Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
October 17th, 2005

Murphy's Lake
By Dan Fink (DanBob)

My Fall fishing trip this year to Murphy's Lake, Wyoming with my neighbor Ralph was shaping up to be a really interesting experience. The weather forecast was for constant rain, and snow at night. A hiker had been mauled by a Grizzly only three miles from our base camp just the week before. Neither of us could find dog sitters, so we had to bring my big, elderly, black husky dog Kodiak and Ralph's hyperactive Jack Russell terrier Otis along – these dogs hate each other. And then there was the Dog Ramp...

Since Kodiak is too large and old and arthritic to jump into the back of the truck under the camper shell, Ralph painstakingly constructed a wooden ramp with cleats so Kodi could get out of the rain and have someplace warm and dry to stay if it snowed too hard, if her old bones got too cold, and while we belly-boated Murphy's Lake. Otis, we figured, would be fine and could always be used as live bait for really big Rainbows. The Dog Ramp weighed 50 pounds and was constantly in our way in the back of the truck. It was with many growls, snaps, whines and woofs that we started out at 5AM for Wyoming. The dogs were quite vocal about the whole thing, too.

After a few hours of counting FJRPMs (Flat Jack Rabbits Per Mile, a common Wyoming driving phenomenon) and only three dog fights in the pickup cab, we finally started to get near the access road. A quick break, a look at the maps, and two more dogfights later (first over the food dishes, then over the water dishes), we found our BLM road. Here at home in Colorado, we are used to fairly dire official warning signs in remote areas. This one was incredible.

"Danger – steep terrain ahead. High-clearance 4WD required."

OK, that sounded fine—heck, both of our driveways require high-clearance 4WD, even in summer. But the sign continued:

"Road maintenance ENDS HERE. Extremely steep grade starts in .2 miles, with no turnaround for 1.3 miles. Deep ruts, washouts and large jagged rocks in road ahead. Extremely durable off-road tires and extensive off-road driving experience required. No cell phone service available, and tow trucks cannot get down this road. If soils are wet, your vehicle may not be controllable going down, and will not be able to climb back up. YOU ARE NOW ON YOUR OWN. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK."

"Have a nice day and enjoy your BLM lands!"

"This sign courtesy of your local Bureau of Livestock and Mining office. Please don't call us if you get stuck! Contact our public relations office in advance if you need more information regarding local auto repair shops, tire dealers, crane services, heavy-lift helicopters, or divorce lawyers."

"Hmmmmm," I said. It was, after all, my truck.

"It'll keep out the riff-raff." said Ralph.

"Ralph, we ARE the riff-raff!"

"Bet there won't be any campers or fishermen down there."


So down we went in my little Ford Ranger. On some of the steeper, rockier parts, Ralph got out and walked to better guide me around large rocks, or so he claimed. In a couple spots, there was a loud, metallic screeching sound coming from the truck, which I chalked up to the camper shell flexing. "Your left rear wheel was off the ground for 20 feet down that last one," Ralph said.

"Why didn't you tell me that?"

"Oh, I thought you heard me. I guess maybe the screeching might have been from the camper shell flexing after all."

I told Kodiak, "Hey old girl, we're here!"

She growled. Then it started to rain.

We made camp, and got a soggy hour on the river before dark without a bite, all the while dodging and slapping at giant mosquitoes that came at us in what seemed like tight-formation precision squadrons. The lake would have to wait for tomorrow, and the name seemed somewhat daunting -- I know all about Murphy's Law. We built a campfire, broke out the Wild Turkey and cigars, with Griz always on our minds. We even met an actual 'authentic local character' down there too, headed through just before dark on his ATV after setting up a remote elk hunting camp for some rich dudes arriving soon from Europe.

"Got a gun?" he asked by way of introduction. We live in a remote area too, so we found that his friendly and succinct greeting reminded us a lot of home. He continued, "I saw Griz right in this campsite last night. You didn't REALLY drive that little Ford Ranger down that road did you?" I assured him that we had indeed drove it here, and he inspected all the new scuff marks, with a surreptitious check under the vehicle looking for puddles of oil. I showed him my Beretta 9mm automatic and asked, "Think this will be good for anything?" He said "Sure – you can shoot yourself in the head with it right before Griz eats you," and got back on his Polaris. I noticed he was wearing bear bells and packing both a .44 magnum and a can of anti-bear pepper spray that held at least a quart. "You know how to tell the difference between black bear crap and Griz crap, don't ya?" he asked. "No," I replied. "Griz crap has little bells in it and smells like cayenne pepper. Have a nice night, fellers. Tight lines."

It was a great campsite except that the F-14 Tomcat mosquito squadrons were apparently night-vision equipped and pestered us constantly. Kodiak laid by the fire, grunting and farting, since she just could not figure out what purpose the dog ramp was for, nor why I was coaxing her towards it. Otis ran around out in the woods, chasing anything that moved or made noise. When Otis came running back through camp yapping and running at top speed just before dark, I climbed up on the roof of the truck, thinking Griz was in pursuit.

"What the heck are you doing on top of the truck?" Ralph asked.

"Oh, I've found that it's easier to string up my rod from up here," I stated calmly. "It gives a distinct vertical advantage, since there's less gravity up here. What did Otis find?"

"A cow moose and her calf, but he knows about moose from home. He left them alone and ran away."

"Glad to hear it, Kodi runs from moose too."

If Ralph saw the tip of my rod shaking in big circles, he didn't let on, which I appreciated.

I woke up at 3AM to loud yelling and snarling combined with dogs barking and snapping, and I was fairly certain that we were under attack from an entire herd of Grizzlies. Actually, for some reason Kodiak had decided to sleep outside of Ralph's tent that night. She heard him rustling around as he got up to take a pee, and gave him her typical friendly, early-morning greeting. Unfortunately all that Ralph saw upon exiting his tent was a large black shape in the fog and a large, wet, black nose in his face, with hot, stinky, panting breath. Ralph claimed that he always yells loudly like that when his pacemaker starts acting funny, doctors orders, to better alleviate stress. I tried to explain that grizzly bears generally do not lick one's face upon exiting a tent, but Ralph could not be placated and muttered about having his pacemaker re-calibrated when we got back to town.

Breakfast was rather dreary, and after one soggy bagel it started to pour. Ralph said "Could be worse. At least it's not snowing." I was at least able to grunt approval. We hadn't slept much due to thoughts about Griz and rogue moose. I set up Kodiak's bed in the back of the truck so she could snooze in a dry spot for the day while we floated the lake, and tried to coax her up the Dog Ramp again. She gave me a very puzzled look again, sighed, and crawled under the truck to await our return. Otis refused to get in the truck too, so Ralph brought him along as we hauled the belly boats down to Murphy's Lake.

The rain settled down into a cheerful and cozy drizzle, much drier and nicer than the downpour we had during breakfast. We strung up our rods and flippered out into the lake in our tubes. After I got over a nice weed bed near the outlet and started trolling, I saw a strange creature swimming toward me across the lake, snout above the water. "A beaver!" I hollered to Ralph, excited to see one in its natural environment. Ralph actually paused in his casting to look my way. Then I noticed the creature was white, with a few brown patches. "An albino beaver--got your camera? It's rare, the Weekly World News will buy the picture!" I hollered again. No response from Ralph, though it looked like he had a really big fish on, which is always a good excuse for anything.

Of course the albino beaver was really Otis the Jack Russell terrier, panting from the exertion. I tried to out-paddle him to no avail--his churning paws and endless energy far outmatched my old legs and plastic flippers. Otis attempted to board my belly boat with all the courtesy and grace of Bluebeard the Pirate, and was quite pleased once he was sitting on my casting apron, sniffing the beef jerky in my pocket. Unfortunately, his underway boarding attack had included teeth -- and my belly boat now had a slow leak. We flippered back to shore with Otis at the helm, wind in his ears, his happy yapping drowning out even my dark cursing about rain, dogs, skeeters, and Murphy's Lake.

As I poked at the miserable remnants of our fire with a soggy stick, Ralph sauntered back into camp with a 17-inch Rainbow on his stringer. "Any bites?" he asked.

"Just one," I replied, while trying to keep the rain off the newly applied patch in my belly boat, as Otis snickered from under the truck.

"Well, since you don't seem to want to fish today, you mind cleaning this Rainbow? I'll be back for lunch. I'm gonna try and fish streamers this afternoon," Ralph said, swapping his dry fly rig for his sinking line one. At that moment – perhaps as some sort of divine intervention to keep me from throttling Ralph – the heavens opened up into a downpour. We scrambled around camp, stowing gear in and under the truck.

"Least it gets rid of the skeeters," Ralph muttered. "I caught that big fish on a big skeeter, and now I'm gonna try a big muddler." I was finally able to have a chuckle too, as Ralph couldn't seem to actually find his streamer box, he'd been fishing dry line all morning. He paced and cursed, with much frenzied digging through his pack, his vest, his sleeping bag, his tent and finally in my truck's tool box for his streamer box. No luck, or so it appeared. I tried to get now-soggy, cold, arthritic Kodiak up the Dog Ramp once again.

"C'mere girl, you'll be warm and dry all day in the Ranger Motel here! C'mon, you can do it."

Kodi looked me in the eye, sighed, and laid down in the rain.

"C'mon Kodi, it's nice and warm and dry, you can do it! Load 'em up!"

Heavy dog sigh. I kept thinking of how many square feet of dog towel it would take to make her suitable for sleeping in my tent -- approximately 1 square mile.

So I started trying to demonstrate to Kodi exactly how to use the dog ramp. I crawled up it, then down it, then back up it again. "C'mon Kodi, we built this dog ramp for YOU! You can do it. See, you use the cleats for traction!" I crawled both down and back up the dog ramp three more times before I noticed our audience of three well-dressed folks and one local character. All of the dudes looked like ads for The North Face and Patagonia raingear. The local looked like Grizzly Adams with a bad hangover. I froze. They froze. It was the local outfitter again, with his high-class hunting clients from Belgium. They stared at me, and I stared back. Kodiak crawled under the truck again and farted loudly.

"Vaht ist dat man dooink in zee bahk of zat leetle truck?" Dude #2 asked. Their guide replied, "Like I was saying, once we get off the public lands here and into the PRIVATE lands you paid to hunt elk on, we won't have to deal with any of these strange tourists from Colorado. I honestly have NO idea why that man is climbing in and out of the back of his truck on a wooden ramp in a driving rainstorm. I'd call the sheriff if we had cell reception here." "OK, zat was as goot an explanashun as I coult eggszpect," and they departed up the road in their chauffeured ATVs.

During the entire embarrassing episode, Ralph had already slipped away back toward the lake. But he had switched tackle and left the outfit with the dry fly he caught that big trout on still attached! The rain was slackening, so I set up my vise and proceeded to painstakingly tie an exact replica of the fly Ralph had caught the lunker on. It was the biggest mosquito fly I'd ever seen – majestic in its proportions, and incredibly realistic. I had no idea where he possibly could have bought such a ridiculously large dry fly. Fully and inch and a quarter long – an exact match to the bloodsucking insects that had been attacking us since our arrival.

I hastily stoked the dying fire with the handiest dry wood available, and got ready to fish. The patch on my belly boat was still drying, so I was casting from shore. After only 15 minutes, I saw a silvery flash, watched the water boil, and a monsterous Rainbow rose up out the weeds to gulp down my giant skeeter. I set the hook, played him, and brought him in. The rain started again, but I cleaned my fish and Ralph's, stuffed the cavities with onion slices and pats of butter, wrapped them in foil, and put them on the grate to cook slowly over the fire.

Ralph came slogging back through the downpour a few minutes later, claiming his boat was about to be swamped by rain. He saw the pair of big fish roasting, grabbed my fly rod, inspected my new giant skeeter fly, and asked "That the fly what you caught that 20-incher on?"

I didn't want to nod affirmative, as that would send a cascade of water onto my lap—it was really raining hard now – so I just said "Yep."

"Why doesn't that mosquito fly you tied have any wings?" he asked.

"I modeled it after your fly, Ralph, the one you left on your dry fly line after you landed that huge Rainbow. Your trout is done, by the way."

Ralph replied, "What fly are you talking about? "

"The fly still on your floating line reel! Don't BS me!"

"Oh, THAT fly. I guess you're right, it didn't have any wings."

His big skeeter fly was incredibly realistic, really, except for the lack of wings – the copy I tied wasn't even close in quality. His fly looked like a real bug.

"Where'd you get the huge mosquito fly, Ralph? I know it wasn't from Orvis. since they don't sell #2x mosquitoes. 'Fess up."

"Well," Ralph mumbled. "If you promise you won't tell anybody..."

"I promise."

"After I realized I'd forgot all of my fly boxes but the tiny one from my neck lanyard, I saw the superglue in your tool box, and caught one of those damned mosquitoes that's been after us all day under a beer cup. Had to pluck his wings off so he'd stay still long enough to soak him with superglue and hit him with accelerator. Stuck him on a bait hook just like back when I was a kid, fishing grasshoppers in North Dakota. Got that 18-incher on the first cast. This doesn't mean you'll be calling me a bait fisherman again, does it?"

"Nope," I said. "It proves that you're a skilled Engineer. It's brilliant! Tomorrow I'm gonna catch a couple of those yellowjackets that were after us and zap 'em with glue too."

Both dogs growled as some sticks cracked off in the woods, and we all looked up quickly for Griz. But it was momma moose and calf down at the lake a few hundred feet away, and heading away from us.

As we stoked up the fire, Ralph asked "Danbob, how the hell did you find dry wood and get a bed of coals going to cook these trout? It's been raining for hours."

"I burned the Dog Ramp," I replied. "It was the only dry wood around."

"Good riddance."


Then the rain started to slack off, and we could see some stars peeking through the haze. The dogs came out from under the truck for a quick stretch before going back to sleep. It was shaping up to be a great day fishing tomorrow at Murphy's Lake! ~ Danbob

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