Thursday, Jan 4, 2018
Lifetime love affair with the rivers
Dave Ammons, Trout Unlimited/Website photo
Once hooked, it's love for life for fishers.
y earliest memories of The Bend were of grand childhood adventures. We skipped stones, a challenge in riffles and rapids. We built rock rings to hold small fires where we cooked hot dogs on sticks freshly snapped and stripped from a willow on the bank. We splashed at the water's edge and when older and braver we stripped our shirts off to swim for just as long as we could stand the chilly stream. And we learned to read the water by casting spinners with a Zebco.
The Bend turns the Poudre River from east to north offering a variety of water—the stronger current running deep in the middle, a smooth back eddy where a sandbar emerges in late summer, large rocks submerged at the corner that set up a stretch of deep, slow stream finally flattening to a broad shallow spill before descending around the next corner.
And in each of these, there were fish.
Over time I became skilled at the perfect side-arm cast, able to drop a Panther Martin six inches behind the boulder at the crook fifty feet across. I knew exactly how to cast slightly upstream at the edge of the eddy and begin a retrieve before the lure hit the surface to reduce slack. The times I got snagged led to adjustments in my turn of the crank, slowly in swift water then hastening as the current relaxed to keep me off the rocks and sticks below the surface. Keeping the rod tip close to the surface allowed the lure to stay down on an intermittent retrieve along the deep undercuts below the bank on the near side. As I caught fish I caught the bug.
I also marveled at other wonders. My childhood friend Tom Elliott and I were at The Bend one warm summer evening quietly casting spinners within 20 yards of each other, lost in the trance of a waning sunset glow when something broke my concentration, a movement on the far bank. "Tom, look!" I called out in a hushed tone. I nodded towards a massive mule deer standing at the boundary of forest and stream, five velvet-covered tines a side, stout and tawny brown.
I learned so much at this remote turn in the river. About nature, about weather, about water. And about fish. Nourished by family lore of outdoor adventures I would walk alone to The Bend at the edges of day and night. And not just for the fishing. I loved the bats at night after it became too dark to cast, enticing them to chase pebbles I tossed in the air on the walk home. They both fascinated me and made me shiver. I relished quiet dawns so still you could hear the mist rising from the river as the first touches of light coaxed the morning forward.
I learned the most productive time of day to catch fish at The Bend was early morning before sunlight hit the highest reaches of Boston Peak across the canyon. I learned how water levels and time of year influenced the hues and tints of trout. And when I kept fish I learned after slitting their bellies that they didn't eat much that resembled my spinner, rather...they ate a lot of bugs!
So began a casual interest in entomology, hardly serious but curious enough to turn over rocks to see what creatures crawled on the bottom of the river bed. Curious enough to shake branches on the bank to see what insects lived over the water. Curious enough to try to match the hatch when The Bend teemed with flies I believed were all mosquitoes, only with time recognizing the remarkable variety of colors and sizes and wing shapes that existed.
Time at The Bend was my schooling in trout fundamentals and when graduating to the fly rod it remained the perfect classroom - a variety of water and drifts, plenty of room to cast, and a familiarity with where the fish lay. Advice from my elders was simply to tie on a Royal Coachman, so I first became a dry fly fisherman. It seemed to work because I was catching fish. And oh...the joy of getting a trout to break the surface and run off line!
As a child in that idyllic place I was aroused by discovery of new things but as a young man I disconnected from anything but the pursuit of trout. Innocence lost, I walked to the river only to harvest fish. I took friends to The Bend so I could competitively demonstrate my prowess at catching fish and I was good at catching them whether I was throwing metal or a fly. I took my gifts for granted, sticking cold beers in my vest to enhance the buzz. I spit chewing tobacco into the water like a tough guy marking his turf. After all, this was my home river and I worked that to my advantage. I just knew where the fish were.
If nothing else The Bend is a transformative place. It took me a while but over time I learned what a jerk I had become, how selfish, how arrogant and ignorant. It took an aging man time to realize those things. As I have grown older and wiser I have become increasingly aware of the need to retrace that child's perspective, eyes wide open and mind clear, once again discovering moments of small miracles during my time at The Bend.
I have evolved from a fisherman to a naturalist, from someone whose mission it was to bring home a full creel to someone whose desire it is to describe the single trout I may have danced with that day. I go there now because I'm grateful for solitude. I go there to experience the changing light and changing seasons. I go there to evoke the wonder and fascination of my childhood. I go there because I will inevitably see an otter, a moose, or a merganser winging low over the water around the turn of The Bend. I go there to remind myself of the transitory nature of living things.
I no longer go to the river to fish. I fish to go to the river.
Dave Ammons is a TU volunteer and member of the Zane Grey Chapter in Arizona.
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