Fying Pan Tales
By Bill DeWitt, Aurora, Colorado, USA
My girlfriend insists that all fishermen are liars. Or was it natural liars? Which ever is
worse, that's where she was going. Succinctness aside, she does have a point. Accounts
of adventure in the absence of witnesses will often acquire embellishment in the telling and
re-telling. As a rule, any story that would seem to put its teller in good standing with his
fellow fly fishermen is likely pushing the envelope. Some stories however, are so fantastic
as to leave the listener with the impression that the tale could not possibly have been fabricated.
Indeed, many would think to themselves "if that had happened to me, I wouldn't tell a soul."
What follows is just such a tale.
My story begins in 1993. That was the glorious summer I will never forget. I had just retired
from the Navy and had arranged my affairs such that I would have the entire summer to fish
and camp. First item on my agenda, fish the Frying Pan River.
Nestled in the White River National Forest in Colorado, it is a gem of a trout stream. The
headwaters begin their journey high in the Hunter Frying Pan Wilderness, descending through
an amazing alpine landscape building momentum until it joins the Roaring Fork River in the
town of Basalt. Midway in it's journey, it is captured by Reudi Reservoir and this is what
makes it great. The tail waters of Reudi are a bug factory that never ceases production.
When I arrived that summer, the Green Drakes had made their appearance on the river, a
hatch that is loved by one and all. Many of Colorado's rivers are notorious for their tiny
bugs so it is a treat to lob size 10 and 12 dry flies at fish that sip them with the same
tranquillity as little Baetis. On the day in question I had chosen a spot just downstream
from the bridge below the dam. This stretch of water is lovely and draws many fisherman.
The near bank is formed by the edge of a dirt road that is quite steep and rises 10 to 12
feet above the water. On the far side is a natural bank that slopes gently into the river.
It is on the far bank that fishermen will frequently find fish rising to whatever is hatching.
Clearly seeing the size of the fish as they poke their heads up allows the confident angler
to pick his prey. It is not however, without it's challenges.
The distance to the far bank is well within the capabilities of even a novice caster. However,
for those who concern themselves with such trivial matters as drag, there is a current tongue
midstream. An insidious current tongue that is not noticed until you see your fly repeatedly
dragging. In fact, left unchecked, ones line will drift slightly downstream of the fly. Not
to worry. A slack line cast, down and across cast and mending are all viable tactics that
will produce respectable drag-free floats. The other obstacle to contend with is the near
bank. Dirt, river boulders and flagstone were all piled together to raise the road well above
the rivers edge. At the bottom of the bank is a ledge of boulders protruding just above
the water. Given these circumstances, the angler is left with but two options: cast from
the road and scurry (stumble) down the bank when a fish takes the fly, or stand on the
ledge below. The second option requires a somewhat high backcast lest the road and
weeds above claim your fly.
After carefully considering the situation, I opted to cast from the ledge of rocks. Having
recently seen a video wherein Doug Swisher demonstrated the steeple cast, I attempted
to use that technique but found that it did not allow for the necessary range. I carefully
began lowering my backcast until I was able to hit my mark and keep my fly off the road.
Confident I was locked on, I stopped watching my line and attended to the risers before
A beautiful day. Rising trout eager to take my fly. I was happier than a brook trout in a
beaver pond. Then, as luck (or bad casting) would have it, my line went dead behind me.
I turned around to see it extending from my rod tip up beyond the road's edge. Now,
for the purposes of my story, this point is critical. Even though I could not see the surface
of the road from where I was, my line was definitely up on the road. I will swear to it
under oath. I even pulled on it to see if recovering it would be that easy. No deal.
I turned back toward the river and began gathering the slack in preparation for scaling
the bank. As I began the climb, I started to gather line ahead of me and had not climbed
two steps when I noticed the line now led to a small crevice near the top of the bank.
I paused for moment, reflecting on how I had just observed the line leading somewhere
else. Then my mind took a detour. (My girlfriend also has some comments on the state
of my mind.) I thought, "now I don't have to climb all of the way up." In fact, all I had
to do now was pull it out of the hole. But when I attempted to draw the line out, it felt
like it was attached to something. What's more, if I gently pulled on it, it would give
somewhat. Eager to resume fishing I continued pull on the line. After 9 or 10 feet of
leader had emerged from the hole I was amazed to see what my line was attached to.
Standing there at the entrance of that little hole was a chipmunk. And to add to my
horror, the Green Drake was in its mouth.
I froze for a moment as at least a thousand thoughts went through my head. Catch
and release had now entered a new dimension. When I inched a little closer, I could
see the fly was definitely hooked in its cheek. My first impulse was to free the little
critter and accordingly began to approach it. This course of action continued unabated
for at least 3 micro seconds when I was overcome by a sudden flash of "nah....that's a
bad idea." Compassion was quickly replaced by rationalization. It occurred to me that
however cute this little guy was, it may well be rabid. And even if it wasn't, it would surely
not react well to my advances with a fish hook protruding from its maw. I then reasoned
that chipmunks possess considerable dexterity with their front paws and that he would
eventually extract the barbless hook himself. In fact, I attributed to the creature a level
of skill that would permit him to assemble electronic components blindfolded. So I did
the most compassionate thing that I dared. I nipped the tippet and watched him retreat
into his lair.
When I resumed fishing, I kept asking myself, "how in the world? . . ." This is the scenario
as near as I can figure. When the line went dead and I turned around and pulled on it, it
was still up on the road. As I was gathering my slack, Mister Chipmunk spotted the Drake
and thinking it a tasty morsel, snatched it. By the time I started up the bank he was in his
hole giving it the ol' taste test.
Is there a moral to this story? I can think of several. One, it's really easy to set the hook
on a chipmunk. Two, the oft barked phrase, "Mind your back cast," has implications you'll
never imagine. And three, when fishing on the Frying Pan, watch out for the chipmunks.
~ Bill DeWitt
Credit: Chipmunk photo from The Audubon Society Field Guide
to North American Mammals published by Alfred A. Knopf,
Lighter Side Archive