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June 3, 2008

Gold Medal Rivers

15 inch Rainbow Trout

So, the fishing guide and I head out to the South Platte River today and, it's not looking so good. Clouding up. Kinda nasty looking. We stop off in Pine Junction and buy some flies and gear. What are they hitting on? Caddis flies. So we buy some Caddis flies and grasshoppers, etc. Some gink and hemostats and tippet. Just standard stuff. Crawl back into the guide's truck and head on down the road. Down across Buffalo Creek and up the hill and down again until finally we're at the Gill Trailhead.

There aren't a whole lot of people in the parking lot. Just a few Jeeps with the ubiquitous "Orvis Certified Trout Guide 2008" stickers.

"Charlie, why aren't there more people here?" I ask.

"Well", the guide begins, "today is a work day, right?"

"Oh. That's right. I forgot. It's Monday."

"It's Tuesday," he corrects.

"Oh. Right."

We start walking up a trail, past spectacular wildflowers - pink Elephant Heads and purple Larkspur and red Indian Paintbrush. We hike and we hike and we hike for probably a solid 45 minutes. Past signs warning of the dangers of the New Zealand Mud Snails. Past tortured Bristle Cone Pines and Ponderosa Pines struck by lighting. Past trees burned in the Hayman fire. Down to a mountain goat trail that parallels the river.

All the other people here sit at home at night, tying their own flies in the basement. They have gold hemostats hanging from their jackets. Tiny clippers dangle from curly plastic leashes. They wear fly fishing hats and polarized Orvis sun glasses.

My outfit is just cobbled together. I'm wearing a U.S. army desert camo hat. Some shades I found at Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert. Duck-hunting camoflauge waders. Sorel snow boots. A wife-beater T-shirt. I'm roughly equivalent to the guy skiing at Vail in his deer hunting camo.

"Do your boots have felt soles?" the guide wants to know.

The felt soles are supposed to keep you from slipping on the algae covered rocks in the river, but I don't have anything like that.

"Nah. Felt soles are for sissies. These are Sorels. These are men's boots," I reply.

We're walking down a path that's two feet wide, looking down a hundred feet to the river. Below us, trout swim idly in the crystal clear river, facing upstream. If I had a rifle with open sights, I could have shot 8 with no problem.

"Should we fish here?" I ask the guide.

"No. Not here. Further up," he replies. This is all the guide says and we walk and walk and walk and hike and hike and hike.

I'm gulping plastic-tasting water from my CamelBak and admiring the flowers and ducks and trout and finally we come down to a spot in the river where he says we can fish.

I know I won't catch fish. I know this. I'm resigned to this. I'm OK with it. I'm at peace. I just am glad to be out of the house on a beautiful summer day.

I start tying on my tippet, that very thin line at the end of the line that you tie the flies onto and I'm talking to my guide, but I'm not getting any feedback. Charlie is off in a world of his own, drunk in the moment of gold medal river trout fishing. I'm talking to him, but he's not there. He's babbling incoherently and not listening to a word I say.

"Charlie...how much tippet should I tie on?" I demand, angry that he's ignoring me.

"Huh? Are you tying on tippet?" he asks. "Why?"

"God dammit, Charlie. We've already had this conversation. I've already tied the tippet on. I used two knots. We've already had this conversation several times. How long should my tippet be?" I demand angrily.

"I dunno...a foot...eighteen inches..." and with that, Charlie disappears. My guide walks up the river and into his own world. He is, for now at least, dead to me.

I cut the tippet and tie on a Caddis fly and start heading to the river.

My pole is 9 feet long, and I manage to hook a tree and my finger before I make it to the water's edge. When I try to cast, I hook trees, bushes, the pole, rocks - pretty much everything but fish.

The line gets wrapped around my feet and my boots and my landing net and when I finally manage to cast into the water, everything curls up and the fly snaps off. Where did it go? No clue. No clue.

I catch nothing but trees and bushes and rocks, but I don't care. This doesn't matter. Nothing matters.

The wind picks up and a female merganser comes flying past, heading upriver toward the Cheesman Reservoir.

I'm just practicing casting into the wind. Above the canyon, the skies darken - gray and ominous. We'll have to flee soon or be struck by lightning.

I'm slipping and stumbling in the river, wishing my boots had felt soles, when the guide comes walking back downstream.

"You ready for a beer break?" he asks.

"Oh yeah."

We both collapse on the bank. My shoulders ache and I'm tired and the guide pulls a couple of beers out of the freezing cold river. He opens two and passes me one.

"Have you caught anything?" he asks.

"No. Nothing. You?"

"Two," he replies flatly.

This is what guides are good for. This is why you bring them. You won't catch any fish, but at least you won't go home thirsty.

They say the fish here have PhD's because, if you catch a fish in a Gold Medal stream, you have to release it immediately. So the fish get smarter. They learn. They've seen lots of flies and been caught many times.

So, I don't really care that I haven't caught a fish. I didn't plan on catching a fish. Just an excuse to get out, really. Outside. Outdoors. Colorado Summer. This is it. I'm outside, not on the couch sleeping. I've caught many fish in my life. I'm here for the adventure. That is all.

As we sit chewing the fat on the river's edge, the sky clears above our tortured craggy canyon. The winds die down.

After the beer break, I head for a deep hole and wade into the center of the river. There are good looking holes on either side of me. With a Caddis fly on my line, I cast, alternately, between the two holes.

Other Caddis flies come down and approach my fly on the water. So, I'm glad that I'm fooling someone. At least I've tricked the flies. Now, if only the fish would buy it.

But the Caddis fly is small and hard to see and after a while, I reel it up to inspect it, only to discover that the fly is, in fact, gone. For the second time today. I decide that this isn't cutting it. I reach into my flies and get out the biggest, ugliest fly I have - a grasshopper. I tie it on and smear it in gink real good and now, when I cast, I can finally see my fly. The enormous grasshopper sits clearly on top of the surface of the water, and finally I can watch it properly as it floats downstream.

At first, I couldn't cast more than a few feet in front of me, but after casting all day, I've fallen into a rhythm of sorts, and can cast further out. So, I'm whipping this green line through the air and every so often, the grasshopper lands far enough out that I think...maybe....just maybe a fish might bite that sucker.

Charlie's already caught two and I've seen the trout in the river from the bank. So they are in here. There's no question about that. And they have to eat. They're not robotic or anything. They can't be that smart because their brains are smaller than a marble.

It would be cool if I caught one. Way cool. I try not to move my feet too much and I stand in the river and cast and cast and cast until my shoulders are sore. Until my back aches.

But I don't move to another spot. I've resigned myself to stand here and fish until the cows come home. There is no reason to move. The water here is deep and clear. There must be fish in here. I will stand here and cast and if I don't catch anything, I don't care. But I'm not moving. I am happy here.

Charlie is on the other bank, casting toward me. We're fishing the same area of the river. I'm OK with this. It is beautiful here.

"Charlie - this is nice." I say over the current.

"What?" he shouts.

"It's nice here, Charlie." I say. Stupid really, but it is gorgeous here. I don't know if he ever heard me or not. He's in his own world, he is. The sun is reaching the lip of the canyon. Caddis flies are hatching and falling into the creek. We're both whipping long green lines back and forth across the river in the Caddis-filled sunlight. I feel like if I died right here, right now, I'd be OK with that. It doesn't get much better than this. This is a nice day.

Charlie moves on upsteam, but I stay. I stay put. Casting the grasshopper into the current. My casting is improving, but I always hit a different spot, because I couldn't hit exactly the same spot twice if I tried. I'm not that good. I'm not there yet. This is the first day I've every fly fished. But I'm getting better.

I cast and the line loops through the air and whips by my ear and lands on the water and I watch the grass hopper float down the stream and if I don't catch anything, so be it. So be it. Not a big deal. I didn't plan on catching fish. I'm here for the experience. Life is about the journey, not the destination.

Suddenly, I have a fish. A good-sized fish. I'm screaming for Charlie. "CHARLIE!!!! GET THE CAMERA!!!!" I want him to know I have a fish. I don't want him to miss it. Probably, most fly fishermen don't scream when they catch a fish, but I don't care. I have a fish and I want the world to know. FISH ON!!!

Charlie looks at me and grimaces. He doesn't think I'll land the fish. It's in deep water, and diving. Diving now to the bottom of the river, in swift dark water through razor sharp rocks. Charlie grins, and grimaces, but doesn't get the camera. He's sure I'll lose it.

"CHARLIE!!!!! GET THE FUCKING CAMERA!!!!" I yell, and Charlie gets the camera. It is catch-and-release only, you see. You have to let the fish go immediately in a Gold Medal Trout Stream. That's what "Gold Medal" means. You can't keep the fish. You have to let it go. Right now. It's the law.

I see the fish and I have no clue what it is. A German Brown trout is my first thought. But when I finally pull into shallow water, I see that it's a nice Rainbow Trout. Now here's Charlie with the camera, grinning from ear to ear. Shoot Charlie, shoot. I have to get the fish back into the water.

Charlie shoots and just before I release the fish, I measure it from stem to stern and scratch my forearm at the tip of his tail so I'll have an idea later of how long it was and I release the fish and he splashes me as he swims quickly away.

Charlie and I decide to call it a day and we hike out together, babbling about our adventure.

"Most people get skunked here," Charlie offers.

I just grin, ear to ear.

"Why do you think you caught that fish?" he asks.

"I dunno. Just lucky I guess."

And we both laugh and go for dinner at the Buck Snort.

"Charlie," I begin. "We should go fishing again next week," I offer.

"When?" he asks.

"Same day - next week?" I ask.


Posted by Rob Kiser on June 3, 2008 at 9:54 PM


Yay for you! Didn't know what lengths you would need to go to get the photo. Its a great one though!

Posted by: Chick Voice on June 4, 2008 at 10:28 AM

Thanks, Chick Voice. It was quite an ordeal to hike in with all of my camera equipment, but I'm glad we were able to get a shot of my first fly fishing trout for posterity. :)

Posted by: Rob Kiser on June 4, 2008 at 11:56 AM

Now that Mondays are taken what shall we do on Tuesdays? Good work!!

Posted by: sl on June 4, 2008 at 9:38 PM

Wait!! Is that a penquin I see on the hill?

Posted by: The Chick Voice on June 5, 2008 at 6:58 PM

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