Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Trout Fishing in Colorado

Last Sunday, I took a final stab at slowly passing time and other things paddling the upper Colorado River. I wanted to camp out of my canoe one more time in the company of the wizened sage. The forecast was an irritation I chose to ignore: wind, rain, and possible snow in the high country all day.
I arrived at nine in the morning under cloudy skies at the little outpost of Rancho del Rio; a place where seemingly, anything goes. There's an outdoor bar where middle aged guys hang out in chest waders— they exchange trout stories, while being entertained by a bartender with a wilting flower in her graying red hair.
Over in the camping area, a tribe of dreadlocked kayakers chow down on roots reggae, burritos and fragrant herb. Reggae has traveled far from its roots in the shanty towns of Kingstown to the headwaters of the Colorado river.
I packed my boat, put into the river and set off. I enjoyed an hour of paddling in peace and prosperity before the wind whipped up.
Without warning, it burrowed and barreled its way upriver. It was an effort to keep the canoe pointed downstream. If it broadsided, I could be blown over and spilt into the drink.
The heavens blackened, but the threatened downpour turned out to be nothing more than old fashioned saber rattling and knashing of teeth. It reminded me of the old shock and awe routine of Secretary Rumsfeld when we went into Iraq. Only that happened. This didn't. Funny, the things you think about on the river. And, as I rounded a curve, I was thankful to catch a glimpse of blue skies again.
The rain tapered, but the wind persisted tirelessly for two more hours.
It breaks you slowly: It makes your choices sloppy. It depresses your brain. It wrinkles your thoughts. Decisions become like twisted squalls that scitter across the water without logic.
It stopped abruptly as it began; without warning or notice. Suddenly, there was silence, shortly followed by bird song, and a light shivering of cottonwoods. I had a feeling of being somehow, forgiven. Let off the hook.
It's not easy to fish with a fly rod from a canoe on this section of the river. It twists and turns and narrows and bends and there are lively riffles and rapids along the way. Your fly can get caught in the willows: you have to back paddle upstream and nuzzle your way into the bank in order to release it from the offending willow. You have to constantly watch for rocks sitting like ducks on the river's surface.
I threw hoppers and stimulators at the banks. I tried blue winged olives. I tied on a big bushy caddis fly. No response to neither. I finally struck gold with a tan San Juan worm and a little bead head prince nymph.
I saw a great blue heron without a care in the world lazily crossing the river. I saw a young deer shyly stooping its head to drink at the bank. I saw sly checkered magpies and bending backwards swallow. I saw dancing damson flies dainty on the water and swift hawk plotting bad thoughts from high above.
In my camp for the night, I ate salami and cheese. I made a paella with canned mussels, saffron and Spanish rice. I drank a bottle of Belguim beer, a half bottle of Greek wine and a dreamy nightcap of Grappa, distilled just a little down river, in Palisades.
In fine fettle now, I listened to the wind: a reckless rustle shifting through the western trees. I watched moving clouds. Dark chocolate melted in my mouth. I washed my pot and plate in the river. I licked my fork clean.
I listened to the rain as it drummed and rolled down on my tent through the night. I felt it was washing me to sleep. My feet cracked. My shoulder pained. My bones ached. I slept like a cottonwood log. I awoke in the night to Coyotes screaming.

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