Tuesday, October 29, 2013

late season

Preferred time to go fishing is late September or early October, when all the other fishermen have started hunting and the crowds thin out. What with one thing and another it's usually late October by the time we actually show up, leading to crisp mornings at best and full flight just ahead of an incoming blizzard in most years. We had to stop at Albany County Weed and Pest in Laramie on the way out, to have the canoe inspected for invasive zebra mussels. The cheerful young woman in charge of pests cleared us for import at 6am, with a side conversation about pocket gophers, methods and techniques in control of.

This year the rains came late and hard, so there was still water in the rivers. This is of course Big Lost Creek, with Little Lost Creek coming in on the right. The 4wd road in was a mix of ice, snow, greasy mud, and ice-crusted puddles of indeterminate depth. Fortunately Ken has an actual fishing truck which is quite at home in these conditions. Coming over the top of the hills we found a recent hunting camp with a fine stack of cut wood from the beetle-killed pines. We inspected camp to find the gralloching crossbar in the trees with some tufts of fur beneath; concluding the hunt had succeeded and they would not be back, we salvaged the firewood. The deer watched us carefully. 

I fished all the way down that beautiful riffle without seeing so much as a fin. Despite years of experience to  the contrary I still expect trout to move to the streamer in three feet of clear water. In fact you need a large BB shot on the leader to take the fly down to just above the cobbles and sand of the bottom. Ken took pity and corrected my rig so it started working.  

This is the last legal pool on public land, with fiercely worded signs hedging the lower end, "Trespassers will be violated" or some such sentiments. Every year we contemplate tossing the canoe on the pool to take advantage of the strange water laws of the West, under which a legally navigable waterway cannot be closed and private: every year the fishing in this pool is good enough that we never quite take the trouble. 

That's the last grip-and-grin picture, I promise. The rest have only the beautiful fish and scenery unspoilt by some grinning ugly mug. Up on Little Lost Creek, Bucky and his friends had constructed a fifty-foot wide beaver dam across the lower end so the usual fall run of spawning browns up from the main river was blocked. Bloody engineers. 

There were still fish up there, but just the smaller resident browns and a few rainbows. This fine spotted fellow was in a small run, a sort of miniature steelhead pool, strong green currents folding into a deep obscurity at the bend from which he rose to savage the streamer.

Private property begins about a mile up this creek, beyond which is an industrialist's fortune invested in good solid Western land, plus cows. We fell back to the main creek in the late afternoon. 

This riffle always looks promising but it is quite shallow. Fished it at a hazard, hoping the good water year would provide some cover. By golly there they were, several strong silver red-spotted browns quickly, before I tangled the leader around the splitshot and broke everything off. It was late and we'd caught enough by then. 

An hour after dark the tent had between an eighth and a quarter inch of frost layered on, both inside and outside. Getting into the tent was accompanied by a sort of snowstorm as the frost showered down on my inadequate sleeping bag. That is the first time in my life I've had cold toes in a sleeping bag, even after wool socks. In the morning we left quickly, to drive up the greasy mud slopes while they were still frozen hard. Shortly after dawn back on the hills it was very Wyoming. 

Breakfast in a Riverside cafe, or was it Encampment ? One side of the river is Riverside town, the other Encampment. The prospect of uniting as a single town gives them something to argue about during the long winters. There are two establishments in the combined towns, one is better for eating, the other for drinking and fighting. We chose eating, with a comfortable table in the sun, where the nice waitress Rusty served us and a couple of hunters. 

On through Saratoga, once more surrounded by private property. On a bluff above the river a huge newish castle hangs over the waters, its copper roof now a subdued verdigris. The builder died recently leaving his acreage to a family indifferent to its prospects: the future's uncertain and the end is always near. In the old days the cowboys and ranch hands worked for wealthy cattle barons, now it is wealthy software barons, which is which. The Saratoga airport in July is choked with private jets up to and including Boeing 737s for which the runway had to be extended. We visited the Hot Springs free pool, but neither of the fools on this trip had thought to bring a towel, planning instead to cut our long underwear off just in time for the spring bath. 

Out on the plains the pronghorn mooned us, knowing full well the season was over. 

We made camp out at the implausible plains lake with the salvaged wood arranged for maximum sun and drying effect. It looked like we were preparing for a convivial evening with plenty of seating, instead of the two misanthropes grumbling like old dogs at the cold that in fact ensued. 

Fishing here was slow but good, fat happy rainbows swimming hard in the cold water. 

In the upper pool some huge brook trout were contemplating on spawning, insensible to anything we could offer. A fly tied for carp brought the biggest fish of the evening, 20" or so, lost near the boat when attention was not paid and I wrenched the fly out of its hold. 

Ken built a fire buttressed with the large damp logs. The breezes funneled through the cracks between the logs to create a sort of blast furnace effect, all Halloween orange and chimney red under a band of stars. 

In the morning both sage grouse and  pronghorn wandered by. The grouse crossed the road ahead of us with that 'who, me ?' look about the eyes to show they weren't really there, just sauntering by actually, we were just leaving.. 

Private land again, here opened to the public via an easement which does not allow for driving to the reservoir. Instead we have to hike the canoe through sagebrush. While I hiked back to fetch the anchor, Ken dealt with two huge slab-sided rainbows,  the second on a #22 fly and 6x leader in among willow bushes, for extra credit.

The brookies here were smaller but more willing fortunately. Please to forgive my blurry one-handed picture, I just like the colours.

The sun down, the light in the water dies and turns a hard flat grey. It is time to leave before winter closes on us.

If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown. 
- Elizabeth Bishop, The Fish Houses

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