BOOK OF ESSAYS PUBLISHED


There’s nothing that turns me off more than going to a blog and discovering that it’s all about self-promoting somebody’s book. Yet here I am self-promoting a collection of essays I just published. By my calculations, I’ve less than a dozen loyal readers, so I will only bother you this one time.

I just published a collection of essays titled “Rocky Mountain Pastels.” It’s available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Rocky+Mountain+Pastels+by+Robert+Robinson

I would appreciate your support. Thank you.

 

Please forgive the intrusion. Rob

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.

 

 

 

WHY


 

 

WHY

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,440

Fly-fishing is my excuse for getting into the high country and away from people. Antisocial? . . . Maybe. I prefer anti-bullshit.

In the high country, I don’t have to listen to it, watch it, and digest it to form bullshit opinions based on it. In the high country, nobody’s trying to sell me gold, insurance, reverse mortgages, or magic pills—telling me my life sucks because I don’t have two bathtubs and erectile dysfunction—while warning me to seek immediate medical attention should I get an erection that lasts longer than four hours . . . right. (I’d be calling The New York Times first.) In the high country, nobody’s trying to sell me blood-pressure medication with side effects: “Heart failure that could result in death. . . . And erectile dysfunction.” (I think I’ll just let the high blood pressure play out. Thank you very much.) In the high country, I don’t think about those poor bastards below who sell all they’ve worked for to buy $750.00-a-pill extended life. No thanks. As much as I’d like more time to enjoy cutthroat trout, fall colors, and mountain streams I refuse to prolong the process of bucking out in order to enrich some greedy flatlander.

In the high country, I can be where neither the bull nor I matter in the overall scheme, where my pathetic interpretations of the beauty around me fall short of reality, where the blank canvas of my mind as I stare at snowy peaks outlined against a hard blue sky with no thoughts invading the landscape is reason enough to have made the climb. And now that I’m a seven on a scale of one to dead, I regret not having come to the party sooner.

I regret wasting over nine years of my life on active-duty service to an ungrateful nation. I regret wasting my youth chasing the dollar, trying to conform in a society based on greed and stuff while wishing I was someplace else; I just wasn’t sure where that was until I came to the mountains, felt at home in their wild places, and learned to reap the reward of solitude’s solace. I regret wasting so much time chasing tail when the love I needed was better provided by a good retriever. I don’t hate people, I just prefer the company of a good dog. There’s no bluster or pretense to them, and unlike people, who put conditions on love—I’ll love you no shit till you get old, fat, and bald . . . or I run off with Mr. Buck Naked—they love you unconditionally . . . no matter what kind of an asshole you are. Oh, I’ve got human friends, but not many. My father told me I needed at least six friends, as it took six to carry your coffin. But I realized that I could be cremated and cut that number down to one—which took a lot of pressure off me. The mountains, retrievers, and trout give and ask nothing for their lessons on love, humility and unselfishness.

In the high country, I found something of spiritual value. At first it seemed to be always just on the other side of the creek, just on the other side of the mountain, just on the other side. But after making a few crossings and topping out on a few trails, I found it. It was humility. And I found that o-plenty.

I couldn’t be anything but humble while wondering how the hand of time formed mountains, watching a flash flood bear down on me in a burn-scared canyon, or holding the throbbing colors of a cutthroat trout in my hand. In the high country, I’m a passing shadow in a state of grace with no value other than compost, and I take comfort in that.

Why fly-fishing? Fly-fishing keeps me from becoming a mountain-top-monk in sackcloth and ashes. And treble-hook dredgers, corn soakers, and stink-bait aficionados were conceived without benefit of clergy—and my parents were married. That’s why.

Fly-fishing is honest; you have to do so many things right to catch an honest trout. Trout rise honestly to the fly, respond honestly to the set of the hook, fight honestly for their lives, and honestly haul ass when they’re released. When fly-fishing, I’m the deceiver. But it’s not the same as deceiving a trout with a gooey glob of stink bait. And although fly-fishing is based on deception, I find it a much more honest pursuit than most other human endeavors.

In the high country, there’s no cell service, and I make it a point not to tell people where I’m going (mostly because I never know myself). I usually go alone; the quiet beauty of the mountains is companion enough. I’m alone, but never lonely—there’s trout, birds, and ghosts for company, and laughing streams, whispering aspens, and distant echoes of lost loves for conversation.

I learned at an early age what I perceived as tangible, permanent, and necessary were shadows that flittered away in a moment, never to return, hard to remember once gone. But human beings are narcissistic. We think our shit matters when it doesn’t, not really. We all go out the same way we came in—with our ass hanging out (ask any funeral director). Nothing matters to the mountains, and that’s the point. That’s what I learned fishing mountain creeks and finding the rhythm of a handmade fly rod, a rhythm that seems in tune with the bubbling streams, pulsing cutthroats, and beating of my heart. I learned patience, as well, fishing for the mountain’s little creatures of color. I take time, close my eyes, listen to the sound of water, smell the bitter scent of pine, and feel a fresh cleansing deep inside. But it’s too much to ask for a clean soul at this point. . . . I’ve learned honesty, too, you see.

I learned to hate the flatlands with its loudmouth political pundits— “great Americans” who must be congratulated on their cheaply purchased patriotism. I learned to escape the guy who needs more fiber in his diet, the guy who tells me I’m uninformed and my money will soon be worthless and I need to buy gold from people who will gladly take my soon-to-be-worthless money in exchange for that gold. They care nothing for mountain streams that have no gold but the spawning colors of native cutthroat. They don’t care if trout have water to live as long as they have water to grow pistachios and brew beer, as long as they make enough flapping their jibs and selling gold to afford the next trophy wife. But they don’t understand me any better than I understand them.

I didn’t want to work, work, work until I dropped dead in harness—like my father. I got tired of doing labor that enriched others and left me living hand-to-mouth. I walked away, working just enough to finance my addiction to fly-fishing and high-country trout. And the rich got richer without me. Realizing I didn’t matter was liberating; I was free to turn my back on the well-worn path to mediocrity. Mediocrity seems an impossibility in the high country, where nothing is mediocre.

In the high country, I find no evil. Oh, bear will eat you, moose will stomp you, and unpredictable mountain weather will kill you—if you’ve got your head up your ass. But none of that is evil. Evil, as I understand it, is greed and must be manifested by people. And when I’m away from people, I’m not exposed to their evil, not exposed to those who worship the brass bull in New York City, or tithe at the big-box chain store. In the high country, I can still find places resource raiders haven’t pillaged, but that’s only because it isn’t cost-effective to do so, or they would. And they will.

I was never able to strike a balance between my spiritual needs and the requirements of society, so I chose solitude, trout, and mountain streams. But there’s more to that story. And I won’t bore you with it, or do injustice by presenting a one-sided version of events that led me to that choice. In short, I’d made a mess of human interactions and reached a point where I had to cut bait or bail. So I bailed.

Of course there are times when I wonder what my life would’ve been like had I stayed in play, cured a disease, built a pyramid, or developed a more destructive bomb. But I’m glad I didn’t.

© 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

THE DONNER PARTY


Author’s note: In 2015, twenty-one people lost their lives in Utah to flash floods–in one day.

THE DONNER PARTY

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1178

 

When I topped out, iron-gray clouds lay heavy and full along the southern horizon—and south was where I wanted to go.

I pulled into a turnout and watched the storm advancing up the valley, shutting off light, shuttering the outside world. Without sun dazzling the fall colors, the mountains turned black, brown, and earthy as the storm moved in and squatted; gossamer clouds hung in the saddles and then rolled down the slopes until the mountains vanished. Rain curtains formed a gray wall that extended across the southern end of the valley; beads of water formed on the windshield, grew fat, slid down, and cut paths through misty film; windows fogged; and I sat in blurred isolation listening to the rain tap, tap, tap the roof of the truck, drumming out any chance that I would get in some fishing that day. I wiped a hole in the window fog and watched a dense, gray sky turn gunmetal blue and slowly expand across the valley. The rain went from hard to steady, a steady that means it’s settled in.  This wasn’t your normal quick-moving, high-country storm; it had a forty-day-forty-night feel to it, so I decided to cut my losses and head for the top of the canyon and home.

Three years before, a wildfire raged through the canyon, and although much of the ground cover had returned, it remained badly burn-scarred and vulnerable to flooding. The gate used by the Forest Service to close the canyon road was open, but dropping into the canyon that day was like driving into a tunnel. Heavy clouds hung low, shrouding the canyon rim, and water cascaded down the canyon walls, forming creeks where there shouldn’t be any. As I got farther into the canyon, rivulets of water became spouts of red, gravely mud, and each time I passed one of these falls, I wondered if I was lucky to make it through or if I should turn around and get the hell out of there. A group of cars passed me heading back up the canyon, and I soon found out why.

About halfway down I came to a washout. Large boulders, logs, and a layer of mud about a foot deep blocked the road. I had four-wheel drive and thought I might be able to move a log or two and a couple of the smaller boulders and pick my way through, but I decided to turn around and follow the group I’d seen heading up the canyon. I rounded a bend and spotted the group of cars circled up like a wagon train. They waved me down, so I pulled over and rolled down my window to see what was up.

One of the guys came over and said, “Hughes canyon’s blown out.”

“North Hughes or South Hughes?”

“North.”

“No way through?”

“No. Mud’s three-foot deep, with lots of logs and boulders. . . . Have you got any food?”

I thought it a bit early in the ordeal to be worried about food, so I asked, “Is there a medical emergency?”

“No. . . . It just looks like we’ll be here a while,” he replied.

I had some power bars and a couple of packs of cheese crackers . . . so I told him no.

Then I noticed the men were all wearing black pants, white shirts, and black ties, and the women were wearing prairie dresses and blue and white ribbons in their hair—fundamentalists, clannish, self-righteous, possibly even dangerous. I was a Gentile; thus, a prime candidate to be sacrificed for the greater good. Images of the Donner party flashed in my head, and I figured my best chance for survival was to get away from these good people, head back down the canyon, and see if I could pick my way through . . . before they started drawing lots.

I got back to the washout, moved a couple of logs and oil-pan-crushing rocks, put the truck in four-wheel drive, and weave my way through. I was thinking I’d tell the state bulls about the Donners once I cleared the canyon and could get cell service when I came to another washout. This one was much bigger; there was no way to get through. In the distance, I could see two more washouts and a guy standing by a truck in the middle of the road at the last one. I waved to him and he waved back. Another truck pulled up, turned around, and headed back—going for help I hoped.

I thought about making my way back to the Donners, but I figured they were probably already barbecuing children, so I stayed put, waiting for help to arrive.

The rain started up again much harder than before, so I backed to the top of a hill to get clear of the washout. At the mouth of the canyon, clouds layered in increasingly darker shades of gray moved in low, hiding the ridges, adding to my feeling of isolation.

Thunder rumbled, and lightning cracked somewhere on the ridge above me. I was looking up the washed-out side canyon when a red wall of water came churning around a bend, smashing and undercutting the outside wall before swinging back to the center of the canyon floor. Unseen boulders rumbled as the wall of muddy water surged through the little canyon picking up everything in its path. Chunks of canyon wall sluffed into the torrent and bushes and logs rode its crest. I’m not sure if I felt the ground shake, or if it was the roaring-locomotive sound that I felt. I watched pine trees fold into the thick, red pudding and car-size boulders roll into the road.

Fear produced by raging nature is different from any fear I’ve known. The terrifyingly unavoidable; relentlessly methodical; unimaginably swift power was paralyzing.

Columns of rain now appeared between me and the mouth of the canyon. Thunder crashed, skeletal fingers of lightning stabbed down in all directions, and the air smelled of burning ozone. Logs, trees, and thundering boulders came brawling out of another side canyon behind me, and I was now trapped on my little high spot in the road.

Finally, I spotted the flashing yellow lights of a front-end loader worming its way through the logs and boulders as it cut a path toward me. I warned the operator about the Donners, and, following the path he’d cut through the washouts, headed for the mouth of the canyon. Just as I popped out of the canyon, the heavy clouds dumped everything they had; the only place I’ve seen rain come down that hard was along the Gulf Coast.

The flooding that day was regional; a trailer park and several homes were destroyed down on the flats—it was a big deal. It took the road crews a week to clear the canyon road. I never learned what happened to the Donner party—I hope they were rescued before hunger drove them to desperate measures.

© 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.

ROUGH CANYON


Rough Canyon

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,568

Long before reaching the mouth of the canyon, I begin catching glimpses of the river. I strain to see past Farmhouses, through cotton woods, and over willows, trying to judge its color, level, and promise. Once in the canyon, I snatch glances while negotiating the twists and turns of the canyon road, a road designated on the map as a two lane, but that’s either an outright lie or somebody’s idea of a joke. It’s open range, so I keep my eyes peeled for cattle, trucks pulling horse trailers, and mounted cowboys who greet me with level, no-bullshit gazes and a nod.

The turnouts are big enough to park a truck, but give you the feeling that the whole cha-cha could slid off into the river—a 30- to 100-foot drop depending on where you park. As far as angler’s access, I just walk back and forth along the road looking for a way down till I finally take the plunge at a spot I’ve rejected at least once as too risky.

I first fished here thirty years ago. A river guide told me about the place, and I drove half the night in a driving rain to get here. Arriving in the wee hours, I found a turnout, laid down on the seat, and went to sleep. I woke to find I was parked in a slide area. I saw it right off, because of the big yellow sign I was parked next to that read “SLIDE AREA.” I stood in the rain, looking down at the river, wondering what I’d done to piss that guide off.

I seldom see other anglers here. If I see anybody it’s usually climbers. They call it bouldering and come from all over the world to climb here. Even if you don’t come here to climb, if you fish here, you end up climbing boulders. The climbers come equipped for climbing, with climbing shoes, rosin bags, and even a pad they lay down under their climb to break their falls. The angler does his climbing in waders and fishing vest, juggling his rod from one hand to the other as the situation dictates.

The boulders often have well-placed hand and foot holds that look easy enough to scale, but you usually find a sheer drop-off on the other side with no way to go but back the way you came. Going down is harder than going up, and I’ve had to toss my rod down into the willows in order to free up my hands.

Some of the boulders are in loose piles that shift under your weight, presenting the potential nightmare of getting trapped between shifting rocks. There are pitfalls—places where deadfall collects that look solid, but aren’t—that hide holes six- to eight-foot deep.

The color of the water is a striking aquamarine, and I’ve been told the color comes from the heavy limestone content. Deep bend-pools are separated by stretches of fast water that are deceptive as to depth and power. But the river’s cobblestoned bottom offers good footing, except next to the bank where a thin layer of silt collects during runoff, making the rounded stones slick as a gut.

The volume of water depends on the needs of local farmers and changes from day to day—where you crossed yesterday may not be where you cross today or even later the same day. The DNR web-site has a disclaimer: “Fishing can be hazardous in the spring when large volumes of water are released from the reservoir—anglers should exercise caution.”

A friend of mine was sitting on a rock, casting to risers, when his foot slipped off and he was dragged into the water. His waders filled and he was pulled under and swept downstream. He managed to grab a rock and crawl out, ripping his waders to shreds in the process. I could see the fear in his eyes and hear it in his voice as he told the story a few days later—he refuses to fish here alone now.

Choosing which rod to string up is based on wind. Unlike back east, the wind is always a factor when fishing in the west. I’ve found rods made with a Phillipson taper work best in windy conditions. I also favor a rod that is long enough to keep my fly above the willows. A nine-foot six-weight with a Phillipson taper has the length to keep me out of the willows and the stones to buck a stiff head wind and land the occasional hog that you run into here.

Today the willows are swaying to a light breeze, but there are no guarantees it will stay like that. The wind here changes, going from a whisper to a 20-knot gale, from gusting up the canyon to down the canyon, in a heartbeat.

Pulling on my hip waders, I’m struck by the raggedy-ass vision I must present to the young climbers. They’re more like memories of waders, providing none of the functions normally associated with the item, being worn merely for the footing gained by their felt bottom soles. They’re the old canvass waders, made when men were men and preferred waders made in the USA. They started out chest waders, but ended up hip waders after I cut them down one night in a fit of genius that seemed like a good idea at the time. In spite of my almost daily efforts to repair them, they leak profusely. But they are noble waders—each hole, splotch of sealant, and blood stain obtained honestly by crawling into casting position, climbing over rocks, and busting brush in pursuit of trout.

The descent to the river is normal—I bust my ass once—and I head for the tail of a particularly productive pool. I move into position, false-casting and feeding line until I think I’ve got the distance and promptly dump a tangled mess into the middle of the pool, putting down all the fish in the lower half. I pick out the wind knots, take a deep breath, and angle forward until I’m in-line with the face of a giant boulder that makes up the whole left side of the pool, finding the rhythm of the rod as I move. This time I manage a respectable presentation.

My Adams lands gently at the head of the pool, riding high on sparkling grizzly and brown hackles. The current carries the fly into the slower water and spins it into a back-eddy. I make an upstream mend at the same time the fly disappears with an audible gulp. Raising the rod tip to set the hook, I get that ol’ familiar feeling that I’m either too fast or too slow—until I feel the weight. I take a moment to watch the rod work, its ripened wheat color throbbing against the dark green of a Ponderosa Pine—sweet.

The fish makes a run upstream, turns back at a rocky fall, runs past me into the fast water at the tail of the pool, and dives for a sunken snag by the right bank. I turn my rod reel-up and manage to turn the fish back into the fast water midstream. The trout, tired now, lets me guide it onto a rocky point below. It’s a beautiful 13-inch cutt, and I take a moment to admire its colors before releasing it, telling it how wonderful it is and how glad I am to see it. Watching it disappear into the depths of the pool, I feel a sense of loss.

I find a spot where I can eat lunch, scan the river for rising trout, and watch for thunderheads moving in over the canyon’s lichen stained rim. The weather turns fast here and can go from a sunny 50 to a snowy 30 degrees in a matter of minutes. The weather changed so fast on me once that my ears popped. It started with a light drizzle, turned to pounding sleet, then driving snow in the time it took me to walk 500-yards. By the time I had my rod down, the snow was 4-inches deep. The slopes are covered with house size boulders; scattered stands of willow; tufts of grass; a mix of ponderosa pine and cedar; and loose clay that becomes slick when wet, making felt bottom waders worse than useless. It’s a narrow canyon, so when you see a storm peeking over the rim, you need to un-ass the area and start climbing out.

After lunch, I move along casting to risers until I see a place to make my climb out. I zigzag up the slope, finishing the climb on hands and knees by tossing my rod above me, crawling past it, and reaching back to pull it forward. I reach the road exhausted. The truck is a white speck in the distance, and I know if I focus on it, it will seem like I’ll never get there, so I look down at the river.

I see fish lying in pools overlooked, reasons to come back. And I will come back to this rough canyon. I’ll come back because it’s hard, and it’s only in the hard places that I find the wild. I’ll come back to convince myself that I still can, because each time I come away just a little unconvinced.

© 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.