UNFORGIVING COUNTRY


UNFORGIVING COUNTRY

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,459

 

The Mountain West is a hard, unforgiving country. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security by its disarming beauty. How could anything bad happen in the midst of these majestic mountains? I often find myself in remote canyons marveling at this stunning, wild land, giving no thought to the many ways these mountains claim lives. But spring runoffs can trap you for days; rock slides tumble without warning; summer’s flash floods riot through slot canyons without a cloud in the sky; winter’s avalanches whisper down slopes, flattening and covering everything in their path; and unpredictable mountain weather can surprise and kill at any time of the year. But I hear the mountains’ siren call and go, giving little thought to their dangers.

Twenty-one people lost their lives to flash flooding in Utah last year—in one day. There were others lost: some fell off trails, some became lost and died of hypothermia, some were killed in back-country avalanches, and at least one I know of walked into the high country and just disappeared (those are the ones I envy). To walk into majestic beauty and disappear, become a permanent part of the country I love, fade into a mystery. What could be better than that?

The mountains hide their mysteries, like Everett Ruess, who in 1934 went in fully equipped with two mules and all the gear never to be seen again. They found the mules and gear, but they never found him. He loved the country he wrote about—loved it, walked into it, and became permanently part of it.

I like to think I’m prepared to survive the high country when I’m up there, but there’s really no way to be totally prepared. When the mountains claim lives it’s always sudden, and nature’s awesome power seems inevitable, as if it’s your destiny.

Surprisingly, flash floods aren’t the number one killer in the backcountry. That designation goes to gravity through falls and avalanches (40%). I would have thought lightning the number one killer, as that’s what I see the most of and what gives me the greatest concern. But death in the backcountry mostly boils down to unfamiliarity with the country (which leads to unpreparedness), stupidity (nature has a way of culling the stupid), and bad juju (being in the wrong place at the wrong time). While only 1% of backcountry fatalities are due to animal attacks, bears do take a few here and there—about one every five- to seven-years nationwide. The bear population in Utah has doubled in the last 15 years, going from 2,000- to 4,100, so the number of bear encounters will likely go up. It’s been a while since a fatal bear encounter in Utah, but not that long sense a mauling. It’s hard to know who’s at fault when it happens. Last year 91 bears were euthanized for aggressive behavior—no humans were put down for stupidity, as far as I know.

I don’t know anybody who doesn’t get the bear boogers from time to time in the backcountry—that feeling that something’s watching you. The good news is bears usually un-ass the area if they know you’re around—what’s watching you is probably just a mountain lion. They don’t run away; they hide and watch. I ran into a sport from California at the fly-shop who thought what was needed was a bear repellant similar to mosquito repellant that you could just smear on and be good to go. I told him there was some stuff called bacon grease . . . but it only worked on people from California and New York City.

Although I’ve camped and fished in bear country for over thirty years, I’ve only seen three bears in the wild. One crossed the road in front of me when I was on my way to go fishing and camping and I had to slow down to keep from hitting it. It was a huge cinnamon colored black bear that went from ambling along fat, dumb, and happy to an impressive burst of speed that demonstrated, indeed, there’d be no outrunning a bear if one was after you. I knew that area had a substantial bear population from the many bear encounters I’d heard about over the years. One incident in particular stuck with me, as when it happened I was sleeping under the stars in my bedroll just a few miles away.

A bear broke into a camper shell, grabbed a twelve-year-old girl, and was dragging her off when her grandfather managed to beat it off with a flashlight. I learned later that she’d went to sleep with chips and snacks in her sleeping bag, which is always a bad idea in bear country—unless you’re from California or New York City.

Last spring, I topped out on a rise and spotted a bear hauling ass up the opposite ridge—nothing runs like that but a bear. The speed and ease with which that bear navigated that steep slope was impressive, and I was glad it was headed the other way.

Another time I was driving up a road that parallels a river I regularly fish and came up on a guy and two children approaching a bear that was busy devouring a road-kill deer. The Guy and his children were within twenty-foot of the bear. The guy was snapping pictures and encouraging the children to stand closer. The bear was totally focused on what it was doing and unaware of the spectators. It reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw that read, “Stupid kills, but not enough to really help.”

The high foreheads say we don’t have grizzlies in Utah, but they have them in Wyoming and Idaho, so I’m left to assume they stop and turn around at the state line. And we all know what happens when we assume.

I spent one summer in Wyoming fishing an area known for its grizzly population and found the blasé attitudes of the locals interesting. A rouge bear was killing cattle in the area, and the local newspaper had a contest—“Name the cow killing bear.” That fall a local bow hunter was mauled and chased up a tree by the bear.

I was fishing a small creek in the mountains above Star Valley, Wyoming that was loaded with twelve- to fourteen-inch brookies and had decided to keep three or four for supper. I’d forgotten my creel and was just tapping them on the head and dropping them into the leg of my hip waders. I ran into another fisherman coming from the opposite direction who asked, “Did you see those bears?”

“What bears?”

“A sow and two cubs just crossed the creek right behind you.”

“Cool,” I replied.

I started to head on up the creek when I remembered the dead fish stuffed inside my waders. I was a walking fish Taco. I decided to get my fish smellin’ ass back to the truck most ricky tick. My pucker factor was off the scale as I made my way back, and I wondered just how much stupid a guy could get away with before it did kill.

On one drainage I fished that summer, I ran into a wild-eyed fisherman who was babbling about a bear chasing a yearling deer right through his camp, which gave me the boogers for the rest of the day.

The more you learn about bear attacks the easier it is to booger yourself. For instance, most people are attacked from behind after being stalked and never know the bear is there—comforting to think about when you’re hiking down a trail. And bears don’t lumber through the woods like drunken sailors. They move silent and cat-like—especially when they’re stalking. Again, tidings of comfort and joy. If you frequent bear country, the best thing you can do is embrace the old maxim—sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you.

The forest service thoughtfully puts up notices informing the public that they are in bear country. I hadn’t paid much attention to them—I already knew I was in bear country. I figured they just passed on the most basic of information like, “This is moose country. Don’t you eat that yellow snow!”

Once, when I stopped to use the last facilities between me and the howling wilderness, I found one of these notices tacked to the door of the shitter declaring this bear country and warning menstruating women to be especially weary. I’d never given that much thought until then, but I could see the hand of God at work. I started thinking I should’ve done more camping when I was married.

 

© Robert Robinson 2016 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.

 

 

 

STUFF


STUFF

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,177

If you’re new to fly-fishing, the first thing you need to wrap your head around is you need lots of stuff. And to be successful, you need to spend as much money as financially possible on this stuff. A lack of stuff leads to feelings of inadequacy on the stream that extends beyond fly-fishing into your personal life. This will be made clear to you by the proprietor of your local fly shop.

They have lots of stuff at the fly shop, and all of it is essential for fishing success and creating the image that must be projected on the stream, the image you have in your head of what a fly-fisherman is supposed to look like—tweed jacket, floppy hat, wicker creel, bamboo rod, waders, and fishing vest.

The first thing you need to purchase—even before a rod—is the fishing vest. You need the vest because it has lots of pockets for stuff; it has pockets in front, pockets in back, hidden pockets, side pockets, and inside pockets all of which, regardless of the financial pain, must be filled with stuff. Do not concern yourself that  in your ignorance you’ll purchase too much stuff—between the pockets are hooks and tabs from which to hang the stuff that won’t fit in the pockets. Remember, just as there’s no such thing as enough money; there’s no such thing as enough stuff. The owner of the fly shop will gently guide you through the selection process.

The most important thing you will learn from the fly-shop proprietor is if you are not catching fish, if you are not catching big fish, if you are not catching lots of big fish, you either don’t have enough stuff, or you don’t have the right stuff. You’ve heard of the right stuff, they even made a movie about it, but they got it wrong or something because there wasn’t a thing in the movie about fly-fishing. The right stuff is, of course, the stuff you don’t have. At some point, the proprietor of your local fly shop will reveal to you the cosmic law of stuff—the more expensive the stuff, the better the stuff.

You’ll need the stuff you are going to use . . . and backup stuff in case you lose stuff. And all this stuff must be changed out with new stuff periodically. Eventually, your weekly trip to the fly shop on payday will become a sacred ritual, the fly shop your holy of holies, and the guy behind the counter full of stuff your personal holy-man. His declaration, “I’ve got just what you need right over here” will become your mantra, and should you unwisely leave the shop without buying the stuff he suggests, it will burden your soul day and night, haunting your dreams until you go back and do the right thing and buy the right stuff.

You will never be able to have all the stuff you want or need, nor will you be able to explain or justify your thirst for stuff. People will tell you that you can’t take your stuff with you when you tip over. But that’s not true. This will become clear to you when you start thinking about who to leave your stuff to—certainly not your son (the one who finds self-expression through sleeping on his mother’s couch and night-shitting his ex-wife’s porch), and not your grandson (the one with the pink Mohawk, eyebrow ring, and tattoo of Chaz Bono on his butt cheek). You will make arrangements with your holy man to have your stuff cremated with you and scattered in a secret, sacred setting—in the alley behind the fly shop.

Significant others will mumble under their breath against you and your stuff, going so far as to claim you’re spending too much on stuff; this, of course, is nonsense—you must never allow anyone or anything to come between you and your stuff.

One of the coolest things about fly-fishing stuff is it’s seasonal—you’ve got your spring stuff, summer stuff, fall stuff, and winter stuff. Fly-fishing stuff is geographic, as well—there’s your lake stuff, reservoir stuff, tail-water stuff, river stuff, creek stuff, and crick stuff. There’s even stuff to make more stuff (yes, you can make your own stuff, but for that you need the stuff to make stuff with). Then there’s task-specific Stuff.

You’ll need dry-fly stuff and nymphing stuff, stuff for fishing from the bank and stuff for fishing from a boat, and you’ll need stuff for fishing from a float-tube and all the stuff for that. There’s no chance of running out of stuff you need. There are legions of Chinese children laboring away night and day manufacturing more stuff at this very moment.

You’ll need stuff to wear while you’re fishing, as well. The stuff you wear must reflect your status as a fly fisher. And have lots of pockets for you to put stuff in. Fishing apparel is seasonal and geographic as well—there’s really no end to it.

Eventually, you’ll need an extra room for your stuff, a place where you can lay it all out on the floor and look at it, touch it, hold it, admire it, get naked and lay in it. You will lock this room . . . because you don’t want people touching your stuff . . . because it’s yours . . . all yours.

Instead of fishing, you’re prime motivation will become the accumulation of stuff, and you will begin operating in the dark underworld of stuff. You will wind up with so much stuff that you’ll sell stuff on e-bay in order to finance the purchase of more stuff. Your wife will say you don’t need any more stuff. . . . And you’ll hate her for it. You’ll go to the fly-shop and demand to buy stuff. You’ll get catalogs in the mail filled with the newest and best stuff, and you’ll look through them longingly and lovingly. And you will order stuff. (There will be khaki-chick-magnet cargo pants in these catalogs, with lots of pockets . . . for stuff.) The stuff you order from this catalog will be obsolete by the time the next catalog comes out, but you must purchase stuff from this catalog in order to stay on the current mailing list.

When your vest induces hernias, when you can build fly rods out of the back of your truck, when you can set up a fly-tying operation on the bank of a creek . . . you’re almost there.

In an effort to stay up-to-date on equipment, fashionable with attire, and current on catalog mailing lists anglers often find themselves adrift in a back-eddy of slightly used, outdated stuff. Seasoned anglers are able to turn this to their advantage by cycling this inventory through unwary fishing buddies—slightly marked up from cost (a finder’s fee if you will)—generating a self-sustaining revenue that can then be used to purchase more stuff.

 

© 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.

 

 

PRIORITIZE


PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE, PRIORITIZE

BY

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,243

Of the many skills that must be mastered in fly-fishing, the most important and useful is the skill of prioritization, an attribute that, once honed, can be used in every aspect of life to ensure proper balance when allocating time and finances to the pursuit of the sport.

Correct prioritization, achieved through the application of logic after a review of the facts, is quite useful in the acquisition of the best in sporting equipment, without which fly-fishing cannot properly be pursued.

Let’s say you find yourself in need of a new fly rod (cost: $1,500.00), but it has been brought to your attention that your house is in need of new shingles (cost: $1,500.00). Using the fundamentals of prioritization, the proper priority can quickly be determined. First, review the known facts surrounding the case in question: (a) The roof is not currently leaking, and rain is not forecasted for the immediate future. (b) You will need the new fly rod for fishing long before the roof actually starts to leak. (c) The new fly rod will greatly enhance your ability to catch fish, which can then be eaten, increasing your capacity to provide for your family (a circumstance that can be pointed out once the roof does start to leak). Logical, right-minded thinking should now justify the purchase of the fly rod and place it at the top of your list of priorities.

Similarly, let’s say your wife’s car is leaking oil, and the cost of the engine repair would impact your bank account in such a way as to make the purchase of a new fly-tying vise prohibitive. The application of logic after a quick review of the facts should put things in perspective: (a) The engine repair can be moved lower down your list of priorities by simply instructing her to add a quart of oil to the engine when the level gets low. (b) At some point, she will be adding oil frequently enough to make periodic oil changes unnecessary. (c) This cost savings can then be applied to a new tying desk, as well. This method of prioritization can be used in acquiring most all angling accoutrements. In fact, this method can be used to place just about anything into proper prospective.

Say you’ve been asked to pick up a gallon of milk on your way home from work, but when you get to the store you realize that you only have enough money for that six-pack you’ve been thinking about since noon. Again, review the facts: (a) You know you will need the beer long before you get hungry and need a bowl of cereal. (b) You know that you can go longer without food than you can water. (c) You know that beer is 90% water. The priority of your purchase should now be clear.

The other thing you need to pursue the sport of fly-fishing is time, and prioritization is even more useful in securing that valuable commodity.

Work is often the most formidable obstacle to having the proper amount of time available for fishing. Having no control over the perceived notions of importance others may have, you may find yourself working for a guy who expects you to cancel a fishing trip just because things get a little hectic at work, a guy who puts profits above the happiness of his employees, a guy who is—and not for lack of a better word—a jerk. Quickly review the facts: (a) You were looking for a job when you found that one, so nothing from nothing leaves nothing. (b) Nobody lies around on their deathbed wishing they could spend one more day at work. (c) The extra time you will have on your hands after you’re fired can be devoted to fishing. By applying this line of reasoning, the correct course of action can now be taken with a clear conscience.

Social gatherings are another big drain on fishing time. Many of these will be in-law events that are obviously low-priority in nature (such as reunions, anniversaries, birthdays, and holiday dinners). Quite often these events can be avoided by feigning illness or simply lying your way out, which can be justified by, again, a review of the facts. (a) They never liked you anyway. Remember how your mother-in-law shook when she kissed you at your wedding? And how it reminded you of the Corleone kiss of death? (b) People like that don’t die, so you’ll unfortunately have many more opportunities to attend in-law events in the future. (c) Your absence will be looked upon favorably by most everybody concerned; however, there may be those whose judgement will be clouded due to their close association with these people. Note: When prioritizing in-law events, positive outcomes have a much greater probability of success once all hope of domestic tranquility has been abandoned. Prioritizing social events involving your immediate family can be a bit trickier, requiring more in-depth analysis of the facts.

For example, your daughter is getting married and has unwisely chosen a date for the wedding that conflicts with opening day of trout season. A review of the facts will quickly put things into proper prospective: (a) You know the divorce rate is currently at 75% (give or take), and from personal observation, you suspect it’s likely to go higher. (b) This is probably just one of your daughter’s many weddings, so you can go ahead with your fishing plans with the understanding that you will attend one of her future weddings. (c) She never liked you anyway.

There’s a cosmic order, or balance if you will, to the life events that present themselves for our attention that can often be maintained by simply doing nothing. I call this self-prioritization, a process in which situations are simply ignored until the natural selection process allows one to rise to the top of the priority list before action is taken. This method works well with domestic situations, which, if ignored long enough, very often resolve themselves (a process called self-resolution). A case in point would be the time I was preparing for a three-day float-trip.

I was packing my gear when I detected an atmosphere of crop-failure permeating the room and turned to find my girlfriend standing there with her arms crossed tightly over her breasts and her foot tapping like a jackhammer. Note: This particular body language is indicative of a situation that cannot possibly get worse. Your best course of action at this time is to move forward with your plans in the hope that the situation will resolve itself during your absence.

I said, “I thought you were at work.”

“We need to talk,” she replied.

“What about?”

“US!” she said, thrusting her index finger in my direction.

“I’m good. . . . Hey, did you see what I did with that spare 4-weight line?”

Just before dropping into the canyon and losing cell-service, I texted her, telling her I was looking forward to having our talk when I got back and reminding her the next day was garbage day and she needed to haul the can down to the road. I returned home three days later to find she had moved out and the situation (whatever it was) had resolved itself.

Warning: While the methods of prioritization discussed here are indeed useful, they should not be employed by anglers with moderate- to low-levels of testosterone.

© 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.

IT’S GOOD TO BE THE GUIDE


IT’S GOOD TO BE THE GUIDE

BY

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1422

The economic collapse of ’08 forced people all across the country to launch cottage industries. My neighbors were no exception. They went from peddling eggs and honey to selling chickens and bees, giving riding lessons to selling horses, raising alpacas to selling real estate. My first entrepreneurial venture was in herbal medicine.

While walking in the back pasture one day, I noticed an abundance of rabbit pellets. I figured I could sell them to my aging friends as an herbal remedy for dementia, or as a dietary supplement for raising IQ. They looked nutritious; were definitely organic; and the rabbits were wild, so manufacturing costs would be zero. With the right marketing strategy, I’d be in the chips in no time. I test-marketed the “smart pills” on my ol’ buddy, Appleton.

I gave Appleton an ample supply of smart pills with instructions to take 12 pills three times a day, cautioning him not to exceed the recommended dosage: “You don’t want to get too smart too quick. Being a genius is a huge responsibility.”

When I called to see if he needed more smart pills, he said, “I don’t think these pills work. I’m not feeling any smarter. As a matter of fact—”

“Yours is a tough case. We may have to up the dosage.”

“They taste like crap.”

“I think they’re starting to work. Besides, you can’t come off them cold turkey. You have to reduce the dosage slowly over several years,” I explained.

My career as a river guide started about a month later, when the FDA took the short sighted position that rabbit pellets had no nutritional or medicinal value, abruptly ending my career as an herbalist.

I was casting about for my next entrepreneurial venture when I remembered the half-finished plywood johnboat in the barn. I figured with the judicial application of some caulk, nails, and duct-tape I could have the boat shipshape in no time and hire out as a river guide. It sounded easy enough; the river would do most of the heavy lifting, and I already had plenty of excuses as to why fish aren’t biting.

I talked it over with my friend Spider, of Spider John’s Bait Shop, who sells beer, bait, gas, bootleg Sunday-liquor, and uncertain hotdogs that fossilize shortly after purchase and double as crawdad bait. He said I could use the bait shop as a base of operations as long as I kept his name out of it.

We decided I should make a trial run to get a feel for the river and test the durability of the boat and equipment. “You’ll need ballast,” Spider told me.

“Ballast?”

“Yeah, something to represent the weight of the sports in the boat, so you can see how the boat handles the rap . . . uh . . . faster water.”

“Oh . . . ballast . . .  dead weight, I gotchya, I’ll use Appleton. But you know the river, Spider, maybe you should go with me,” I suggested.

“It’ll be better if you use Appleton. You have life vests right?”

“Life vests? Oh, I figured I could make some out of duct tape and old Styrofoam coolers.”

“Yeah, it’ll be better if you use Appleton. Put in at Big Hole and I’ll pick you boys up at Last Chance. If you make it that far, just look for my old red truck. Don’t go past Last Chance or you’ll wind up in Dead Man’s Canyon, and it can be a little rough. There’s no way out of Dead Man’s except through Red Canyon, and it’s even rougher.”

“De—De—Dead Man’s Canyon?”

“Yeah, it’s right after Dead Man’s Rock and Dead Man’s Chute. Don’t worry. Just look for my truck and pull in there.”

 

“It’ll be a breeze,” I told Appleton over the phone the next day. “All you gotta do is sit back, enjoy the scenery, and fish.”

“You’ve scouted it, right?” he asked.

I figured it would be a waste of time scouting the river, seeing as how we were going to go down it anyway, so I said, “You bet. We’re good to go. Spider told me where to put in.”

“Spider? What’s he got to do with this? That SOB still owes me five bucks for some flies I tied for him.”

“Well, there you go,” I said. “You can hit him up when he picks us up at the end of our run. You’ll get a nice, relaxing float trip and five bucks to boot. Come to think of it, that SOB owes me five bucks. I’ll tell him to bring our money when he comes to pick us up. I’ll pick you up in the morning.”

 

I got Appleton seated in the front of the boat and handed him one of the homemade life vests.

“What the hell is that?” he asked.

“Life vest.”

“That ain’t no life vest. I ain’t wearin’ that.”

“Suit yourself,” I said as we shoved off.

We drifted along lazy-like for the first couple of miles. Appleton fished, while I worked the boat. But watching somebody else fish is like going to a topless bar when you’re horny. I soon had a rod strung up and we were both catching some nice cutts. We were so busy catching fish that we never did see Last Chance, the red truck, or Spider come to think of it.

By the time I saw the water boiling around Dead Man’s Rock it was too late; the river had us in its clutches and we were headed straight for the rock at a pretty good clip.

Appleton turned, grinned, and said, “I told you them pills ain’t workin’! Gimme one of them vests!” It was a disturbing grin—his lips were peeled back from his clinched teeth like a mule eating thistles—a grin normally associated with psychotic monkeys. I handed him a vest and grinned back as we spun into the chute bisected by Dead Man’s Rock.

We kissed Dead Man’s Rock passionately as we went by, and I lost track of Appleton until he popped to the surface like a cork when we entered the flat water below the rapids. I was surprised at how well the life vest was holding up and made a mental note to check with Spider about selling them out of the bait shop. “Hang on, buddy! I’ll save you!” I shouted. To which he turned, grinned, and struck out for the bank. Appleton is a surprisingly strong swimmer when properly motivated—he almost made it.

He was obviously disorientated, swimming away from the boat like that. It took everything I had to grab him and haul him halfway back into the boat before we were sucked into lower Dead Man’s Chute. I chalked his cursing, scratching, and biting up to drowning-man’s panic and was finally able to pin him down against the gunwale with my knee just as we dropped into the plunge pool below Dead Man’s Fall.

By then we could hear the roar emanating from Red Canyon, and Appleton’s on-board antics had become an element for concern; his mental stability had begun to deteriorate—the monkey grin now seemed permanent—he became delusional, claiming that I was somehow responsible for our predicament, and his frantic attempts to exit the boat were causing us to take on water. While I’m widely known to be long suffering, caring, and compassionate, my patience had worn thin, so I beached the boat so he could regain his composure.

Appleton took off across the sandbar like a striped-ass ape. Realizing his escape was blocked by the sheer cliffs of Red Canyon he began hopping up and down in frustration. I’d had just about enough, so I informed him that if he didn’t calm down he would have to be restrained for the remainder of the trip. That’s when he—still grinning—picked up a piece of driftwood and advanced on me with what can best be described as a bughouse shuffle.

Now I enjoy hate-and-discontent as much as the next man—as long as it’s not focused on me. It was my success in channeling his anger by pointing out that it was Spider who’d failed to meet us at the takeout, Spider who’d endorsed using him as ballast, and Spider who’d suggested the trip in the first place that encouraged me to give up river guiding in favor of my latest venture—psychiatry.

 

© 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

ANGER MANAGEMENT


AUTHORS NOTE: I had an editor tell me that I was getting too depressing, so I thought I’d lighten up a bit.

ANGER MANAGEMENT

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1616

Appleton has issues. I’m not talking about his cursing and fist shaking when I jump ahead of him to get to the good bend pools, or conveniently leave my wallet at home when it’s my turn to buy breakfast or gas. At those times, I patiently point out that these are behaviors all seasoned anglers engage in, which in the name of friendship must be overlooked. I’m talking about tin-foil-hat conspiracy theories and repeated attempts on my life.

When his fly got hung in the top of a pine tree, I watched with concern as he climbed to the top of a boulder, balanced himself on one knee, used his other leg as a counter weight, and stretched out to make several grabs for the fly. If he slipped, he was looking at a twelve-foot drop into the crick.

“Big fish—behind rock—jerked it—out of—his mouth,” he explained between lunges for the fly.

“Big fish? Where? What rock?”

“Rock—at—head—of pool,” he grunted between grabs.

My immediate concern was for his safety, and as my fly settled gently behind the rock I called out, “You almost had it that time. You just need a little more stretch. . . . Just . . . a little more . . . stretch,” I said between casts.

I’d like to take a moment to clear something up. I deny Appleton’s accusation that I was responsible for his fall. He slipped off of that rock when he lunged for my throat as I was showing him the big fish I had just landed.

Lately he’s been concentrating on conserving tippet material by tying knots with ridiculously short tag ends that take twice as long to tie and require magnifying glasses and tweezers. The other day as we were stringing up our rods I found a long forgotten roll of tippet in the recesses of my vest. That fat-happy glow of the well-stocked angler washed over me.

“Hey, check it out,” I said. “You’re in luck. I just found a whole roll of 6x.”

“It looks old,” said Appleton, looking at it over his magnifying glasses. “I don’t think they even make that brand anymore.”

“Couldn’t be more than ten years old,” I said, blowing the lint off of it.

“I think that stuff has a shelf life.”

“Huh? Naw, that’s just if it’s been in the sunlight. This has been in my vest,” I explained as I unselfishly handed him the spool.

Appleton’s allegation that it was old, brittle tippet material that caused him to lose those three twenty-inch cutthroats is false. He was setting the hook too hard. I tried pointing this out to him at the time, but he refused to listen and kept lunging for my throat.

Another sign of his descent into madness is the reesty, scruffy, Duck Dynasty look that he thinks is so cool. Unlike Appleton, I like the people I kiss. His wife was unaware of what was causing the whisker burn until I pointed it out to her. She then initiated a dry spell that lasted until Appleton resumed daily shaving. I’d just like to say that when my fly got tangled in Appleton’s chin whiskers on a back cast, it was an accident. His shouts alerted me to the situation, and by leaning back, raising my rod tip, and ripping the fly from his beard I was able to quickly free him up so he could resume fishing. When I kindly thanked him for the whiskers that made my Adams ride nice and high in the water, froth dribbled onto the bare spot on his chin as he lunged for my throat.

At times Appleton’s tantrums seem to be tied to his loss of memory. When he thought he’d left his wading shoes at home, I watched him search in vain through his bag of gear and the back of his truck. I tried to help by asking, “You’re sure they’re not in your bag?” and, “Did you look under the seat?” This caused him to retrace his steps the first few times, but my well intentioned efforts to help eventually seemed only to irritate. “They say the memory is the first thing to go,” I good-naturedly pointed out. “They’re wrong,” he whispered through clinched teeth as the muscles in his neck began to twitch. “The first thing to go is the smartass.”

With Appleton relegated to fishing from the bank, I was able to outdistance him for the first time since we had been fishing together. It was heartbreaking to look back and see him   standing there looking dejected and abandoned. My eyes welled with tears as I waved and disappeared around a bend in the river.

Appleton’s reaction to finding his wading shoes under my duffle bag was, in my opinion, over the top, and his charge that I hid them in order to gain some advantage is totally unfounded.

One of the things that got left behind recently was a water bottle. Well, to be more specific, Appleton’s water bottle. I saw him set his bottle on the cab of the truck just before we set out, but I didn’t think it worth mentioning at the time. He didn’t notice it missing until he saw me take a cool, refreshing drink from my canteen after our hot three mile hike. I coughed and charitably told him that I would be glad to share my water with him, but I thought that I was coming down with something. Luckily, Appleton relies heavily on my considerable knowledge of outdoor survival techniques and I was able to advise him that he could safely drink from the crick by straining the water through his teeth.

Thirty minutes later he expressed some regret at neglecting to bring along emergency toilet paper. Fortunately, I had some and told him I would be happy to share with him. I tore off one square of the paper and was handing it to him when he did this rapid movement thing with his eyes and lunged for my throat. It was when he broke concentration to make the attempt on my life that he had what we now refer to as “the accident.”

In the interest of being fair, I should tell what happened to me last week. While in the middle of the winter doldrums, I decided that ordering a new fly rod would be just the thing to lift my spirits, but after the initial excitement upon its arrival, I found my boredom replaced by an overwhelming itch to take it fishing. It would be another month before winter released its hold on the high country, but I figured that I could make a quick run up the canyon during a break in the weather and put the new rod through the paces.

It took five phone calls, a promise that it would be a quick trip, and assurances that we wouldn’t go in uncertain weather before Appleton agreed to go with me. I picked up Appleton that morning and he immediately started whining about how cloudy it was and how he wished he’d worn another layer of clothes. “You checked the weather reports right?” he whined.

“Huh? Oh yeah, we’re good to go.”

“It looks socked in up top,” he sniveled.

“We won’t stay long. If it turns cold, I’ve got an extra coat behind the seat you can use,” I reassured him.

It was an hour and a half drive up to this section of crick that I thought would be the perfect spot to put the new rod to the test. I parked the truck into the wind, jumped out, and began rigging up. I pulled the rod from its tube and removed it from the rod sack. I slipped the tip section onto the butt section and checked that the guides were lined up. I seated the ferrules and turned to get the reel—I couldn’t find my reel bag. I went back to the cab of the truck and looked on the seat, behind the seat, and under the seat . . . nothing. I went back to the tailgate and stared at the pile of gear. I had a clear mental picture of the reel bag sitting by my tying desk where I had put it months ago after cleaning fly lines.

By that time, Appleton had rigged up and was a hundred-yards down the crick and it was starting to snow. The wind was picking up so I had to shout, “I’M GOING HOME TO GET MY REEL!”

“What the . . . COAT!” he shouted back.

I cupped my hands and shouted into the wind, “OK THEN. I’LL BE RIGHT BACK.” And if I hadn’t gotten stuck behind that snowplow on the way back I would have made good time.

Luckily, I spotted Appleton on the side of the road in my headlights. I noticed with interest that he’d developed a twitch in his left eye that caused ice crystals to pop off his eyebrow and float down to rest on, and no doubt give some relief to, his cracked and bleeding lips. He was strangely silent on the way home, and it wasn’t until I told him that I thought the snow that had drifted onto his shoulders made him look Christmassy that he became agitated and lunged for my throat.

Appleton rests quietly on most days now, but remains delusional and continues to blame me for his lack of angling skills and questionable woodcraft; however, I will not abandon him in his hour of need—as soon as he’s released, I’m takin’ him fishing.

© 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.

LAST CAST


LAST CAST

BY

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,087

I awoke to the sound of fat rain drumming on the roof of the camper shell. The heavy taps became a wall of sound that wrapped around me and I burrowed deeper into my warm sleeping bag and drifted back to sleep.

It’s the sudden silence of the storm’s passing that next wakes me. I crawl out onto the tailgate and look down the canyon at the thick column of rain about a mile away. Farther down, the disturbance squats on the mountains like a blank canvas and spiring Alpine firs punch through here and there—unfinished sketches. The upper end of the canyon is bright, green, and fresh. Ghost-clouds hang draped against the vivid green mountains like fat on a mother-in-law. The fishing will be good now. As I begin stringing my rod, I strain to smell the perfume of the pines and hear the canyon’s silence, but years of welding dulled my sense of smell, and silence now is the echo of nine-pound double-jacks pounding stubborn steel. It’s enough for me to know that the scent and the stillness are there. I remember.

I remember the first time a trout stream stole my soul one cold, rainy day in North Georgia, and the ten-inch Brown that took my fly when I had fallen down in the creek and was being baptized into a new life. I was cold, wet, and happy. I had found something, something that I wanted to be a part of, something that would come to define me; so, I keep coming back to be re-defined, re-baptized. There’s a beginning and an end to everything, though. There will be a last hike in, a last fish caught, and a last cast. I was with Ed when he made his last cast.

Neither of us knew it was his last cast, but the signs were there. He needed my help getting into his waders that morning, and I watched, helpless, as he fumbled with his tippet and fly with stiff, swollen joints until he finally asked for my help. He leaned on me as we moved up the river, his weight frail, light, and we made frequent stops so he could catch his breath. I had to net and release that last Brown for him. I thought Ed was too good to die. I think he was too good not to. Two weeks later he was gone.

They say you shouldn’t dwell on the past, but you think about the things you know, and now there’s much more past than there is future. So I think about Ed, and the others who are gone. Like the young man I took fishing because he needed help and taking him fishing was all I could think to do. I’d hoped fishing would help him as it had helped me. I stood behind him and held his hand as I showed him the roll cast.  A few months later, he rolled his car.

I think about my old friend who called me one night lonely and depressed. He needed to go fishing. We talked about wild country and clear water. We talked about special places folded deep into the backcountry and made our plans. He decided to go to sleep and never wake up instead.

The hike in is tougher than it used to be. As I top the hill, I hear somebody chopping wood in the distance, or is it the sound of distant drums? I listen closer and realize it’s the sound of my heart thumping in my chest. Below me, a meadow filled with wildflowers of every description and color stretches all the way to the creek.

I try to imprint the scene on my mind and go for the pack of anti-acid tablets in my pocket, remembering that a nurse once told me that everybody who came into her emergency room with a heart attack had a pack of them in their pocket. I chew on the tablets and wonder if the scalding in my chest is my retirement plan, or the two jalapeño-laced gas-station corn-dogs I had for supper last night. It doesn’t matter. I’m too far into the backcountry now and whatever is going to happen will happen without any more help from me. Besides, doing the purple polka on a tapestry of wildflowers doesn’t seem like a bad way to go. I can think of a lot worse—Visiting Angels spoon feeding me as I cast to the rising cutthroats in my mind and tapioca dribbles onto my chin. I decide to push on across the creek and up the next hill to give the arteries a good flush.

I think about a life lived giving up no hostages to the pursuit of fortune, choosing only to work just enough to keep a roof over my head and take care of my dog. Radio talk show hosts point accusing fingers at me. I dropped out, didn’t row hard enough when the Pharaoh wanted to waterski. I wanted to stay in bright mountains and explore Thoreau’s premise that one’s surroundings reflect the depth of one’s character. I doubt they do; the empty beer cans I see laying around suggest that character is not reflected by surroundings. Perhaps character isn’t something you bring to these wild places. Maybe it’s something you find here.

I can see the wooden footbridge, first built by the CCC, now maintained by the forest service, and that last steep hill above it that I use as a benchmark to let me know how I’m doing from year to year. There’s a stand of Aspens just beyond and a waterfall where I want my ashes scattered after I tip over.

I pause and strain to see through cloudy eyes and prescription glasses the distant ridge tops. I know the breeze that cools my brow through my sweat stained boonie is pine scented, and the sounds of the creek sculpting the narrows and diving over the falls drown out the double-jacks in my head. I think I hear voices and turn expecting to see somebody but see only the rings of a rising trout below. Something about the shadows under the firs takes me back to my great-grandmother’s kitchen on some long ago Saturday morning. I stand on a hill overlooking the creek, silhouetted against the cadet gray sky, poised between past and present. Lost friends will fish with me again today, here, where place in time do not exist.

© 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.

THE ENVIRON MENTALLY-CHALLENGED


THE ENVIRON MENTALLY-CHALLENGED

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,028

I had been thinking about that place all winter. It’s my hiding place. I don’t go there to hide; I keep it hidden, tucked away in my mind. It’s where I go when my world starts to suck and I don’t like what I see in the mirror. It’s a place nobody can take away from me. It’s where I’ll have my ashes dumped when I buck out—there, at the old wooden footbridge, where I always stop to rest and take it all in. In that canyon, I do a lot of looking in—and up.

Cottony clouds light up a harsh blue sky and pile up at the rim of the canyon. The ridges are topped with a mix of Aspen and pine and the steep green slopes leading up to them look, from a distance, like well-manicured lawns and are easy on the mind. At the tree line, the wind shimmers through the Quakies, and in the trembling shadows their white trunks are highlighted by dark green pines.  Closer, the slopes turn gentle and are dotted with rocky outcrops stained black and rust by lichen, so uniform that you have to look hard to see that they aren’t the foundations of ancient castles. On one formation, a lone pine has found purchase and its shade looks inviting. Down by the creek, purple sage and blue, yellow, and white wildflowers cover the meadows between the scattered stands of willow, and the banks are cut deep in places by sparkling spring-fed rivulets where light glints from the sun-dazzled bottoms of empty beer cans.

I have been preceded by those whom I (in an attempt at being politically correct) call the environ mentally-challenged, or for those nature lovers who pride themselves in the ability to rattle off the Latin names of animals, bugs, and fauna, the inviron ideota.

When I hike into remote areas and stumble upon piles of empty beer cans, worm containers, pop bottles, and dirty diapers—which are never empty—I start hating people. Based on the number of times this happens, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that the environ mentally-challenged far outnumber people who respect the environment; however, there is no way to tell, because people who travel through the wilderness with respect don’t mark their trails with trash. They leave no evidence of their passing.

I added an empty trash bag to my accoutrements for a few years until I found myself lugging full thirty-gallon trash bags around and still not making a dent. The trash seemed to increase as if I were the victim of some kind of curse, like that Greek god who had to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity, only to have it roll down the other side when he reached the top. I gave up on the idea of singlehandedly cleaning up the world.

Most of my journeys into the back country involve fishing for trout. I feel like an intruder and sometimes wonder if I should confine myself to observation, foregoing any interaction with the trout, and just enjoy the beauty and solitude. But that would put me in a camp with people who think that human beings aren’t part of the ecosystem and that we just showed up last week. Besides, I like holding living colors in my hand—and releasing them. The difference between humans and other inhabitants of the planet is we have the ability to choose how we affect the environment. Sadly, many choose to affect it negatively, or they just don’t give a tinker’s damn.

When I began finding piles of empty spinner-bait packages with plastic bags clearly identifying them as coming from the gas station just up the road, I suggested to its owner that he un-package the spinners at the time of purchase and securely hang them on the environ mentally-challenged’s lower lip, and to his credit he seemed in favor of the idea.

I sometimes find empty beer cans stacked neatly in the shape of a pyramid. When I come across these monuments to ignorance I’m reminded of the construction companies that I sometimes work for that operate on what I call the pyramid principle, i.e., if you get enough primitive people together you can build anything. When enough alcohol has been consumed so that building a pyramid out of empty beer cans seems like a good idea, you should stop drinking. You could find yourself explaining why the shore patrol found you lying naked on a sidewalk in Bangkok with a rubber chicken tied around your neck—and that’s all I have to say about that.

Some litter seems not only to be acceptable but sanctioned by the Forest Service. I’m talking about the paper-plate-signs you see stapled to trees, taped to road signs, and propped up with rocks on the sides of the road. Curiosity led me to follow one such set of signs marked “Hick’s Reunion” for eight miles, finding when I got there that the sign was indeed apropos.

Over the years I’ve come to accept trash as part of the wilderness experience. That is until last year when I came upon a thirty-pack’s worth of empties in one of my favorite remote canyons. The camp site was fresh, and I stood there looking around with clinched fists wanting to kick somebody’s ass. I didn’t see anybody, which was a good thing, as getting into an altercation with somebody that has the strength and determination to hump a thirty-pack that far probably isn’t a good idea. I was sitting on a log, staring at the pile of empties, wondering what could be done, when it hit me. While aluminum beer cans, plastic pop bottles, and disposable diapers are not biodegradable, the environ mentally-challenged are. The compostability of the environ mentally-challenged/compostus imbecillus increased my estimation of their overall value dramatically. I had an idea for an environmental awareness initiative based, not on catchy slogans, colorful posters, or cartoon caricatures of forest creatures, but on aluminum baseball bats—Aluminum, for the ease with which it can be wiped clean of trace evidence.

© 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.