Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ed and God on a lake

Not that he doesn't love us all, but God loves fishermen.

This post is a little different.  It's a story relayed to me by one of my favorite fishermen in the world.  I'll just call him Ed.  I re-wrote parts of it simply for clarity and effect, and I also chose to disguise the true identity of Ed's companions.  While some of the words are mine, the story is Ed's.

But for the care and protection of God, I should not even be living.  With deepest humility and gratitude, I am bold to relate a frightful happening that I endured on a late summer afternoon.

Four close friends set off to enjoy a simple day of fishing on Diamond Lake, 25 miles north of Laramie, Wyoming.  Rumors of the "big ones" whetted our appetites, not to mention our collective anticipation.  Though we were all getting along in years, we traveled to our destination with the excitement of children, eager at the chance to land a few lunkers to add to our vast collection of fishing tales.  

At 6:30 a.m. we gathered at a predetermined location.  As was our common practice, we stood in the middle of a driveway, four men joined in prayer to the Almighty.  We asked God to keep us safe.  We are now convinced that God heard our modest prayers. 

Following a jovial, hearty breakfast at Foster's Cafe in Laramie, we headed north in two cars, with two boats in tow.  Foster's has been my favorite breakfast destination for as long as I can remember.  I'm not sure if it's the food, the friendly local charm, or simply that it seems to be on the way to wherever I'm headed, but a day of fishing always seems better after a strong cup of coffee and a steaming plate of eggs, bacon, and hash browns.  

By ten o-clock, we were on the water, eagerly casting to the beautiful rainbow trout who occupied a normally productive area on the lake.  With a take-home limit of two fish, both of which must measure 16 inches or greater, our day on the lake - by necessity - would be a success only when both criteria were met.  Mind you, any day on the water is a good one.  For a fisherman, however, both limits and size tend to define success.  Fun is one thing, but how could we face our wives and friends back home without measurable, tangible success?

While Jake and Bob drifted with ease thanks to a new battery-driven trolling motor, Tom and I suffered in an old 12-foot aluminum boat with a four horsepower Mercury.  The motor was new, but the boat was old.  I'd managed to make it a bit more comfortable by installing some stadium-style seats, one each in front and back.  The seats weren't luxurious by any means, but they were a vast improvement over the hard, cold aluminum benches that were built into the original boat.  

After performing as advertised, the new motor suddenly went dead.  We were smack in the middle of the lake by this point.  I have no idea how deep the lake ran, but it was certainly deep enough that our limited swimming abilities would offer little in the way of survival.  At the mercy of Wyoming's unrelenting wind, we drifted helplessly toward the east shore.  My efforts to nurse the sputtering engine back to health were futile.

Noting our need for help, Jake and Bob approached us with concern.  The four of us pondered our predicament for a short time, and decided that our only recourse would be for Jake and Bob to tow us back to the boat ramp.  It might have been a simple solution but for the limited power Bob's trolling motor provided.  I pulled out the two oars I kept in the boat, but with the strong wind blowing directly in our faces, rowing seemed to make little difference.

With a considerable distance yet to go, we stopped in the middle of the lake to assess our progress.  Without the slightest warning, the worst thing possible happened.  An unusually strong gust of wind, even by Wyoming standards, whipped across the lake.  I briefly lost my balance, leaning heavily to one side of the boat, and within a millisecond we capsized.  Tom and I suddenly found ourselves overboard in the uncomfortably cold water.  

By some miracle of God, the hand-holds at the rear of the overturned boat were right in front of me.  I stretched for the hand-holds and tightened my grip, struggling to simply keep my head above water.  Tom wasn't so lucky.  Momentarily tangled up in the anchor rope, Tom struggled for breath and then strained for hang onto.  With a lunge, Tom reached out for Bob's boat and began to haul himself to safety, latching onto the side of the boat.  The stadium-style seat in Bob's boat functioned as Tom's hand-hold on life.  A coincidence?  I think not.  

Meanwhile, as I waited my turn with a calm that surprises me to this very day, I realized that I wasn't feeling the panic or terror that should have engulfed me.  As Jake and Bob struggled to pull me into the boat, I glanced at the seat and saw something I couldn't believe.  My new, $1200 hearing aid had fallen out of my ear and landed on the seat.  Again, a coincidence?  I think not.  

The four of us left my boat to drift with the will of God and the Wyoming wind.  We reached the safety of the boat ramp after 10-15 minutes of bone-chilling wind.  Hypothermia began to set in just before we were able to rid ourselves of our wet clothing.  A few minutes in the car with the heaters blowing full-steam allowed the uncontrollable shaking to abate.  The wait gave us all private time to thank God for his life-saving mercy.

The fiasco continued, however, as we pondered a way to retrieve my old aluminum boat and motor, which by now sat a considerable distance across the lake.  Bob's battery was simply too weak to do the job.  Fortunately for us, two Wyoming fishermen had witnessed the entire drama.  They're being present a coincidence?  I think not.  

The two gentlemen volunteered to put their own antiquated motor on Bob's boat and tow mine to shore.  Again, a simple solution?  Not so.  Understandably, since nobody had thought to retrieve the anchor in the midst of our brief dance with death, the anchor dragged the grassy bottom of the lake.  It made for slow going, but we eventually reached the boat ramp.  The old antiquated motor proved to be dependable, if slightly out of its prime.  

Bob donned his fishing waders and managed to turn the boat right-side up.  Amazingly, we found fishing rods, a Thermos, and one oar.  Even more amazingly, Tom's billfold was soggy, but all the important documents it held remained intact.  Coincidence?  I think not.

I backed up my old 4X4 Blazer as close to the water as I dared, and we pulled the boat onto dry land.  Minutes later the tow boat was at the ramp.  We expressed our heartfelt gratitude to our newly-found friends - Good Samaritans if ever there were any - as they silently slipped away.  We wanted to somehow compensate them for their act of kindness, but assumed they wouldn't have accepted such a gesture anyway.

We gathered two styrofoam coolers with all our fruit, sandwiches, and beverages.  The contents were as dry as they had been when I'd packed them hours earlier.  We had a quick lunch and headed for Laramie.  Our day was spent, and we all seemed to languish in a state of after-shock, completely forgetting to call our wives and ease their concerns over our late return.

I am certain, in reflection, that God had been with us that day.  I am personally most grateful, for I know now that I caused the boat to capsize.  I cannot help but think about the "what ifs."  If Tom had not managed to latch onto the hand-holds of the seat on Bob's boat, I would no doubt have been forever consumed with guilt.  What a travesty it would have been for him.  A Purple Heart veteran from the Korean War to have fallen victim to the Wyoming wind during a routine fishing trip!  I can only attribute his survival that day to God's mercy and direct intervention.  

Did God spare us all so that we might continue to honor, praise, and serve him?  I think so!

Flywriter's note:  Ed, now in his mid-90s, keeps fishing and honoring God.  And for that, we're all grateful and blessed.

Drifting along with God...
The Flywriter


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Benefits of Restoration (or, Quit Your Whining)

For the past two years, trout have been laughing at my expense.

I've taken to riding my bike to work as often as possible.  It's a blessing in many ways.  It keeps me on the verge of becoming physically fit, although my Saturday night soccer games prove that I haven't quite crossed that threshold yet.  The biking also does wonders for my mental fitness; particularly the morning ride, during which I cut loose the background noise that seems to seep into my subconscious during the night and prepare to think and communicate with some semblance of coherence throughout the day.

More than anything, the morning ride takes me along the banks of the Poudre for miles before I have to veer south into town. Just as I begin the morning trek, I cross under a bridge that serves as a boundary line between some public and private access areas of the Poudre.  I've fished every inch of water on the public side, but being respectful of private property, I stop at the very last inch before that imaginary line in the river.  Naturally, I see trout rising freely, with impunity, 25 yards downstream from the demarcation.  I'm certain they're smiling at me as they do so.   

The trail crosses over the river again about a hundred yards later, drawing another demarcation line between private access and no access.  On the "no access" side of the trail lies a natural preservation area, with a tasteful, subdued sign reading "restoration in progress, no access allowed."  In other words, Flywriter, don't even bother dreaming about what might be in the water for the next mile or so.

I have to admit, the restoration area is like a big never-never land.  Each morning, I stop at the end of the bridge, just before the bike trail extends into a flat prairie for the next mile, and glance into the forbidden forest.  I have no idea what lies in the water downstream from that point, and it kind of drives me nuts.  There's no doubt in my mind it contains some big fish.  I envision them all congregating there, safe from the heavy fishing pressure their brethren endure just half a mile to the west.

Still, I'm all in favor of the restoration project.  If nothing else, it allows my imagination to wander.  And today, just at the edge of that forbidden trout-haven, I caught a glimpse of the results of restoration:

The trout will probably keep laughing at me from the safety of private access and "no access" water as I pedal away the morning cobwebs, but somehow I'll keep arriving at work in a better mood.  Each day, I'm restored, and restoration's a good thing.

Riding to Wonderland...
The Flywriter

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday (or, a good excuse to work on the fly box)

Few things enthuse me less than the Super Bowl.  Along with Valentine's Day, it falls increasingly into the category of "non-event" for me. The last one I really enjoyed - at least in terms of the actual game - was the Broncos/Packers game in the late 1990s, when I took pleasure in watching John Elway completely shut down all the obnoxious Packer fans with whom I was forced to endure a pre-game party.  I toyed with the idea of watching a bit of today's game, but I got no further than the National Anthem, which was butchered both musically and lyrically by Christina Aguilera (the twilight's last gleaming apparently occurs twice in her rendition).

Instead, I spent the day finishing up a birthday present for my sister - which required a little time at the workbench - and then got about the more serious business of filling up the fly boxes.  I've done quite a bit of tying in the past several months for other people, but my own stock has suffered.  Between Christmas and birthday presents for others and a few mini-boxes tied for some folks interested in getting started, I've ignored my own supply, which at current levels will be gone in a flash by mid-summer.

I managed to get about three dozen bugs whipped up over the course of a few hours.  That's a pretty good clip for me at this point in my "tying career," particularly since I chose a couple of patterns that are labor intensive for someone at my skill level.

My first focus was the RS2.  Since learning about it and beginning to fish it in earnest last year, I've become a big believer in its versatility and productivity.  From what I've read, it's particularly effective on Colorado tailwaters.  I haven't had a chance to do any field research on that yet, but I've had some good results on the Poudre - a freestone river - when fish are kissing the surface but not quite rolling dramatically over dries.  The tough part has been mastering the tie, particularly the split tail.  I also figured out that the dubbing I was using (i.e. ice dub or hare's ear) was turning out flies that were excessively furry.   Switching to some really fine dub, applied in very small quantities, made a world of difference.  This one turned out particularly well, at least by my standards:


With a few notable exceptions of huge rainbows taken on dry flies, most of the large (16 - 23 inch) trout I've taken on the Poudre in the last two seasons have come on variations of two classic nymphs:  The Prince Nymph and the Pheasant Tail.  Both have been highly effective during late June and all of July during the high water post run-off time frame.  I've found that the PT really draws the attention of the trout on the Poudre when it's adorned with some bells and whistles - beads, flashback, and red or green ribbing:

Flashback PT
Flashback PT

Finally, the weather over the past week has made it clear that we're nowhere near the end of winter here in Northern Colorado.  Even the lower Poudre in town became pretty well iced over this past week, thanks to a string of sub-zero days.  Just before this latest deep freeze, I was able to entice a few nice little fish with some small midges.  It was new ground for me, having done very little fishing with small midges.  Since two of my three fish of 2011 so far have come on Poison Tung patterns (blue, specifically), I finished up the day's work with a dozen - six blue and six black.  I think they're getting better. 

Poison Tung

So, with apologies to the Steelers, Packers, and football fans everywhere, I can't tell you what the score is here at halftime.  I can tell you, however, that the halftime show (which I admit to watching out of sheer curiosity), was completely incomprehensible and confusing.

I'll catch you on the open water!