Thursday, August 20, 2015

Scott Willooughby's Final Post Column

To Colorado Outdoor-Loving Types,

  If you were one of those people who only bought the Denver Post on Wednesdays or Sundays, primarily to read Scott Willoughby's Outdoor columns, you might have wondered where his column was yesterday. That column wasn't printed, nor will any future columns be, because the Post has decided in its infinite wisdom that things happening in the "outdoors" are no longer of interest to its dwindling readership. 

  If you've read any of Scott's stuff, you know he was a worthy successor to the proud tradition the Post had with its outdoor coverage.  In Bob Saile, Charlie Meyers, and Scott, the Denver Post had three of the best writers on subjects outdoors and otherwise that could be found in any American newspaper.  But in a changing media landscape, why waste such valuable newsprint real estate on something as pointless as the "out of doors", when it could be used for something more important like Kardashian family updates, or an American Chinese Furniture Warehouse ad?

  I've always admired that way Scott and Charlie could take a complex subject, and winnow it down to the small amount of word room they had to work with, and make it informative, funny, and to the point.  Both men also had the ability to turn a phrase or two in their stories that made whatever subject they were writing about linger in your mind. We no longer get to be enlightened by Charlie's words, but I'm sure we'll be hearing from Scott again very soon in some new outlet (or at least I hope so!)

  Below is the column you would have read on Wednesday, if the Post had enough class, taste and wisdom to print it.  Of course if they had, they wouldn't have been consigning the Colorado outdoors to the dustbin to begin with, and Scott would not have had to write it in the first place. 

                                                                 Jack Bombardier

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  Scott Willoughby's Last Denver Post Column (unpublished)


The best stories have always originated in the outdoors.
Be it the fireside tale that never grows old no matter how many times it’s told, or a modern classic born of the latest adventure, the wild outside has always offered the ideal backdrop for compelling drama.
Like the rest of the world, the genre has evolved over time, taking us beyond the campfire to the Ted Trueblood era of Field & Stream, establishing local newspaper legends like Charlie Meyers, Bob Saile and Ed Dentry before making its way to the cutting edge of social media and contemporary brands like Yeti Coolers that urge through advertising: Be the guy with the story about the bear.
Along the way, it found folks like you and me: Drawn in by nature’s allure, hooked by the sensations of adventure, dedicated to enriching and sharing the experience so that others might come to understand our collective passion for the outdoors and embrace it as their own. The stories are the things that connect us best to the land, the water, the wildlife and one another.
There will always be a place for compelling outdoor stories and storytelling in Colorado, just no longer here on these pages. Or perhaps just no longer here by me.
As of this week, The Denver Post has decided to do away with its traditional Outdoors pages, and by extension, my position as Outdoors writer, photographer and columnist. I’ve been invited to continue writing stories about Rams, Buffaloes and Falcons, but like those college sports mascots, the gesture feels symbolic at best. In all likelihood, this is the final column, outdoors or otherwise, I’ll be asked to write for The Denver Post.
Among those outside the paper already aware of this decision, the disappointment has been universal. The pervading sense of loss has less to do with me personally than to Colorado’s collective outdoors community as an entity. In the absence of an uprising — and likely even in its presence — the voice of that community expressed for so long on these pages will soon fade to black. So many stories are left untold.
It can be easily argued that these stories of wild places and the people drawn to them are more important now than ever. As our sprawling world grows ever more crowded, battle lines drawn over resources in greater demand, such places offer respite and reward that can’t be found or recreated anywhere else. And they require the voices of those who know and love them best to keep the fire lit.
My ambition is to continue down this path, although where it leads is anyone’s guess right now (and yes, I am open to offers). After more than a decade dedicated to the cause of Colorado outdoors, the mission and message remain as compelling as ever. It’s the job I was born to do.
First though, my heartfelt thanks are due for the opportunity I’ve had to do the job I’ve most aspired toward. While there is much more to achieve, for a time, at least, I could lay claim to the best job in Colorado.
But like the campfire that gave birth to so many stories and outdoor traditions, this chapter is about to go up in smoke. I have no doubt the fire has not gone out, however. The flame will reignite and grow. The stories — maybe even some told by me — will linger. And new ones will emerge.
The void is great. But the tale is never-ending.

                                                          By Scott Willoughby

Headwaters Matter



          What Happened To the Animas, or Why Headwaters Matter

    A few days ago, after a perfect day on a perfect river (the Colorado) I got home to watch a sickening series of images shown on the nine o’clock news. They were aerial images of the Animas River, looking like a bright orange ribbon of toxicity winding through pastures and past golf courses. The Animas is a river I would have considered just as perfect as my own not long ago. It will be beautiful again one day, but it’ll probably remain tainted for the rest of my lifetime. The Animas begins in the highest of Colorado’s high country, the San Juans, birthplace of five of Colorado’s greatest rivers. The Rio Grande, the Dolores, the Uncompadre, the San Miguel, and the Animas all begin here.  There are very few places on earth that are the natal source of so much life, spreading out like spokes in a wheel. The Dolores feeds the Colorado, just before turning its crimson flows towards Moab.  The Rio Grande helps water the lower San Luis Valley and is the lifeline of Taos and much of northern New Mexico all the way to Texas and the Gulf Coast.  The Uncompadre nurtures one of Colorado’s true breadbaskets, bolstered by an amazing irrigation project built a hundred years ago underneath a mountain using waters from the Gunnison.

  And then there’s the Animas.  If you grew up back east the way I did, you probably hadn’t heard of the Animas.   The Animas has a pretty colorful history, in all meanings of the word.  There are plenty of mines above it, and despite the history of men and women doing amazing things at high altitudes in tough conditions, the main legacy of the mining era is its toxic waste.  But the Animas feeds into the San Juan, and the San Juan merges into the Colorado at Lake Powell, and the Colorado below that is the lifeline of Phoenix and Las Vegas and the Imperial Valley. The Animas is fed by a little creek called Cement, probably not so named due its bucolic properties.  Abandoned mines leach into Cement Creek, which has been fishless for as long as miners have been extracting wealth from these hills.  One of these is called Gold King, and it was walked away from by the last men to work it in 1923.  Gold King was one of the many holes in the ground trickling nasty stuff into Cement Creek, which in turn flows the Animas.  EPA crews were poking around that hornet’s nest of toxicity when something breached and the small trickle turned into a small flood. 

  The problem with Cement Creek is that it’s a really stupid creek. The water in it wasn’t content enough to just stay where it was, and enjoy the wonderful views it had of the surrounding countryside.  No, that deranged Cement Creek water wants to run downhill towards Silverton due that pesky unseen force known as “gravity”.  Gravity is something that scientists can explain the effects of and manipulate, but don’t really understand the true cause of.  All we really know is, unless external pressure is exerted upon it water runs downhill, and on the western slope of North America, that means that the true connected end point of Cement Creek is the Pacific Ocean, via the Animas, the San Juan, and the Colorado rivers.

 The EPA was attempting to mitigate what they knew was an impending problem, and in the process triggered the exact outcome they were hoping to avoid.  Whomever was operating that track hoe or bulldozer probably feels badly right now, or if they don’t they should.  But the EPA at least had good intentions, and was trying to do the right thing, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with. 

  The thing that really all brought this to forefront to me was something I heard from a neighbor the day after the news broke.  We were having a nice conversation, and admiring how perfect the Colorado River was looking. Knowing that he is also a lover of rivers, I asked him if he’d seen what had happened on the Animas. Since our properties are more than fourteen miles from a cell phone signal, sometimes it’s easy to get a little behind on world events. Turns out, he had. We exchanged a few comments about it, and then he looked at me with a pointing gesture and said, “Do you know that the EPA did it?”

  Now my neighbor is a wonderful person, and one of the nicest people I know.  But he’s made his career in the uranium mining industry, and I’ve made my livelihood dependent on having a clean river to run.  This is one of those things that happen which some people are just going to look at from different perspectives. In strictly technical terms, he was right.  The EPA “did” it. If they had just left it alone, and just gone and done something else with its increasingly limited resources, then maybe the Animas River would have kept being one of the most beautiful rivers in America for another year or two, or for the rest of my life, or maybe even longer. But maybe not.  The point is, the EPA didn’t create the problem, they were trying to fix someone else’s mess, and that’s not the same thing. 

 Then my neighbor said, “Well they didn’t break any laws, there were no rules back then”, as if to say, “if it wasn’t illegal then they did nothing wrong”.  He was referring to the miners who a hundred years ago had dug the mine, extracted whatever wealth there was to be had from it, and then walked away.  That’s a scenario which was repeated  thousands of times in the west. There are an estimated 18,000 abandoned mines in Colorado, and 250 of them are leaching toxins into our watersheds.  Once again, he was a hundred percent correct.  Back then, doing that broke no laws, or least no meaningful ones.  But bad behavior back then is why we have laws to try and regulate that kind of behavior now. If the unfettered free market could be allowed to do whatever it wanted and not just walk away from the mess it had created, then we wouldn’t need an EPA in the first place.

  The EPA was created in the early seventies, and signed into existence by a radical environmentalist called Richard Nixon. What’s happened on the Animas should be a wake-up call for everyone that protecting watersheds is important, for they make life as we know it possible.  I’ve heard one suggestion that this might be a “Cuyahoga River Moment” for watershed awareness, referring to the Ohio River which caught fire in 1969 and was one impetus for passing the Clean Water Act in 1972.  I hope something good like that can come from the poisoning of a beautiful river like the Animas.  There are those who would defang the EPA in any way possible, up to and including getting rid of it altogether.  They might use this horrible but inevitable accident as a rationale to blame or tear down the EPA, which after all exists to help mitigate problems like these and not manufacture them. 


  Recently, the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineers have moved to restore the protections given to headwaters under the Clean Water Act, (also passed by that Edward Abbey doppelganger Nixon).  These logical rules, which understood that little creeks like Cement Creek are connected to rivers below, and not somehow distinct from them, were relaxed under the Bush administration.  Trout Unlimited has been calling attention to this issue, and urging its members to contact their congressperson and ask them to not stand in the way of restoring the original language and intent of the Clean Water Act.

  The Yakima River TU chapter in Washington State recently printed up a large number of “Headwaters Matter” bumper stickers.  They were created in response to some of the issues faced by the Yakima River, including placer mines.  But though the issues in Colorado or anywhere else might not be the same, the message is.  Headwaters matter. We all live downriver, and downwind, from someone else.  What others do above, has an impact on those below. The higher up a watershed you go, the more lives and ecosystems below are affected by your choices.


  The bottom line is, one of the most verdant and beautiful spots on the planet has been irrevocably harmed, not by someone living and breathing today, but by someone who has long since passed.  (Unless you believe in reincarnation, in which smashing the next mosquito you see might help balance the karmic scales).The point is, how do we try to make some good out of something that has virtually no upside to it?  Supporting the restoration of headwaters protection by the Clean Water Act is an obvious first step.  Another positive thing that might come from this is for people to acknowledge that all of the waters that flow from the highest peak to the widest ocean estuary are all one thing, not separate and distinct.  Like an aspen glade consisting of what seems to be individual trees that are actually just one big plant, so too is water from mountain streams all the way down to the sea.  Just one thing, and all the same thing. Trying to make one set of rules for the water on your right hand, and another for the water on your left, makes no sense.  It is all one water, indivisible by God or whatever deity you are accountable to.

  As science explores the universe, and searches deep into the cosmos for worlds suitable for human habitation, one thing becomes abundantly clear.  The best possible habitat we’ll ever find in our lifetime or in our grandchildren’s is the humble old rock we’re currently stuck on. Headwaters matter, and so do everything those headwaters are connected to, which is to say, everything else. Headwatters are especially important, because they are upstream of everything we hold dear. If the source becomes fouled, then everything downstream of the source becomes impure, as well.  Its our duty as citizens and temporary guardians of this planet to keep the waters we depend on as clean as we can from as high up as we can all the way down to the ocean’s edge.

  Watching the toxic orange progression make its way from the highest peaks through Durango, and then on to the southwest desert should really make obvious the connectedness of it all to everyone.

                                 Jack Bombardier
 

Guides Need To Fish Sometimes, Too



                              Guides Need To Fish Sometimes, Too

I just got home from a day and a half of fishing, but it felt like a week.  That’s because although I’m a fishing guide, I don’t get to actually fish myself very often, at least not during the summer. What I do quite often is watch other people fish. Oh, I  spent five or ten minutes most evenings just before dark standing out on the end of my dock trying to catch the same small brown trout.  I’ll usually toss flies to them until I fool one, or can’t see the river anymore.  But that’s not really fishing, there’s no skill involved in the doing of it. Its just a bit of methadone, and not a real heroin fix.

  Summers have gotten busier in each of the eleven years I’ve done this. There are a lot of outdoor-minded people coming to Colorado in the summer, partly due to the fact that the Centennial State is a pretty darn great place to be.  Dry weather, full reservoirs, and not many bugs. More people seem to figure out every year that Colorado is where its at in the summertime. (The cliché is that people come to Colorado for the skiing, but stay for the summers).  Most of my July and August days are spent rowing, then recovering from that day’s float trip, and then getting ready for the next. 

  But this weekend, two things happened simultaneously.  First, we had a torrential rainstorm on Thursday night that turned the river bright red on Friday.  Also on Friday, my wife left town to go visit her sister in Arizona for the weekend.  Suddenly I found myself looking at a couple of off-color days in which I couldn’t extract any filthy lucre from the Colorado River.  Just as important, there was no one around to tell me how I should be filling that gap instead.  And so on Saturday morning, I mowed the lawn to fulfill my legal minimum spousal requirements, and then went fishing. 

   Not only did I get to go fishing, but I got to try a couple of new spots I’ve been wanting to try,  plus I can write the whole thing off to research. Another guide I work with has been trying to turn me onto a couple of high-mountain lakes I’d somehow missed, so this would be a chance to check them out first-hand before bringing any clients up there. 

  Since the Colorado River was off-color, and probably would be for another couple of days, going up above the red sediment sounded good.  So I to  an area that shall remain nameless, one I had spent some time in before.  Even though I’d fished it many times for fun, this time I would look it at with the cool eye of a trained professional, tasked with getting someone who had never held a fly rod into fish.  I started at a lake large enough to paddle around in, but not big enough for a motor.  To do the paddling part, I brought a water vessel I’d never used before, a small one man raft called a Tote-N-Float.  Its fits into its own bag with carry straps, and is fairly sturdy.  It’s designed to use oars, but the oarlocks it has are a hard to find design, and so lacking those I brought a kayak paddle. 

  Things with the Tote-N-Float started poorly and didn’t improve much.  I had a difficult time getting the pump hose to seal, and it took about five times more pumping than it should have needed to fill it up.  Once I got it filled, I paddled out in to the lake into a slight headwind, but couldn’t really take efficient strokes with the paddle due to the protruding obsolete oar locks.  The boat was very wide, and had a blunt bow that gave the wind plenty of rubber to push against.  With my paddle blades having to be held way out away from the boat, the little craft had a pronounced yaw first right then left as I made my way across the lake.  I looked over my shoulder and saw that I was leaving a zigzaw pattern of bubbles behind me.  And then there was my cold, wet ass, and other body parts that are neighbors of the same physiological region.  The Tote-N-Float had a rigid seat made of plywood with an attached stadium seat, but it was only about a half-inch out of the water with me sitting on it.  If I could have just sat still there without either me or the water moving, my crotch might have stayed dry.  I realized too late that I should have worn waders, and not simply quick-dry pants.  For those pants to stay dry, certain moisture-free time intervals need to be observed between wettings, and I didn’t get any of those on the Tote-N-Float.

  I got out into the middle of the lake, and sat there resting all of the new muscles in my arms, shoulders, and back that I never knew I had.  The motion I had adopted to propel the boat was one akin to crawling out of quicksand or a grave.  I leaned back to rest a moment, and heard a slight hissing sound.  I’ve had a lot of inflatable devices in my life, and in that rich experience one thing I’ve learned is that hissing sounds are not good to hear around inflatables.  Over my left shoulder I could see a steady stream of bubbles coming from the boat in a spot that I had gotten patched.  The Tote-N-Float only cost me fifty bucks a couple of years ago because it had a small tear.  I spent more than twice that getting a patch put on in Denver, but the boat had sat in its carry bag for two years before I finally got around to trying it.

  Now I was in the middle of the lake with a difficult to row leaking boat, and a cold, wet ass.   I wasn’t worried about running out of air, for I did bring the pump with me along in the Tote-N-Float’s ample storage area behind the stadium seat.   But I questioned whether I could be doing something more fun and productive instead, and which didn’t feel so much like being in a wet diaper.  I crab-rowed my way back to shore, the steady breeze at my back.  When I got back I stuffed the Tote-N-Float back into its handy carry sack, and it may be there for another two years. 

  Now I had to decide how to try and salvage the afternoon.  There was a sweet small river that meanders through a big meadow nearby, one I’ve fished before, so I headed for that.  It’s a short, steep walk down to the river, but worth the hike.  I had fished this river several times before, but usually during the morning or early afternoon when the fish are kind of spooky.  Now it was late afternoon, and I could see small bugs about and some rise forms.

  I cracked open a beer and put it in the river to keep it cold (my favorite temperature for beer is whatever temperature the river is). Then I had to decide which rod to use.  I had with me a ten foot three weight, and a twelve foot Tenkara.  I was going to start with the conventional rig, but then I noticed a hole that presents just the kind of situation that the Tenkara really excels at.  The small river went around a bend, and just beyond the bend there was a small reverse eddy like a bursitis bump in an old man’s elbow. The Tenkara rod was pulled from my bag and extended, and soon I was dropping my two-fly cocktail into the spinning foam.  After several spins around in the foam without interest, I decided to switch back to my conventional rig.  Looking up the river, I knew I’d have to make longer casts and so the Tenkara got closed back up. 

  There were little pale mayflies hatching, and I thought that my standard rig should work.  That consists of a ten foot 5X leader attached to a hi-vis Elk Hair Caddis, trailed by a little mayfly.  There were occasional caddis flies flitting by, so I figured I was covered either way.  But neither fly elicited much interest, but when I noticed that they were rising for something I knew I had to make an adjustment. Then I came to hole that just said Tenkara. The river split into three channels, and there were three little back eddies to fish, all around the outside of a small gooseneck.  One could stand at the center of the gooseneck, and fish all three uisng the Tenkara’s reach without hardly moving one’s feet. Before I cast into the first pool, I replaced the mayfly with another elk hair caddis, this one without the hi-vis orange tuft on top. There had been a couple of hits on my top fly with the ten footer that I’d missed, but none on the mayfly.  I flicked the flies into the first swirly spot, and after a couple attempts at divining the complicated little hydraulic, got a rise to the second caddis fly.  Steering the fish away from the other holes, I tipped the Tenkara rod way back over my head and landed a nice little six inch brookie.  I kept fishing the Tenkara, and in the third hole I caught a small brown, this one about nine inches, (or what known in the Colorado River as preyfish).  Neither fish was big, but they were beautiful and feisty. I worked my way up the little stream, getting more hits but missing them. Then near the top of the meadow I pulled out a really nice cutththroat, fourteen inches of bronze color with black Sharpied spots and a slash so red I thought he was bleeding.   It was the nicest cut I’d caught in some time. 

  After working my way up the river I got to then end of the bigger pools, and in the waning light decided to explore what lay downstream.  I was able in spots to just walk along the river with my arm extended and the fly just floating alongside me like a dog at heel. The fly came to a small riffle, and as I took my eye off it to look at what was below I felt a tug in my hand and realized that I had a trout on. It wasn’t a big trout, and as I gently brought it to the bank, before I could see what kind of trout it was, I had the thought, if it’s a rainbow then you’ve gotten a Grand Slam.

  Now I am not normally the kind of person who cares much about How Many or How Big a day we have trout-wise.  Fly fishing for trout is mostly just an excuse to be in the beautiful places they tend to live in.  But I had never caught all four main species of trout in one day, let alone out of one river. And at this point, I was only lacking a rainbow, and I knew that the state fisheries people loaded the lake below with them.  It was like being a baseball player who had already hit a home run, triple and double, and only needed a single to hit for the cycle.  So as I drew the trout closer with my arm held as high to land the fish, I was disappointed to see that it was another brookie.  Immediately I chastised myself for feeling that way, for brook trout are my favorite trout.  They are the fish I grew up chasing in New England.  To my eyes they are also the prettiest, (though I’ve seen a tiger trout in person), and photography just doesn’t do trout justice.  I released the brookie, fished my way down to the end of meadow ‘til it was almost dark, and gave up on the Grand Slam idea.  I would have just enough time to get back to my truck before dark, and put away the Tenkara so that I could photograph the sunset over the mountains.

   Reaching for my camera, I noticed that I was missing something, mainly my camera.  It was a new waterproof camera I had just gotten less than two weeks earlier, after losing my last one overboard off my boat. Trying to remember where I had used it last, I realized that it been when I took the picture of that gorgeous cutthroat.  Walking briskly upriver, I tried to remember which hole I caught it in, but the little goosenecks looked a lot alike and it was almost dark.  But then I saw it, on the bank right below where I had steered the cut towards to photograph it. 

  I secured the camera in a zippered pocket, and looked up the steep hill towards the 4Runner on the shoulder above.  Starting to head that way, I remembered that I was still one rainbow trout short of a Grand Slam.  Since it wasn’t completely dark yet, there was still time for a couple more casts, so I pulled the Tenkara back out.  I cast towards the spinning foam pockets, and missed one hit on a tiny foam line.  The flies were barely visible in the dark purple light that was left.  I moved down the river a bit to the next hole, tried a couple of casts, and then moved down one more.  I was fishing more by feel than by sight. I put the fly in a likely-looking spot, or at least I think I did, when I felt a little pull on the rod.  Raising it slightly resulted in a splash on the water, and the fight was on.  I decided that no matter what was on the end of the line, and that it was going to be my last cast of the day.  Of course, that promise was made easier to keep when I got the fish in my net and saw that it was a seven inch long rainbow trout.  I had gotten my first Grand Slam of trout in less than two hours, in a very small river using a Tenkara rod! 

  Fishing for trout has never been much of a results-oriented pastime for me, but still it was hard not to feel good about it. It made the steep hike back up to my truck go much easier!

  That night I resupplied in town, and then drove back up to start doing the “research” part of the trip. There were three small lakes that my buddy and partner took paying clients to, and if I got familiar with them then it might give me an alternative way to earn money guiding when the Colorado River was off-color. The first lake was really a small impoundment, located in national forest so I could park the 4Runner for the night wherever I wanted.  I followed my friend’s directions up an increasingly smaller and steeper road to a dead end, where I saw signage for the lake.  It had begun to rain as I went up into the mountains, and it was impossible to see the lake in the dark.  Every now and then a flash of distant lightning would allow me to get a sense of it, but really scoping it out would have to wait until morning.  I got a great night’s sleep that night in the back of the 4Runner, listening to the tap tap tap of the rain on the soft top that I had just reinstalled for summer. An ’88 4Runner might just be one of the best small SUVs ever made.  It the only year they put a V-6 into the first generation body style, which is also the only 4Runner made that allowed for the removal of the fiberglass top an the addition of a soft jeep-style top. It’s a great truck in the winter, and even better in the summer.  With the left rear seat bottom taken out, a six-footer can easily sleep in the back.  I love dirt-bagging it in the 4Runner, and gladly did so that night. 

  In the morning I walked over to the lake to check it out.  The first thing that I had noticed on the Forest Service sign was that the lake had grayling in it, or at least it did when the sign was erected.  That sounded interesting – maybe I could follow up my grand slam with my first grayling?  I made some hot coffee, and went down to the water’s edge where I had yogurt, orange juice, a banana, and apiece of apple pie for breakfast.  Across the lake (which was maybe thirty acres in size) was a bald eagle,. On the surface of the water there was a disturbance, and in the shallows I could see a trout-sized fish finning along.  I wasn’t sure if it was a grayling, and the tail seemed to be breaking the water more than the famous dorsal fin, but I’d never seen a trout so stupid as to be that obvious and exposed to predators.

  The only two other people out there were a pair in a small johnboat tooling around the lake with an electric trolling motor.  They were fishing, but I never did see them hook up. There were some intermittent rise forms, but they tended to be out towards the middle. To get to them I’d have blow up the Tote-N-Float again, and wear waders, and I wasn’t inclined to do either.  After breakfast, I got my nine foot Fenwick five-weight and lofted a pair of dry flies out as far as I could into the lake, but that got boring pretty quickly, and the lake itself wasn’t pretty enough to distract me.  One hillside was blanketed by aspens though, and I bet in another month when the leaves were changing it might be a different story.  I was more interested in the other two lakes, and so catching my first grayling would have to wait. 

  The next lake was bigger, but required either a twenty dollar fee to access by boat or by a hike in from the national forest. Since I don’t mind burning a little shoe leather to get to good fishing, and I’m cheap, it was the low-cost option I took. From the trailhead it was about a mile long walk, and the reservoir once I got down to it was once again uninspiring.  There were many more rise forms though, as well as substantial amounts of algae floating about.  When I got to the lake, I saw a rocky promontory with a heron sitting on the point of it, and that seemed to be as good a spot as any to start fishing.  One of the three small tributaries that filled the lake also ran past that area.

  Walking closer to that point, I realized that it was a small island, not a peninsula.  The water across didn’t look far or deep, but by the time I got halfway to it my arms were upraised and the water halfway up my chest.  Where the line is between “wading” and “swimming” can be blurry.  If I had been wearing waders, it would have overtopped them, so technically this might have qualified as “swimming”.  Once onto the heron’s perch, I could see why it liked this spot so much.  Trout could be seen cruising through the pods of floating green gunk, occasionally popping their noses into the surface to slurp some yet-unidentified bug.  After watching them for awhile, I began casting about ten feet in front of the trout I could see hoping that one would check out my offering.  Two did, but both turned abruptly away as soon as they got a closer look at my flies.  At the far end of the lake it looked as though there might be another inlet, so I walked down there to see.  There was a very small and very cold creek of about five cfs that ran in, so I  walked up that to see if there were any small pools.  The water made my sandal-clad feet numb, and I did find one babbling brook dropoff that was worth photographing but not fishing.  I was OK with that though – once more the fishing rod in my hand was merely the ticket to a secluded, beautiful spot that I would never have found if not for the pursuit of trout.  Fishing might have been the reason I was here, but it wasn’t really the reason. On the way back, I watched an osprey making silent circles above the water, playing avian god.  Which of you fish will soon die in my talons? As I watched the osprey, a sudden shadow passed over me like that of a passing plane, and I looked up to see an immature bald eagle fly twenty feet over my head. I was tempted to fish some more, but not really that much.  I had verified that there were fish in the lake, maybe even a good number, but figuring out what they wouldn’t turn their noses up to wouldn’t be that hard to determine. I had noticed huge tricos the size of damselflies hatching, and am pretty sure that I could have imitated one of those pretty well and tempted a fish with that, or a grasshopper. 

  I hiked out from there and went to lake number three, possibly the most promising of all.  It was also in a national forest area, and the road access pretty good. Though it was well off the beaten path, when the lake came into view I saw that there were some people scattered on the bank either spin or bait fishing.  There were two dories out on the lake, both operated by friends of mine.  It was just past noon, and I was preparing to make a long hike to the lake’s inlet, when I saw both boats heading to the small boat ramp.  Instead of hiking, I drove there instead and got to the ramp just as their clients were climbing out of the boats.  I asked my friend if he wanted to give me tour of the lake, but he’d been guiding for several days in a row and was ready for some home time.  But he offered me his boat, and after the previous days experience in the Tote-N-Float I was more than ready to take him up on that.  After attaching his trailer to my truck, I rowed out into the middle to take it all in.  This was a much prettier lake than the last two, though there were more people here as well.  To the northwest was a bold escarpment that was the edge of the Flat Top Mountains, and on the southern edge a dark forest of big trees were guarded over by a big bald eagle.  To the south and north were dark black clouds, and I could tell that I wouldn’t be able to hang here forever before the weather moved in.  I rowed from one end of the lake to the other to get an idea of its size, and the whole time I did so was surrounded by rising fish, some not merely rising but jumping clear of the water in pursuit of their quarry.  My friend had left me a rigged rod, and said to just use that, they had hooked forty fish in under four hours using it.  It was six weight Orvis, rigged with a large foam hopper and a neon green egg pattern suspended beneath.  Out in the middle of the lake I chucked that thing out there, watched in land with a Plop!, and waited.  I made a few more casts towards the heavier concentrations of rings, but no one was interested.  It was everything I hate about still fishing, and why I do so little of it. Fishing moving water has a pull on me that all but the most beautiful of lakes lack.  There is really very little skill involved in still water, just cast it out there, watch closely, and when a hungry fish happens to cruise by be ready to set the hook.  Whoop de doo.  

  The weather seemed to be getting closer, and so was the lightning, and I began to wonder how safe a large aluminum dory would be in the middle of the lake.  I rowed back to what I thought would be striking distance to the ramp, and took out the Fenwick still loaded with a couple of dry flies.  Since fish were still rising aggressively in the face of the oncoming storm, why fish something below the surface? I wanted to see the fish before he hit my fly, and not watch some chunk of foam disappear in the water.  In short order, I caught several fish, mostly small stocker rainbows and one nice brown.  Then the wind kicked up, and the   I knew it was time to make my break for the ramp, and was just finishing strapping the boat down when the hail began to fall.  By the time I got halfway to town, the roads were covered in a layer of white ice that looked like snowfall.
sky was not only black but had turned tornadic green, with the clouds hanging low like the Hulk’s testicles.
  After dropping the boat off with my friend, I made a leisurely drive home.  When I got back home to the Colorado River I was glad to see that it was clear enough to fish.  Visibility was a foot and a half looking down off the Catamount bridge, and presumably clearing. A fishable river meant that it was time to go back to work, and my mid-summer two day holiday was over.  It was time to watch other people fish again, and help them catch some.  

                                          Jack Bombardier