“He’s comin’ to you Pop.” My brother yelled it as he reeled in his line and I barreled towards him. I was slipping, sliding, wading and floating my way downstream while I fought to keep the rod tip up, but out of the overhanging branches and tall grass along a high bank that hugged waist-high water on the Yakima River. I had a big fish on and was moving downstream quick to keep it that way.
The river rolled over boulders and cut through the sounds of the afternoon so all I heard was its powerful consistency roaring in my head. Listening to the song I took one more cast and one more look at the water I had fished downstream that continued on through the canyon, then I walked up the embankment to my truck and drove along the river towards my house or back towards the water churning in my head. As I drove I caught glimpses of the river and of the day’s fishing trying to think of a lesson I could take away. I had fished hard with no fish to show for it. There was still time left. Should I fish all day?
It’s not likely any of us will escape our fly fishing journey without arriving at the river having forgotten something. It’s more likely that, if you are reading this, you already know the pain. If not, remember there are those who have and those who will. Sometimes it's no big deal. Forgot our water bottle? Fish thirsty. A box of dry flies? Fish nymphs. Raincoat? Fish wet. But some items cannot be fished through. Some things are deal breakers. I’ll admit it’s been more than once I have reached a trout stream without a critical piece of gear. It was after one of these exceptionally deflating days that I finally decided enough was enough. I committed to solving the problem in the only way I knew how. Applying mental checklists in the way I did during my time flying fighters for the Air Force.
I knew the ending as soon as he started. The longer his story, the harder I laughed.
To me, the riffles are every bit as exciting as any other part of the river. I think of the riffles as connections between sections on the river. You cannot catch fish if you are not fishing as you move from section to section.
We went up the Stillwater River into the Beartooth Mountains. Past Sioux Charlie and Frenchy’s meadow. Beyond Cutoff Mountain. Further than I had ever gone. Until we reached the valley where Slough Creek flows down into Yellowstone Park. Vibrant green pine saplings blanketed the earth beneath tall grey sticks the fires left along the slopes until they reached the high edges of rockslides and steep granite. When the wind blew wildflowers in the grasses swayed and made fleeting purple waves in the pastures. We were alone. I was twenty years old, and thought I knew how special it was. Knew how small I was in the mountains. How precious that time was. Now I understand it was more than I could have known then.
Fishing was slow, but I was optimistic. The East Fork of the Sevier River is more of a small stream than a river. The water rarely widens more than a dirt road, but it is enough. High desert grasses and steep hills make for beautiful scenery and there is easy access along the highway. I had never been skunked in that section and it was rare to see other fishermen in the canyon. So far, I was alone. It was blue skies and when the wind stopped, the sun warmed me. A smile on my face. Why not be optimistic?
I knew in the time I walked the ten feet from my dorm room stairwell in Sijan Hall to his blue Land Rover that my day on the river would be cold.