Monday, June 26, 2017

Jim's Swim

From: Larry
Monday, June 19, 2017 3:52 PM
To: jack bombardier
Subject: Jim's Passing

I’m sorry to tell you that Jim passed away about two weeks ago.  I guess he’ll  always be remembered as the only one who ever went swimming  (involuntarily) on one of your fishing trips.  He was seemingly in good health when we had lunch around the first of May.  About two weeks later he was feeling bad enough that his daughter took him  to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with leukemia.  He was told that it was a virulent type that required an extreme type of chemotherapy and the treatment would probably not extend his life more than a few days.  He opted to forego the therapy, went into hospice around the twenty with of May, and was gone within two weeks. 


  So sorry to hear about Jim. He was one of my all-time favorite customers!  I've enjoyed all the time I've spent with both of you on my big green boat.  You don't see too many automatic reels anymore like Jim had, I'll be missing both seeing and hearing those. I've always envied the fact that you two could be best fishing buddies for fifty years.  I hope that you haven't already taken your last trip with me too, and there's only one way to fix that!
  I do sometimes tell people on river trips about the ‘Only Person To Have Ever Fallen Out Of My Boat’.  I started to write you about my reminiscence of it, and as the details filled in realized that it had become a little story, or at least an anecdote.  Do you mind if I post this on my blog?  Names of any guilty parties can be changed.
   Again, sorry to hear about Jim.  I'm glad you got to hang out with him recently, even if you had no clue that it might be the last.  There is going to be some interaction we have with everyone we meet that will someday be our last, whether we know it or not at the time.  I guess that's a good reason to treat everyone as nice as possible, so that the last memory they have of us will be a positive one!

                                                          Jim's Swim
The way that I remember it, the three of us were out in late October and the sun had dipped below the canyon rim.  It wasn't dark yet, but getting darkish.  I was with Larry and Jim, two of my favorite customers.  They were the kind of clients that made me feel guilty taking pay for being in their company. They were both around seventy when they began doing floats with me, but had already been best fishing buddies for fifty years.  Larry lived on the Front Range and had a place in Summit County, and Jim lived in Grand Junction. That made my stretch of river roughly halfway in between for both of them, and so it was a nice equitable drive for them to come fish here. Both men had lives well lived, and shared the good stories that accumulate around such a life. 
On one of their trips, we were running a little later that usual, and being late October the evening has a way of snatching away the sunlight earlier each evening.  After a summer of pretty constant river flows of around 1000 cfs, the river levels had dropped to 700 cfs, exposing rocks that could have been safely floated over a week earlier.  Late in the day it became obvious that we would be finishing in the dark, the only question being, how much of it?
  Then Jim hooked a nice fish in the hole below Jack Flats, where the beaver pond above splashes back into the Colorado River below.  When the river is low, it becomes a haven of oxygenated habitat for the trout. There have been many fish caught here over the years, but this was one of the biggest ones yet. It pulled harder than the usual fifteen inch brown trout we usually caught, but since we were tossing streamers with heavy tippets Jim soon brought the fish to heel.
  He got his fish to the side of the boat, and being in short section of flat water, I opted to land it on the move without dropping anchor.  Jim steered the fish into the net, and once safely subjugated we saw that in it was a huge rainbow trout.  Rainbow trout used to be the dominant fish in the Colorado River before Whirling Disease, and though their numbers had dropped dramatically, their numbers were beginning to climb again.  His rainbow was valuable broodstock, and we needed to get it back into the water as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, the trout had gobbled a black woolly bugger that was now down deep in its gullet. I totally ignored the passage of the raft over the next few seconds, concentrating entirely on delicately removing the hook without making the fish bleed, in darkening light on a gently rocking boat.  The hook came free, and I lowered the trout into the water, leaning way out over the side so that current could run into the rainbow's mouth and revive it.  The fish held itself there limply for a moment, and then with a great burst of strength shot out of my hand.
  I got back into the seat and grabbed the oars, and saw that we were headed towards some rocks on river left.  Larry was up front and watching everything closely, letting me know about the danger to our left.  Pulling hard on the oars, I called out over my shoulder, "Hang on Jim!".
  "I'm hangin'!" came the gruff reply.  I wasn't quite able to completely arrest the motion of the raft, and we bumped the furthest-most rock.  It was enough to spin the boat a little as well, and as we began to go sideways I heard a loud, "Ooof!" behind me.  Looking over my shoulder, all I saw were the undersides of Jim's boots as he back-flipped off the boat. We saw the back of his head and shoulders quickly floating away from us in the fast current, while hearing him whoop and laugh.
  Jim was headed towards a shallow bank river left coming up in his best case scenario, or off to Mexico in the worst.  The raft got hung up a bit, but I swung it downstream and rowed like hell to catch up to my amused flotsam, guffawing loudly over the sound of the river.
  When Jim got to the shallow water, he was able to stop himself and stand back up, still laughing.  I had forgotten what he had been wearing that day for water protection until he stood up.  It wasn't something like full-length neoprene waders or a breathable one with a belt, but  pair of rubber Red Ball hip boots, worn over blue jeans. Quite possibly the worst thing a person want want to wear to a swim meet held on the brisk Colorado River, whether they be seventy years old or seventeen. 
  Larry and I pulled up beside him on the bank, and endeavored to get Jim back into the boat, but couldn't because he couldn't lift his leg with the weight of the water in his boots.  We sat him down on the end of the front pontoon, and I lifted his leg slowly up. When it got above his waist, a couple of gallons of cold water came down and splashed him, with Jim howling in laughter and merriment the whole time.  He and Larry were exchanging what amounted to, "Holy cow, did that really just happen?" comments.  I was worried that Jim might be going into shock. Now that the sun had gone down it had gotten much colder, I was feeling a chill. I thought,  I'm fifty years old and dry,  Jim's got twenty years on me and is completely drenched!  It was looking like a fast row home, with Jim needing to soak in the hot tub to stave off hypothermia once we got there.
  "All right Jim, let's get the other boot" I said, and began to lift that leg.  Once more came a cold rush of water, and again Jim acted as if he couldn't have been having a better time.  "Jim!  Are you OK?" I shouted.  I looked deeply into his face to see if his pupils were normal.  With a big laugh, Jim said, "Haw! Haw! Haw! All that cold water is going right up my ass!  Haw! Haw! Haw!"
  Larry and I were beside ourselves laughing too.  Jim had just been through a life-threatening experience better than us. We cobbled together enough dry clothes between the three of us to get Jim warm and dry, and he made it home just fine.  Going for an evening swim in the Colorado River is not something that most people would handle well, unless their name is Jim Katzel! 
  What made me want to document this recollection, is that today I found out that Jim has passed on to his next grand adventure, the one that awaits us all.  I'm sure that wherever his spirit is now, he's making his new companions happy to be in his company, as he did when he was down here.  Fare thee well Jim, and hang on!