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.