TO KNOW A RIVER

Author’s Note:  This post first appeared on my blog, Upland Equations on June 27, 2013.

As an angler, can you ever really know a river?  Over the years, there have been many that I have become very familiar with and loved dearly. But I have come to understand that every river withholds some of its deepest secrets.  This is one of the reasons we are drawn to them.  Fortunately for us, after time, we can come to understand a river well enough to unlock some of its hidden truths.

Take for example, my epic two-day fishing trip with my brother, Shawn, on Colorado’s Arkansas River.  For those interested, I wrote a post about the phenomenal first day of this excursion on our other blog, Upland Ways, entitled, “From Dawn To Dusk.”  With Shawn’s help and knowledge, I was able to experience tremendous success on the Arkansas, the river of his heart.

Brother Shawn, fishing his Arkansas.

After breakfast on the second morning, we went back to fish a boulder-run channel on the far side of the river that we had fished the day before.  Shawn explained that, “In my experience, The boulder runs of the Arkansas hold more fish than anywhere else.  So, I target areas where the bottom of the river is strewn with big boulders.”  With the bright sunlight overhead, the fishing was a little slower in the channel than the morning before, but still good.  There were numerous times when Shawn and I had on doubles, both of fish and big grins.  Although I fished a hopper dropper rig, the majority of the fish moved struck the lead fly, the Mustang Sally, a foam Yellow Sally invented by Shawn.  I missed many of the strikes only to foul hook the fish on the dropper.  After awhile, I decided to remove the dropper and fish only the dry.  Shawn and I both had a twenty-fish morning in the channel and the flatter water below the bridge.

Hard to beat brown trout on dry flies.

When the fishing slowed down, we walked up the river above the bridge through the cactus-covered desert to this long run of the river.  We both caught a few nice browns in this area, but the bite had definitely slowed and this section lacked the tell-tale boulders of other areas.

Fish on!  Notice the boulder strewn channel from whence he came.

We moved upstream to another perfect boulder run that eventually led up to another side channel created by a narrow willow-covered island.  As Shawn had predicted, this channel was excellent holding water and Shawn and I took turns catching numerous browns on dry flies.  I saw firsthand why Shawn loves this river so much.  It sure had been generous to me on only my second full day of fishing it.

Nice brown from a side channel.

But, as Shawn also had prophesied, the fishing ground to a halt at around 12:30 p.m. so we headed back to the truck.  We decided to drive into Canon City to get some lunch and to stop at the Royal Gorge Anglers to stock up on supplies.  At the shop, we talked with Larry Kingrey, the man who invented many of the popular flies for the Ark such as the Ice-Dubbed Nymph; and Bill Edrington, the author of Fly Fishing the Arkansas: An Angler’s Guide and Journal.  Bill is the man who once told Shawn that the best fishing on the Ark happens when the runoff begins to subside and the edges clear.  Shawn and I had timed my trip perfectly to meet these conditions.  We reported to them our good fortune fishing the past two days.

While we were in the shop, two other anglers came in who coincidentally had been fishing the exact same area of the river we had been fishing, but they reported that they had done poorly.  Shawn and I told them that we were using Yellow Sally patterns and also that the majority of our fish were caught within one to four feet of the bank.  We pointed out some of Kingrey’s Yellow Sally patterns that were good comparisons to Shawn’s Mustang Sally.  They eagerly bought some of the flies and headed back out to the river even though the action was done until the evening.

MUSTANG SALLY!

After they left, Bill then said out loud in our presence, “That is the classic example of when two guys come into the shop and report that they have been spanking fish all morning.  And then two other guys, who have been fishing the same stretch, come in and report that they have not moved a fish all morning.”  Admittedly, Shawn and I felt pretty cool and fortunate to have done so well.  But Kudos to Shawn as he has come to know much about his beloved river.  With Shawn’s help, I had experienced two days of phenomenal fishing.

After an excellent Italian lunch at Merlino’s Belvedere Italian Restaurant in Canon City, we eventually made it back to the Arkansas river for the evening bite.  We fished an entirely new stretch of the river that Shawn had never fished before, but we observed that it was another boulder run with the characteristics of excellent holding water.  As expected, we both did well on this stretch.  The other areas of the river we fished were equally kind to us that night.  When the sun began to set, I hated to leave this beautiful, generous river, and realized that I had barely even scratched its surface.  Two days had not been nearly enough.

“I am haunted by waters.”  Norman Maclean

Almost every angler has heard the phrase from Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, in which he says that he is “haunted by waters.”  Undoubtedly, most fishermen can relate to this sentiment, but why?  I submit because a beloved river can become so familiar to us that we know intimately many of its riffles, runs and holding spots.  At the same time, we understand that there is always an element of the unknown to these beloved rivers which intrigues us.  We are always curious to know what is around the next bend.  We are haunted both by a river’s familiarity and its hidden secrets.

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