South Platte

November 12th, 2006

Tributary Two, Swimming the South Platte, conclusion
By Carl Pudlo, Colorado

Downstream from 'Boulder Canyon' is a stretch of less dangerous water. During the spring of 1997, I went to that stretch with two fishing companions, my two older sons. The older son, Alex, was sixteen at the time. The younger, Zachary was eleven. This was a very special outing for us since it was the first time Zachary had his own waders. Zachary had been prodding me since Christmas, when he got the waders, to take him fishing. He wanted to inaugurate the waders in a way fitting for someone taking that step to a higher level of trout fishing, the step that includes wading. He could now reach those holes with his fly rod and fish the hotspots never before attained. The size of the waders somewhat exceeded the size of his body. We attached the wader suspenders and put the waders on with no trouble, but the waders drooped to his waist. We fixed the problem with some strategically placed knots in the suspenders. I got the feeling he really started to grow into a man since he was able to do the things I had been doing for years. I sensed pride in his demeanor and a certain joy in being with the 'big boys' as we walked past 'Boulder Canyon' to a place downstream. While Zachary and I headed downstream, Alex stayed upstream from 'Boulder Canyon' and fished his way downstream.

Since it was late spring, the runoff was at its peak, and the water was high. We fished a place where the water swelled to eighteen inches deep from its normal depth of six inches. The current was strong and since the water was high and not completely clear, wading was slow. I had wanted to start in a place where I had a particular rock chosen as a landmark. Usually the rock protruded the surface by about fourteen inches. I could not find the rock so we started wading and fishing downstream from a place I thought looked familiar. I fished the faster current while Zachary fished the slower left bank. The current is overpowering to an eleven-year-old boy. I had to help him in a few places by taking his hand and guiding him to a spot where he could fish an attractive section of bank. While I was guiding him on a move to another stretch of water, I found my landmark rock. The strong runoff from earlier in the spring displaced the rock in a place barely visible. I hit it solid with my foot on a long stride. The vigorous current only aided to the comical fall that took place. I twisted and turned myself in a useless attempt to keep from swimming. The current got the best of me. We both ended sitting in the eighteen inches of water. I had taken water in through the backside of the waders. Zachary was less fortunate. Since he was smaller, he took on the full onslaught of water, in the front, back, and sides of the wader tops. We stood as quickly as possible. The spring water was cold, and it was time to stop fishing for the day. Much to our surprise, only a short walk upstream from us was Alex. It had not taken him long to get downstream to where Zachary and I were licking our soaking wounds. I was sure that he would laugh at us and unmercifully tease us for our latest swim in the South Platte. As soon as I got close to Alex, it became clear why he was not teasing us. Clearly, he had taken a deeper and longer swim than we had. His first words expressed his desire to go home since he was also wet and cold. For a few minutes, we all had a good laugh at the fact we were all once again victims of the river. It would definitely be a ride home with the heater running.

As we walked back to the truck, we exchanged swimming stories. I could not wait to hear Alex's story. He had been fishing a wide bend in the river and waded through a safe, slow moving stretch of water above the bend to get to the inside of the bend. From there, he methodically fished the hole from the top of the bend to the bottom. This was the first time he had fished this stretch of water. As the water flows out of the bottom stretch, it deflects from a large rock in a deep section of water, back to the other side, to another very deep hole. He fished the deep water across the stream from him, and the deep hole downstream from him. He was ready to cross the river. The terrain on that side of the river forces the wader into three options. The first option is to become a Rocky Mountain Big Horn sheep and climb some dangerous and steep terrain on that side of the river, not a good choice. One slip and the hiker could potentially tumble down the rocky incline into a stretch of rushing water filled with huge rocks and logs. The second option is to walk upstream and safely cross the water at the point where wading first began. The third option is wading. The deeper water lies just above a steep drop in the contour of the land, a potential stretch for class four or five white-water rafting. The choice made by Alex was wading. As he related the story to us, I realized the danger he had avoided. I was very happy that he was just wet. He could have taken a wild ride down the river, very similar to the ride Brad Pitt takes at the end of the movie A River Runs through It. Alex started wading and got to a point where he could not turn back. I remember laughing when Alex described how he started tiptoeing to keep his wader tops above the water surface. The current was strong enough to sweep him off his tiptoes and start carrying him toward the gushing drop-off. He sidestroked to the other bank before the water could hurl him over unforgiving rocks to large logs and boulders downstream. He took on water, lots of water.

As we walked back to the truck, I can remember thinking how Zachary's first experience with wading was not his best. I remember how quickly his feelings of disappointment turned to joy as we saw how wet Alex was. I remember how we laughed with each other as we talked about the beauty and danger of the river. I remember how silly we all felt for not exercising due caution. I still chuckle to myself when I remember the description of everyone's swim that day. I remember the smiles, the tones of each voice, and the facial expressions as each related the swimming stories, and mostly I remember the humility we felt as it was imparted to us by the South Platte River. ~ Carl Pudlo, Colorado

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