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.

LAST CAST


LAST CAST

BY

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,087

I awoke to the sound of fat rain drumming on the roof of the camper shell. The heavy taps became a wall of sound that wrapped around me and I burrowed deeper into my warm sleeping bag and drifted back to sleep.

It’s the sudden silence of the storm’s passing that next wakes me. I crawl out onto the tailgate and look down the canyon at the thick column of rain about a mile away. Farther down, the disturbance squats on the mountains like a blank canvas and spiring Alpine firs punch through here and there—unfinished sketches. The upper end of the canyon is bright, green, and fresh. Ghost-clouds hang draped against the vivid green mountains like fat on a mother-in-law. The fishing will be good now. As I begin stringing my rod, I strain to smell the perfume of the pines and hear the canyon’s silence, but years of welding dulled my sense of smell, and silence now is the echo of nine-pound double-jacks pounding stubborn steel. It’s enough for me to know that the scent and the stillness are there. I remember.

I remember the first time a trout stream stole my soul one cold, rainy day in North Georgia, and the ten-inch Brown that took my fly when I had fallen down in the creek and was being baptized into a new life. I was cold, wet, and happy. I had found something, something that I wanted to be a part of, something that would come to define me; so, I keep coming back to be re-defined, re-baptized. There’s a beginning and an end to everything, though. There will be a last hike in, a last fish caught, and a last cast. I was with Ed when he made his last cast.

Neither of us knew it was his last cast, but the signs were there. He needed my help getting into his waders that morning, and I watched, helpless, as he fumbled with his tippet and fly with stiff, swollen joints until he finally asked for my help. He leaned on me as we moved up the river, his weight frail, light, and we made frequent stops so he could catch his breath. I had to net and release that last Brown for him. I thought Ed was too good to die. I think he was too good not to. Two weeks later he was gone.

They say you shouldn’t dwell on the past, but you think about the things you know, and now there’s much more past than there is future. So I think about Ed, and the others who are gone. Like the young man I took fishing because he needed help and taking him fishing was all I could think to do. I’d hoped fishing would help him as it had helped me. I stood behind him and held his hand as I showed him the roll cast.  A few months later, he rolled his car.

I think about my old friend who called me one night lonely and depressed. He needed to go fishing. We talked about wild country and clear water. We talked about special places folded deep into the backcountry and made our plans. He decided to go to sleep and never wake up instead.

The hike in is tougher than it used to be. As I top the hill, I hear somebody chopping wood in the distance, or is it the sound of distant drums? I listen closer and realize it’s the sound of my heart thumping in my chest. Below me, a meadow filled with wildflowers of every description and color stretches all the way to the creek.

I try to imprint the scene on my mind and go for the pack of anti-acid tablets in my pocket, remembering that a nurse once told me that everybody who came into her emergency room with a heart attack had a pack of them in their pocket. I chew on the tablets and wonder if the scalding in my chest is my retirement plan, or the two jalapeño-laced gas-station corn-dogs I had for supper last night. It doesn’t matter. I’m too far into the backcountry now and whatever is going to happen will happen without any more help from me. Besides, doing the purple polka on a tapestry of wildflowers doesn’t seem like a bad way to go. I can think of a lot worse—Visiting Angels spoon feeding me as I cast to the rising cutthroats in my mind and tapioca dribbles onto my chin. I decide to push on across the creek and up the next hill to give the arteries a good flush.

I think about a life lived giving up no hostages to the pursuit of fortune, choosing only to work just enough to keep a roof over my head and take care of my dog. Radio talk show hosts point accusing fingers at me. I dropped out, didn’t row hard enough when the Pharaoh wanted to waterski. I wanted to stay in bright mountains and explore Thoreau’s premise that one’s surroundings reflect the depth of one’s character. I doubt they do; the empty beer cans I see laying around suggest that character is not reflected by surroundings. Perhaps character isn’t something you bring to these wild places. Maybe it’s something you find here.

I can see the wooden footbridge, first built by the CCC, now maintained by the forest service, and that last steep hill above it that I use as a benchmark to let me know how I’m doing from year to year. There’s a stand of Aspens just beyond and a waterfall where I want my ashes scattered after I tip over.

I pause and strain to see through cloudy eyes and prescription glasses the distant ridge tops. I know the breeze that cools my brow through my sweat stained boonie is pine scented, and the sounds of the creek sculpting the narrows and diving over the falls drown out the double-jacks in my head. I think I hear voices and turn expecting to see somebody but see only the rings of a rising trout below. Something about the shadows under the firs takes me back to my great-grandmother’s kitchen on some long ago Saturday morning. I stand on a hill overlooking the creek, silhouetted against the cadet gray sky, poised between past and present. Lost friends will fish with me again today, here, where place in time do not exist.

© 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.

THE ENVIRON MENTALLY-CHALLENGED


THE ENVIRON MENTALLY-CHALLENGED

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,028

I had been thinking about that place all winter. It’s my hiding place. I don’t go there to hide; I keep it hidden, tucked away in my mind. It’s where I go when my world starts to suck and I don’t like what I see in the mirror. It’s a place nobody can take away from me. It’s where I’ll have my ashes dumped when I buck out—there, at the old wooden footbridge, where I always stop to rest and take it all in. In that canyon, I do a lot of looking in—and up.

Cottony clouds light up a harsh blue sky and pile up at the rim of the canyon. The ridges are topped with a mix of Aspen and pine and the steep green slopes leading up to them look, from a distance, like well-manicured lawns and are easy on the mind. At the tree line, the wind shimmers through the Quakies, and in the trembling shadows their white trunks are highlighted by dark green pines.  Closer, the slopes turn gentle and are dotted with rocky outcrops stained black and rust by lichen, so uniform that you have to look hard to see that they aren’t the foundations of ancient castles. On one formation, a lone pine has found purchase and its shade looks inviting. Down by the creek, purple sage and blue, yellow, and white wildflowers cover the meadows between the scattered stands of willow, and the banks are cut deep in places by sparkling spring-fed rivulets where light glints from the sun-dazzled bottoms of empty beer cans.

I have been preceded by those whom I (in an attempt at being politically correct) call the environ mentally-challenged, or for those nature lovers who pride themselves in the ability to rattle off the Latin names of animals, bugs, and fauna, the inviron ideota.

When I hike into remote areas and stumble upon piles of empty beer cans, worm containers, pop bottles, and dirty diapers—which are never empty—I start hating people. Based on the number of times this happens, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that the environ mentally-challenged far outnumber people who respect the environment; however, there is no way to tell, because people who travel through the wilderness with respect don’t mark their trails with trash. They leave no evidence of their passing.

I added an empty trash bag to my accoutrements for a few years until I found myself lugging full thirty-gallon trash bags around and still not making a dent. The trash seemed to increase as if I were the victim of some kind of curse, like that Greek god who had to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity, only to have it roll down the other side when he reached the top. I gave up on the idea of singlehandedly cleaning up the world.

Most of my journeys into the back country involve fishing for trout. I feel like an intruder and sometimes wonder if I should confine myself to observation, foregoing any interaction with the trout, and just enjoy the beauty and solitude. But that would put me in a camp with people who think that human beings aren’t part of the ecosystem and that we just showed up last week. Besides, I like holding living colors in my hand—and releasing them. The difference between humans and other inhabitants of the planet is we have the ability to choose how we affect the environment. Sadly, many choose to affect it negatively, or they just don’t give a tinker’s damn.

When I began finding piles of empty spinner-bait packages with plastic bags clearly identifying them as coming from the gas station just up the road, I suggested to its owner that he un-package the spinners at the time of purchase and securely hang them on the environ mentally-challenged’s lower lip, and to his credit he seemed in favor of the idea.

I sometimes find empty beer cans stacked neatly in the shape of a pyramid. When I come across these monuments to ignorance I’m reminded of the construction companies that I sometimes work for that operate on what I call the pyramid principle, i.e., if you get enough primitive people together you can build anything. When enough alcohol has been consumed so that building a pyramid out of empty beer cans seems like a good idea, you should stop drinking. You could find yourself explaining why the shore patrol found you lying naked on a sidewalk in Bangkok with a rubber chicken tied around your neck—and that’s all I have to say about that.

Some litter seems not only to be acceptable but sanctioned by the Forest Service. I’m talking about the paper-plate-signs you see stapled to trees, taped to road signs, and propped up with rocks on the sides of the road. Curiosity led me to follow one such set of signs marked “Hick’s Reunion” for eight miles, finding when I got there that the sign was indeed apropos.

Over the years I’ve come to accept trash as part of the wilderness experience. That is until last year when I came upon a thirty-pack’s worth of empties in one of my favorite remote canyons. The camp site was fresh, and I stood there looking around with clinched fists wanting to kick somebody’s ass. I didn’t see anybody, which was a good thing, as getting into an altercation with somebody that has the strength and determination to hump a thirty-pack that far probably isn’t a good idea. I was sitting on a log, staring at the pile of empties, wondering what could be done, when it hit me. While aluminum beer cans, plastic pop bottles, and disposable diapers are not biodegradable, the environ mentally-challenged are. The compostability of the environ mentally-challenged/compostus imbecillus increased my estimation of their overall value dramatically. I had an idea for an environmental awareness initiative based, not on catchy slogans, colorful posters, or cartoon caricatures of forest creatures, but on aluminum baseball bats—Aluminum, for the ease with which it can be wiped clean of trace evidence.

© 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.

THE SURVIVOR


THE SURVIVOR

BY

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,202

There wasn’t another angler in the canyon that day, and had I known how close the fire was and how fast it was moving, I wouldn’t have been in there either. I know I was the last one in there before the fire moved through, as I had to pass through a roadblock on my way out that night and they weren’t letting anybody else in. I got some strange looks from the Rangers that morning as I was stringing up my rod, but a Ranger had assured me the night before that the main canyon was in no danger.

The fishing that day was fantastic. I wouldn’t have pestered those trout had I known they only had hours to live—had I known they would slowly suffocate from the ash and silt that turned that clear mountain stream the color of chocolate milk. At noon, I sat on the bank and ate my PB&J sandwich as ash from the fire fell around me and the sting of wood smoke made my nose run. It was the eerie orange hue the canyon took on and the spooky silence that finally made me pack it in and head for my truck. It took another seven days for the fire to burn through.

The devastation came later, when subsequent rain storms sent flash floods and debris flows raging down the burned out side-canyons, blowing out the road, silting the creek, and choking the fish. The logs and boulders that washed down the mountain—coupled with the human efforts to keep the road open—changed the course of that creek forever. I doubt if I could even find the spot where I ate my sandwich now. When I called the Utah State Biologist, he told me it would take decades for the stream to recover, and it wouldn’t happen in my lifetime.

The fire had started from a lightning strike on the left fork and had moved down the creek and into the main canyon, leaving the upper section untouched. About a month after the main canyon burnt, I hiked into the headwaters a couple of miles and fished my way back out without seeing the first sign of a fish. The bottom of the creek was coated in ash about a quarter-inch thick—the fish had suffocated.

I thought about that creek all winter, so as quick as the snow came off I hiked in there to see if the spring runoff had flushed the ash out. The stream was running clear and the coating of ash was gone, but there still wasn’t a sign of life in the water.

I had given up on finding any fish and was walking along absentmindedly dapping my fly ahead of me when I got a rise to my Adams at a deep bend-pool. I got a good look at the trout and figured it to be around eighteen-inches long. The biologist told me that there were no plans to restock that drainage until the ground cover had grown back enough to stop the mudslides and debris flows from choking off the stream, so I knew that fish was a holdover from before the fire, a survivor.

That summer the area was hit hard by drought. The stream became a trickling ghost of itself. I hiked in there four more times that summer without seeing another fish. I couldn’t see how the big fish would survive the low, warm water, let alone the meat fishermen that descend on the high country to clean out the pools when the water gets low; after all, this is Utah by God, where the people were told by a prophet of God to profit by the land and they damn well do.

That next winter I spent a lot of time wondering if the big trout had died. I figured either some worm soaker or the drought conditions had finished the big guy off, but I wanted to find out, so as soon as the trail opened up that spring I hiked straight to the bend pool where I had last seen the big fish.

I broke the hook off a #16 Adams; I just wanted to say hi without adding to the big guy’s problems had he somehow managed to survive. I was startled when I got a rise on my first cast. Wanting to be sure it was the same fish, I spent some time casting different flies and watching the rises until I was satisfied that it was him. On one of the rises, I clearly saw the bright red slash under its gills and I laughed out loud, delighted it was a native Cutthroat. I fished the creek for a couple of miles above and below the pool without seeing another fish. After that, I started leaving my fly-rod back at the truck.

That summer I realized fly-fishing was just an excuse. It wasn’t the fishing for wild trout that kept me coming back to that place, it was the place itself and the way the shadows made it seem like every day was Saturday, it was the sounds of the creek probing through the narrow canyon and the wind fluttering the quakies, it was the anticipation in the cumulous clouds that formed strong shapes and peeked over the rim of the wounded canyon. All too often that summer those clouds quickly massed, turning from fluffy white to gunmetal blue, thundering, flashing, dumping deadly rain onto the burn-scar, sending a wall of water and debris down the canyon that left boulders the size of cars and mud six-foot deep on the main road. Heavy equipment was brought in to clear and repair the washed-out road, and D-9 Catts were left sitting overnight in the middle of the creek. What was once a blue ribbon wild-trout-fishery became the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.

The shadows, sounds, and drama of the clouds had always been there, but I hadn’t noticed. They were new to me now—and fragile. The ease with which that ancient canyon had been destroyed scared me, and I felt small. The pursuit of wild trout that first drew me to the high country seemed insignificant. All these years I had been missing something, and now some of it was gone, but the big Cutthroat had survived, and in that I found hope.

I hiked in there several more times that summer with my dog, Touch, to check the stream conditions, and I saw a few guys in there fishing, but they never stayed long. Then one day Touch and I were taking a break on our way out when this guy and his young son came up the trail. I asked how the fishing had been and the boy proudly showed me the big Cutthroat he had strung on a willow branch. As he held it up for me to see his dad beamed, “It’s his first fish on a fly-rod, and he caught it all by himself.”

“Yeah, and it was the only fish we seen all day,” the boy added, grinning from ear to ear.

I grinned back and said, “That is a nice fish.”

© 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.

SKUNKED


SKUNKED

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,077

I’ve had fifty fish days. I’ve caught twenty-four inch cutts on gossamer tippet with a four weight bamboo rod. I’ve pounded ’em up to my own hand-tied dries when there wasn’t a fish rising for a hundred miles. I’ve floated big rivers and fished high-country headwaters and caught fish. I’ve been trapped by late spring snows and dodged summer lightning. I don’t have anything left to prove.

Anyway, that’s the kind of smoke I was blowing the other day when Appleton called to get a fishing report.

“That bad huh?”

“I couldn’t get a rise if I doped my fly with Stink Bait.” I told him. “I even thought about running a dropper.”

“Whoa! Don’t do anything you’re going to regret.”

“Look,” I said, “maybe we’ve gotten too hung up on the catching part. I mean, fly-fishing should be about the inner man, not how big or how many fish we catch. It should be about communing with a well-crafted fly-rod, finding the rhythm and poetry in a delicate cast, letting the beauty of the mountains and the sounds of the stream cleanse your soul. . . .  You know, rediscovery. . . . Getting back to nature? . . . You still there?”

“. . . Who else have you been talking to?”

“Nobody.”

“Good. Call me when the fishing picks up.”

Appleton was one of the first to go with barbless hooks. He became unpopular with the river guides when he tried to get the local fly-shop to go barbless. I’ve even known him to break the hook off and fish with an impotent fly when he got tired of catching fish, just so he could see the rise. He’s caught up in the corporate rat race now, and it’s hard to get him out if the fish aren’t biting.

I often get skunked when we fish together. I usually have the place scouted and let him take the lead as we head upstream, so the fish are spooked by the time I come along. Sometimes I’ll catch up to him and he’ll be sitting at a nice looking bend pool that he’s saved for me. He’ll point his rod at the hole say, “Let’s get the skunks out of the boat.” I don’t think he really wants me to catch a fish; he just doesn’t want to be seen with a guy who isn’t catching fish.

After Appleton hung up on me, I realized the danger I had put myself in. Word could get around that I’d zened out, shaved my head, and was wandering the backcountry wearing a loincloth and sprinkling ashes. My solitary life-style and the ensuing lack of . . . let’s call it female companionship, would be blamed for my moral decline. There would be a meeting; I would get voted off the island . . . or worse. The last time my friends thought that I’d spun out, one of them tried to fix me up—it was love at 425 pounds.

The next day I had a twenty fish day and was able to abandon my new religion and start wearing pants again.

It’s in the early spring, between the first warm days and the big runoff when I usually get skunked. The creeks are running high and off color, and the trout are hugging the bottoms of the deep pools in a state of suspended animation. You can catch them if you bump them on the nose with a Copper John or Pheasant’s Tail, but I’m stubborn about using dry-flies. I figured that since I was a fly-fisherman, and thus a member of the most hated demographic among fishermen, becoming a dry-fly purist, the most hated demographic among fly-fishers, would be a natural progression.

In my fly-fishing infancy, I’d become frantic when getting skunked. The level of panic seemed to be in direct proportion to the amount of money that had been spent on stuff. I had the best in sporting equipment, and I still wasn’t catching fish. I looked marvelous, but I obviously needed more stuff.

Back then, when my skill didn’t match my equipment, I’d fish for twelve hours at a stretch without seeing a rise. I fished like that for three days once in a pouring rain, stopping only for short breaks to crawl into my tent, where I poured. On the afternoon of the third day, I found myself standing in the middle of a muddy creek with my nose running, cold, wet, holding a bleached-out, six-inch German Brown in my pruned fingers, thinking what miserable specimens we both were of our respective species.

Nowadays, early spring fishing really is more about getting into the mountains, shaking off shack fever, and picking out the wind knots that form in my head during the winter. When you hike for an hour to get to a stream and find it running high and muddy, you can turn around and hike back out, or find a good sittin’ log and enjoy the scenery. I don’t pass up a good sitting rock or log when the fish aren’t biting. I know I can tie on a nymph and catch fish, but that’s not what I had seen myself doing all winter. I look around more, and wonder what I missed while I was pawing for answers in my fly-box, or squinting at an aquarium net. I think it’s because I can go fishing whenever I want to now that my attitude changed. I can always come back and try again tomorrow. Most people can’t do that, and I remember that sense of urgency, being limited to a Saturday every now and then, or one week in the summer.

I’ve never been a lip ripping, don’t make me take my pants down, trophy-trout hunter. I’m satisfied with my little high-country cutts, so on those fishless, early spring days, I find myself going through the motions just to get the kinks out of my cast, watching young Stoneflies crawling on my leg and only thinking about changing over from an Adams, just happy to be alive and still able to make the hike in. In a few days the streams will run clear and the fishing will be as good as ever, so it’s not bad sitting in the Sun, warming the knotted muscles in my shoulders, and thinking about the good day I’m having doing no harm. Not bad at all.

© 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.

BACK IN THE SADDLE


This is a rewrite of “Saddle Up” I was asked for.

BACK IN THE SADDLE

By

Robert Robinson

WORD COUNT: 1,336

I turned onto the dirt road, trying to remember the directions I had been given. A right fork, a left fork, a bridge, a sheep camp, and something else had been mentioned.

The sheep camp didn’t surprise me, this being sheep country, but using one as a landmark seemed dodgy. I was pretty sure sheep camps moved with the herd. I was wishing I had written the directions down when I spotted the sheep camp coming up on the right. The sheepherders had a horse down on its back with its legs sticking straight up in the air. One herder was holding the horse down, while the other was attempting to shoe the horse. All participants seemed to be in distress, and all were sweating. I mentally checked off sheep camp.

The road looked good, but I knew that could change and it could become nothing more than a glorified game trail just around the next bend. Adding to the pucker factor, I was dragging a horse trailer with my horse, Red, who was bouncing back and forth and threatening to throw us off the road.

I was to meet up with my friend Cody for some camping and fishing. Cody was a cowboy; not the boot scootin’ feather in the hat Nashville kind, but the bull strong, hog ugly, snuff dippin’, bulldog a wild horse and never spit kind. Cody belongs to a subculture of fly-fishing that considers the horse a requisite accoutrement to the sport. Cody and his brothers sold horses and took great pride in matching horse to rider. They had experienced horses for inexperienced riders, inexperienced horses for experienced riders, and for people who don’t like to ride, they had horses that didn’t like to be rode. Cody had spent most of the winter convincing me that in order to get into the really good fishing I needed a horse, and that I needed to buy that horse from him.

I found his camp: An old truck, horse trailer, and tent situated in front of a huge fire pit. Although it was noon on a hot day in July, Cody was standing by the fire drinking a beer. I have noticed that no matter how hot it is, if you build a fire, people will stand around it, an oddity that probably dates back to the dawn of time deserving further study. I hobbled Red, setup my tent, and moseyed over to stand by the fire. After some small talk, we decided to saddle up and ride over to the creek and do some fishing.

I followed Cody up a trail that soon lead onto a narrow ledge overlooking a 100-foot drop. I was glad when the trail took a hard right and headed up a steep grade, but just as I was making the turn Cody’s horse shied at something, spooking Red, who took off going backwards as hard as he could for the edge of the cliff. I jumped off and got Red stopped just before he stepped off into the abyss. I walked Red up the slope until we were at what I considered a safe distance from the drop-off before remounting.

When I caught up to Cody, he was sitting in front of a pile of deadfall beyond which was a little meadow that sloped down to a thick stand of willows. I could hear the creek gurgling below.

Cody eased his horse through the deadfall with me right behind. I had almost made it through when Red made four long jumps out into the meadow and started to buck. He bucked a couple of times, then setup into a spin—tossing me out of the saddle. I landed hard but managed to keep ahold of the reins. Cody was sitting there looking rather relaxed considering what had just happened. He was leaning forward on his saddle horn and looking bored. I knew the “cowboy way” demanded that I get right back on and as I put my foot in the stirrup I asked Cody, “How did I look?” To which he replied, “Good for the first couple of jumps.” . . . I climbed back aboard and as quick as my butt hit the saddle Red went into another spin, flinging me off again. As I was about to mount up again, I noticed a dead tree limb stuck under Red’s back cinch. I pulled the limb out and was tightening the cinch when Cody said, “We ain’t going to get much fishin’ in if you and Red don’t quit messin’ around.”

“We’re good now.” I told him, and we headed on into the creek bottom.

We crossed the creek over to an island where we hobbled the horses, strung up our rods, and took off up the creek, taking turns casting to pocket water. We caught five or six trout apiece until we hit an open flat where two creeks came together. After agreeing on a time to meet back at the horses we split up; Cody took the right fork and I took the left.

Fishing alone has its drawbacks. The main one being that should you get into trouble, you’re on your own. Fishing alone in bear country can be a little spooky, something that you have to get your head around. I had decide long ago that I would rather get eaten by a bear than lay around dying of some terrible disease; besides, on this trip if anything got eaten it would be the horses, and after the crap that Red had been pulling, I was down with that.

I had managed to cover a lot of ground when I realized I would have to hustle to get back to the horses by the appointed time. When I got back to the horses, Cody wasn’t there yet, and it was only after I had my gear packed that he showed up. Cody said we needed to reach the main trail before it got dark.

We were mounted and had begun to move off when Red took three giant leaps forward, landing us in the middle of the stream. I looked over at Cody, who was resting on his saddle horn, looking bored, and said, “I think this bastard wants to buck again.” “Just take the hobbles off,” he told me. I dismounted into two-foot of water, which filled my boots, and felt around until I had the hobbles unbuckled. It was now pitch black. We crisscrossed up the slope searching for, but not finding, the trail. At the top of the hill Cody took off with such an air of confidence that I asked him if he had found the trail. He said, “Yeah . . . but not yet.” We reached what looked like a meadow and as we started across Cody told me to watch out for old down fencing and piles of barbed wire that could be laying around.

Cody had just hollered back that he had found the trail when I heard the ping of wire. I pulled Red up, dismounted, and began running my hands over his legs trying to see if we were tangled up in barbed wire. In the darkness, feeling down his back legs, I found that both of Red’s hind legs were standing in a coil of wire. Working blindly in the dark I was able to get us free.

As we made our way back to camp we passed campfires here and there, but Cody said we should give them a wide birth, as the firelight would ruin the horses’ night vision. I didn’t know that horses had night vision, but I was glad to hear it and assumed Red had stepped into the coil of wire for the hell of it.

When we got back to camp, we cared for the horses and Cody sat me down by the fire, handed me a beer, and began giving me some much needed instruction on horsemanship.

© 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.

SPRING CROSSING


SPRING CROSSING

BY

ROBERT ROBINSON

Word Count: 1,243

I stood looking at the snowfields above me with a bad feeling in my guts. Where the swollen creek cut its way through, the snow was four-foot deep; I’d never get through. I’d just get wet if I tried, and staying dry was a priority now. Technically it was spring, but a guy could still get toe tagged winter kill up here. The slope leading up to the snow-banked ridge above me was gushing from every rat hole. The whole mountain was a sieve. I looked back at the tree line from which I had emerged and started thinking about gathering wood for a fire and spending the night. I could split a power bar with my dog Touch, bank up a fire, and wait until the wee hours when the runoff froze again. We could cross the creek then, when it  would be at its lowest, but we’d still have a five mile hike to get back to the truck—and we’d be wet. . . .  I’d screwed up. Ignoring the deep snow I could see on the ridges above me, I’d entered an area bordered by water on all sides during the spring melt.

The thermometer had read twenty-nine degrees that morning as I drove up the canyon. It was the time of the year when one side of the road was showing the green-up of spring while the other side was a scene from a Christmas card, with snow still hanging in the trees and covering the ground. I had stepped across the little creek that morning.

We had hiked around to the back side of the reservoir, me casting out to the edge of the ice, Touch swimming out to the splashes of my Wooly Bugger. The day turned gorgeous and warm and I started to think that I’d overdressed.

At noon, I hiked up a slope and found a log in a little meadow where I sat and ate my peanut butter sandwich. I gave Touch a dog biscuit and we stretched out in the sun and took a nap.

Long before we got back to the little creek we’d crossed that morning, I heard it. The latte colored creek was now out of its banks and raging. Where I’d stepped across it that morning, it was now twenty-yards wide and chest deep. A rush of adrenalin hit me, and I was ashamed I knew the color of latte. My only chance to get out of there before nightfall was to head up stream and hope I could find a place to cross. It would be a steep climb, and if I couldn’t find a place to cross I’d wind up spending the night. I started to think I’d underdressed.

I had a survival kit on me; a first-aid kit with a couple of power bars; some bullion and instant coffee; and a bag of dryer lint with a couple of ways to get a fire started. I had one of those old army canteens with the metal cup that I could boil water in. As long as I stayed dry I’d be ok. I took my jacket off and tied it around my waist to keep from sweating and started the climb. We headed up the creek looking for a spot to cross until we were above the timberline and found our way blocked by the deep snow.

On the way up I’d spotted a pine tree that had been washed into the creek and had wedged between two high cut-banks. That down pine would be my best chance to get across. I still had two hours of daylight to make something happen. As I headed back to the down tree, I began working out a plan.

I figured I could cross on the upstream side of the tree by bracing against it and inching my way along. I’d use my jacket to make a bundle for the stuff I didn’t want to get wet, and if I got to the middle of the creek, I’d throw the bundle on across so I’d have both hands free to finish the crossing and get up the steep bank. Once I got wet and had thrown my bundle over, I would be committed to the crossing; I wouldn’t survive the night wet without a fire. I had one problem: The banks were too steep there for Touch to climb up. Touch is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and she’d rather swim than walk, so I wasn’t worried about her getting across, I just needed to find a place where she could climb out. It would have to be close to the tree so I could start across quickly or she would try to get back to me. Getting her to cross without me wasn’t a problem. I could throw anything over and she’d go after it.

I took down my rod and tied it into my bundle, praying that if I perished in the crossing, whoever found my high-dollar bamboo fly-rod wouldn’t be a bait fisherman. Leaving the bundle at the down pine, I walked up stream until I found a place to send Touch over. I took my shoulder bag and slung it across and Touch jumped in and started after it. I hot footed it back to the tree, grabbed my bundle, and slid down the bank next to the tree into waist deep water. The force of the water slammed me against the tree and I could feel the gravel washing away under my feet. I started thinking that this wasn’t a good idea. If I lost my footing, I’d be swept under and held down by the tree and drowned. I had to go with it now though. If Touch seen me retreat, she would jump in to get back to me and she would be swept under the tree. We would both drown then, as I would go in after her. That would be an automatic reaction. I mean, it’s not like rescuing a spouse, significant other, or fishing buddy, where you have time to assess the risk and go find a rope—she’s my dog.

The water was chest deep in the middle of the creek and I only stopped for a second to sling my bundle on over. After my hands were free, I made it the rest of the way across and clawed my way up the bank. I was covered in mud and soaked from the chest down.

The temperature would drop as soon as the sun went behind the mountain and I figured that we had about an hour of daylight left. We were still four miles from the truck, but we could make it in good time by jogging and power walking. I poured the water out of my boots, gathered up my gear, and headed down the mountain. About half way back to the truck my feet started to hurt; wet socks and slip on ditch boots suck for hiking. I managed to make it back just after the sun went down. The temperature had already dropped thirty degrees, and when I pulled my boots off, I had several blisters the size of silver dollars on both feet. I started the truck and sat there with my head on the steering wheel waiting for the heater to warm the cab. I looked over at Touch and said, “We got lucky this time girl.”

© 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.

THE FALL OF MAN


Word count: 1016                                       THE FALL OF MAN

By

ROBERT ROBINSON

There is only one certainty in fly-fishing: you will fall down. I’m not talking about the slips, stumbles, and trips that do little harm except to your ego. I’m talking about the nosedives, headers, sprawls, and plummets, the kinds of falls that break bones, fly rods, reels, and noses.

When explaining ripped waders, torn hands, shattered equipment, and noticeable limps to friends and significant others, proper nomenclature is helpful.

A sprawl is performed by pitching forward, leaving your feet behind, throwing your arms out to the side, and landing on your chest or face before your knees touch the ground.

A nosedive is any fall where the impact of the fall is taken above the upper lip.

A header, similar to the nosedive, involves a head-over-heels roll with the initial impact taken anywhere above the shoulders. When preformed on a steep slope, the header can be done repeatedly, gaining momentum with each roll until forward motion is arrested or deflected by a rock or a tree.

A plummet, my personal favorite because of the opportunity it affords for spectacle, must be initiated from a height of at least four feet—point of impact is optional.

Gravity is of course the root cause of all falls and is best illustrated in a fall I call the topple. You are busting through a stand of willows, get off balance, and just tip over, embracing gravity without a struggle—normally landing in a thorn bush. I recently did that and it had me preforming pocketknife surgery on my hands for a week as the thorns became infected and started to itch.

Gravity, mud, and felt-bottom waders can combine to produce some spectacular falls. I first became aware of this while contemplating my mud caked boots outlined against a clear blue sky as I went over a fifteen-foot embankment. I was able to break my fall by landing on a sixteen-inch diameter post that was sticking two-feet out of the mud. When I was able to breathe again and inspect the damage, I had a two-inch wide gash that ran from just under my left breast to the center of my back. Muddy waders are excellent for doing the moonwalk as well.

Unlike the popular dance move, which propels you backward, this moonwalk propels you forward, while you peddle backward as rapidly as you can. I once watched a friend of mine do the moonwalk for twenty-feet until he was waist deep in the Chattahoochee River. I did a version of the moonwalk on scree once. (Scree: an accumulation of loose stones or rocky debris lying on a slope or at the base of a hill or cliff, which enables stupidity to comes full circle.) My feet eventually shot out from under me and I went sledding and turtling on my back for thirty-feet, over a cut-bank, and into the river on my butt. The moonwalk can also be done standing in place, gradually picking up tempo until you tire and just sit down. (This is very entertaining . . . speaking as a spectator.)

Unless the good fishing is on the other side, or you are in a hurry to get to the bottom of the hill, slopes strewn with scree should be avoided; however, muddy or scree strewn slopes can be tested for stability by graciously allowing your fishing buddy to go first.

While form is important, proper falling etiquette should be observed as well.

All falls should be performed in silence. Unmanly shrieks, screams, and little girl noises only diminish the respect that can be gained from your fishing buddies through the degree of difficulty of the fall; however, an audible “oomph” upon impact lets any onlookers know that you’ve survived the fall, and from the reactions of my friends at least, adds comedic punctuation.

No fall is complete without proper follow through. Always assume that there are spectators and remember that it’s how you fall that matters. Do it with style. Staunch the bleeding—this is real he-man stuff—by packing the wounds with mud, then move off in a composed manner. When you are confident that there are no witnesses, curl up into the fetal position and wait for the pain to subside.

A couple of years ago, I took a fall that had me limping for most of the summer. I had spotted some rising Trout that were holding behind a large rock on the other side of the river. I was almost across and thinking that I had made it when I began watching the Trout and planning my cast. My feet shot out from under me and I came down hard on a sharp rock with my knee. (Knee: the part of the body most useful in locating sharp objects.) White pain shot through my brain; the kind of pain that shoots blinding flashes of light behind your eyes and makes you sick to your stomach; the kind of pain that causes you to wonder if you can make it back to the truck. I stayed on my hands and knees sucking air in short breaths through clinched teeth and waited for the pain to subside. I thought about the climb out of the canyon and wondered how long it would be before my body would be discovered. I thought about my friend who had just underwent a knee replacement and wondered if I would be getting fitted for a new skid. I pulled my good leg under me and stood up, testing the injured leg by slowly putting weight on it until I was satisfied that I could walk. I found my rod laying half in and half out of the water were I had somehow managed to toss it clear of the fall. The fish were still rising in spite of the commotion, so I gave the rod a quick inspection and caught three nice Browns before I decided to make the climb out while my knee was still numb. It was several months before I could walk pain free.

© 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.

BEAVER SLAPPED


Word count: 697                                       BEAVER SLAPPED

According to Michigan state law, beaver dams cannot be built or maintained except by beavers. I find this fascinating. I have often wondered if by consuming grubs, berries, roots, rodents, and backpackers I could produce bear scat, but there’s probably a law against that, too.

In the past, the Department of Natural Resources would blow up problem beaver dams with Dynamite. I have often found pieces of detonation cord at these old dam sites; however, Lately they have taken to placing large rocks along the tops of the dams in an effort to adjust the flow of water going over them without removing or otherwise damaging the dam. I wonder if this policy of placing rocks on the tops of the dams extends the natural life of the dam and interferes with spawning fish. Beaver dams often get washed out during the spring runoff; for the fish moving into these drainages from lakes and reservoirs to spawn, the damage done to the dams during the runoff is essential.

In places overpopulated with beaver, the ponds can be very small. I often catch deformed fish (fish with large heads and long, snaky bodies) in these places. When Left alone, the beaver will periodically relocate their dams as they exhaust the supply of tender willows that they love, forming ponds throughout the whole drainage, changing the course of the stream, and creating new habitat for their riparian neighbors.

Beaver ponds are tough to fish. The commotion caused by the fly-line hitting the static water of the pond spooks the fish. This can be avoided by using a longer leader and a delicate cast, but I have found fishing a pond from above more productive. I let the fly drift down until the fly-line straightens out and then give it a few twitches. This method works extremely well with nymphs. When the nymph settles on the bottom, I begin to give the fly movement by stripping the line in slowly. I have stood in one spot and picked off five or six trout using this technique.

I often come across beaver slides (places where the beaver inter and exit the stream) that are big enough to resemble the mouth of a small feeder creek. I don’t know if these large slides are made by large beaver, or if they are the result of repeated use by small beaver, but they are big enough to give me the willies, and they get me to thinking about the stories I’ve heard of people being attacked by rabid beavers. I always stop and peer into the shadowy willows, expecting to see a giant beaver sitting there giggling and quivering with disease, waiting to pounce.

I have gotten close to beaver in the twilight of the evening with neither me nor the beaver being aware of the others presence—until the last minute.

Late one afternoon I headed downstream from my camp to fish a long stretch of creek that was located between two large beaver ponds. I found a shallow riffle marked by several rocks about the size of a man’s head sticking halfway out of the water where I was able to cross the creek and approach this particularly productive bend pool from below. The fishing was good and I had caught eight or ten fish when I realized that I had stayed too late and I would have to hustle in order to get back to camp before dark. In the twilight, I could barely make out the rocks that marked my crossing spot. I had made it to the middle of the stream when one of the rocks I had just stepped over slapped the water with its tail and shot upstream between my legs. When I came down, I came down on dry land on the other side of the creek, somehow managing a standing broad jump that would have easily qualified me for Olympic competition. (It’s wise to bring along fresh pants on camping trips . . . for emerge-ncies.) When I got my breath back, I finished marking my trail and headed on back to camp, glad that I wasn’t wearing chest-waders.

© 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.