The sign posted at the bridge announces that a woman's
car veered off the highway and plunged into the river
here a month ago. It says her body was never recovered,
and asks hikers and fishermen to report any human remains
they might find along the shore.
I think this over as I pick my way down the steep, gravelly
anglers' track that twists to the thundering river 100 yards
below. Clutching my disjointed fly rod in one hand, I drop
down the hill, grabbing sagebrush here and there on the
steepest pitches. The thought of anyone tumbling into the
fierce current is chilling.
In a couple minutes I'm standing beside the aquamarine river,
which holds the same color as the vaulting, late-afternoon
sky. The stream roars in my ears, commanding my attention.
I rig up and follow the water as it purls and froths downstream,
coursing around boulders and surging into steep rock walls.
The scent of sage mixes with the acrid smell of sulfur
steaming from vents in the yellow ravine, which has an
There are no bugs coming off that I can see. So I tie on a
Turk's Tarantula, a foam, hair and rubber-legged size 10
monster that could pass for a meaty grasshopper. It would
make the old Catskill tiers back home cringe. But it's what
works out here between hatches in high summer. It's deadly.
I see another flyfisherman casting into the pool beneath
the bridge. I walk over and, when he takes a break, ask
if he's picking up any fish. He says he's stuck three or
four cutts and has caught and released one of around 12
inches. I ask if he's moving upstream. He is, so I wish
him luck and head downstream, planning to get a half mile
or so below, then fish back up to the bridge.
Once I cut across a little forested bend, I'm alone. I
nearly step on a pile of bones and hair scattered above
the high water mark, maybe from an elk or deer taken down
in spring. The carcass reminds me I'm in grizzly country
and should make noise as I move along so I don't surprise
one. I jingle the two metal cups I've hooked to my fanny
pack belt, homemade bear bells that make a din even over
the boiling current.
Canyon walls close in on the water as I pick my way downstream.
After a couple hundred yards, the walls plunge into the river,
making for tough passage. But I'm wet wading, so I squeeze
around a steep edge, losing sight of the bridge, and enter
a spot where the current pauses in a brief eddy, with just
a doormat-sized sandy bench at its head.
At first blush this kind of little current break doesn't
look real promising. But after fishing the river in a couple
similar sections over the past few days, I've learned that
the wild cutthroats here hang out in small patches of quiet
water and will roll on a dry fly dropped in the current
seams or into the foam that collects behind boulders.
Standing on the sandbar, I strip out several yards of line,
make a false cast and splat the fly down in the eddy. No
delicate presentations or long casts needed here. I throw
a mend to let the fly drift, and it bobs along the edge of
the still water for several seconds before the current grabs
the line and pulls the fly under.
I try a few more casts, pitching the fly inches from the
rock wall, watching the rubber legs make suicidal twitches.
I'm certain a cutt is holding somewhere in the slack water.
I can't imagine many fishermen venture into this part of
the canyon, so these trout don't see many flies. But there's
I move on down, sloshing through the knee deep eddy while
keeping a hand against the cliff. I come to another jagged
edge in the wall and poke my head around it. A 10-foot-long
gravel bar lies on the other side, and a side channel of the
river swirls and slows in an eddy that ends in a logjam.
The trick is to get past the protruding knife edge to reach
the gravel bar. The current is too strong for me to wade
around the ledge. So I give it a thorough examination, clamp
my fly rod in my teeth at the cork handle, then flatten myself
on the steep wall, searching for hand and toe holds. The rock
face offers just enough purchase for me to get around it, and
in a minute I'm on the other side. Such is the pull of fly
Standing on the gravel bar, I brush the dirt off my vest while
examining the tooth marks in the cork. Battle scars from my trip
out West, I muse. Then I unhook the fly from its keeper and
turn my attention to this hidden little pocket I've earned.
I cast to the wavelets at the head of the slack water. Seconds
tick, then a shadow swims toward the surface.
The take is deliberate… not like those wild brookies I often
fish for back East that hit with a whack and impale themselves
on my dries. Out here, I've had to force myself to slow down
and strike only after a fish sucks the fly down and turns.
I pause, then raise the rod. The limp line snatches off the
eddy and goes tightrope taut, spraying water droplets that
turn gold in the late sunlight. I'm fast to a nice fish.
It's a bit tricky playing the fish from this bench at the
cliff base. The trout immediately charges into the main
current, and my rod bends heavily as the fish angles into
the river, setting himself against the flow. A few yards
of line spin off my reel as I drop my rod to horizontal
and attempt to ease him back into the slow water at my
feet. But the trout shakes his head violently while
backing farther downstream toward the logjam.
My only shot, I figure, is to put more side pressure
on the fish and lead him into the eddy. I strain the
4X tippet and slowly the fish begins moving toward
the still water.
I gain line back and keep the fish in the eddy. In a
long moment the trout is a leader length away, and I
swipe the quick-release net off my back and scoop him
up in a motion.
The fish is a powerful river trout with heavy sides, a
broad back and a large maw. He must weigh a couple pounds.
The slash under his gill is blaze orange, his flanks are
coppery gold imbedded with black specks. He gives a menacing
look from the corner of his dark marble eye as I reach down
with forceps and back the fly out of his locked jaw. I slide
him from the net and into the pool, where he pumps his gills
for a second then kicks his tail and scoots out of sight.
I rinse my hands, dry the fly on a bandana, and study the
river. I make a few false casts and plunk the fly into the
water halfway down the eddy. Another fish takes, but I miss
this one...too quick on the trigger.
A dozen more casts draw several strikes and three more cutts
brought to hand, all around 16 inches, a shade smaller than
the first trout but just as strong and lovely. They come to
the fly innocently in this seldom seen pool.
When the fly draws no more rises, I reel in, walk down the
sandbar and crawl over a boulder to reach the logjam...the
I see there's no way to fish the upstream side, where the
current is shallow and fast. But peering over the logs, I
see deep, quiet water on the downstream side. The challenge
will be to drop the fly into the still water and, if a fish
takes, somehow lead him from the thicket of sunken branches
before he snaps me off.
Hunched over to keep from sight, I strip out some line and
splash the fly down in the lee of the jam.
The big fly bobs. Its legs wave helplessly.
In slow motion, something big materializes out of the dark
water. It takes the form of a large cutt, sort of waddling
toward the surface in no particular hurry. As time stands
still for me and I stifle a yelp, the fish rolls on the fly,
turns and shows me thick shoulders and back, the way a whale
breaches. It sort of plods back down toward its lie in the
I strike but know it's futile. For a brief moment I feel
the fish moving up toward the bent rod, perhaps a bit confused.
Then I see its tail flick and its body tighten and down goes
the slender rod tip.
With startling speed, the fish transforms from lumbering
whale to muscular shark and laces my leader through the
sunken forest. The tippet parts and I feel the weight of
dead wood, nothing more.
My heart hammers as I grab my leader above the rod tip and
yank it free. The river roars in my ears. I back up and sit
against a boulder. I take lungfuls of the heavy evening air,
watching the current race past.
"What a monster," I whisper. "One of those fish you see on
I want to keep fishing, find a way around the logjam and
press deeper into the canyon, where I know I'll discover
more big fish where rockslides, ledges and deadfalls
create hidden trout pools. I wrestle with this kind of
decision nearly every time I fish, whether to give in to
the river's mystical pull and let it draw me around the
next bend, or somehow break the trance and return to the
But it's getting late and this isn't one of my gentle brookie
streams back home. It's a brute of a river, nothing to trifle
with, especially as night approaches. And there are creatures
in these hills that can turn me into a bone pile. There are
also voices murmuring in the river, and they seem to be
urging me to turn back.
So I reel in the frayed leader and break down the four piece
rod, securing the sections with a couple twist ties. I drink
most of the water in the quart bottle from my fanny pack and
eat a couple handfuls of trail mix.
It's time to go. First thing, I have to climb back across
the knife edge. Into my mouth goes my fly rod again, and
I search for some hand and footholds. When I'm about
three-quarters around the edge, a crumbly foothold gives
way and I and slide into waist-deep water, which tugs at
my legs. But my sandals get just enough purchase on the
streambed for me to lunge to shore.
Now my heart's pounding again, this time from the cold
water's jolt. The evening air adds a bite. But I'm relieved
that I didn't have to take a swim downstream, so the edge
wears off quickly as I head toward the bridge.
The setting sun glints off an object wedged between some
rocks on the cliff base's narrow shoreline. I bend down
to find a palm-sized chunk of thick glass from what I
reckon is a car's headlight. I take it from the rocks.
Then I notice some pieces of orange plastic, maybe from
the lens of a parking light. I pick these up as well. I
stack the broken things on a boulder above the high water
mark, wondering if they're remnants from the car of the
woman who drove off the bridge.
The sun is below the ridgeline. I feel a chill come over
me, along with an urgency to get back to the bridge, which
comes into sight as I leave the steepest walls of the canyon.
It has been a fantastic evening, but I have an overpowering
sense of wanting to reach the highway, where I'll either have
to hitch or walk a mile back to the lodge, to my awaiting
family. I want to crack a beer and sit on an old rocker on
the lodge's wide porch and think over the week's events,
since our trip out West ends tomorrow.
In five minutes I scramble up the slope and emerge on the
bridge's apron. I take a long look back down at the
darkening river. It has entered my heart; memories of
it will flow back to me long after I've departed this place.
With no cars in sight, I decide I'll probably have to walk
back to the lodge. I turn my attention to the road, leaving
behind for now the wild river, the spirits who haunt its
banks, the ghostly creatures that inhabit its slopes, the
phantom trout that patrol its depths. I know I'll be counting
the days before I can return. ~ RJ
Rob currently works for the Associated Press as News Editor for the Press
Multimedia Services in NYC. Responsible for rewriting and posting
breaking news, business and sports stories for AP online customers
including Yahoo! news, ABC.com, and hundreds of Web sites operated
by daily newspapers throughout the country. He has a wide background
as a editor and writer, including a stint as Photojournalist for
Pacific Stars and Stripes. We are delighted to welcome his voice here.
You can reach Rob at email@example.com