Hayden Mellsop - The Accidental Angler

Mid-June is not usually a time associated with fishing the Ark, especially from a boat. Any “normal” year would see the river running too high and murky at this time to make fly fishing either practical or effective. To date, however, 2020 has not been a year that could be described as normal by any stretch, and runoff has been no exception.

Accordingly, it came as something of an unexpected bonus to be sitting in my raft on a recent afternoon, somewhere near the county line as a storm cell moved through.

The boat rocked gently against the anchor, snugged into a small eddy along a bank lush with the fresh green of summer. Overhead, black clouds spilled from beyond the canyon’s walls as raindrops began to dimple the river’s surface.

“Doesn’t look like it’ll last too long,” Jeff offered as we zipped rain jackets over life jackets.

I agreed, reaching into the cooler for a couple of beers. “Might as well make the most of it,” I suggested, offering him one. He finished cinching the knot on a fresh dry fly, and we clinked cans in a toast.

The river flowed clear, green and cool, full to its banks. In many places willows overhung the water, and long-bladed grasses dipped and swirled in the current. The rain increased in intensity as cloud bank after cloud bank pushed eastward.

Far from being unwelcome, the storm provided an excuse to pause and sit, to watch the river intently for signs of insects and fish, or to stare off into the distance contemplating nothing in particular. We talked of river trips past, of friends we’d made and stayed in touch with on those same and of coming adventures looming on the horizon.

Toward the last of the beer the rain began to ease as the clouds lifted and a lightening of the sky to the west announced the sun’s imminent return.

“Ready to fish?” I asked.

Jeff nodded, applying a dusting of floatant to the small stonefly imitator he’d been tying on as the rain began.

I hauled up the anchor and eased the boat off the bank and back out into the current, working the oars to slow its downstream progress while trying to maintain an even distance from shore.

Jeff worked the dry fly tight to the bank, picking out the micro-eddies and subtle seam lines, some drifts lasting only a few moments, others for half a minute or more. The longer the drift, the more the tension built with each passing second as we willed a fish to appear and take the fly. Sufficient obliged to justify his fly selection, each brown brought to the boat fat and healthy, to be released with a quick twist of the hook.

After a couple more miles we anchored at the tail of an island, and swapped places, he on the oars, me with the rod. The wind began to pick up, and with it my quiver of angling excuses. “Oh, he rose to it just as I was lifting up to cast.” “Did you see that? He only nosed at it.” “It hit just as I was mending.” “Oh, no wonder he got off, the hook is bent out a little.” “I was just looking ahead to the next cast when it hit.”

A good angler has an excuse for every occasion, and when in doubt, blame the weather. Yet after a time I began to find my rhythm, and several fish were brought to the boat, including two on consecutive casts to a grassy bank close to the takeout, which brought a round of applause from a group of campers, clutching beers as their dogs splashed in the shallows of the opposite shore.

As we drove back up the highway I reflected. All types of weather. Fish landed. Fish lost. Many laughs and stories shared. Immaculate scenery. Despite an abnormal year, it had indeed been something of a normal day on the river.

Hayden Mellsop is a Realtor with Pinon Real Estate Group and a former fishing guide.