Trout Unlimited Collegiate Peaks Chapter

by Jerry Wright

Special to The Mail 

After four days of teaching fly fishing to middle schoolers at Stream Explorers in Leadville, time alone on the river sounded good. 

Not that I didn’t enjoy working with the kids – I did. Energetic leaders from GARNA and Get Outdoors Leadville impressed me with their patience, persistence, perseverance and joy of taking kids into the natural world.  

We volunteers from Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited, while maybe not quite as energetic, were eager to share our knowledge of fly tying and fishing.  

But time on the river without hearing “Jerry, I broke my line,” and “Can you help me untangle this?” sounded like the perfect way to spend my day. 

So, I tied a few black Puterbaugh caddis (my fly box having been depleted by the kids), filled my thermos and headed for the Arkansas. My intention was to take my time and, water moving around me, kick back.

With rods in hand, side bag loaded and a thermos of coffee, I strolled across the sub-irrigated pasture. Bumblebees worked freshly blooming clover. The clouds hung low over the Sawatch. I caught myself grinning as I thought of Dorial, a soon-to-be seventh grader, smiling at me as he held up a freshly caught, 5-inch brookie. 

His facemask was hanging around his neck, so I could see his grin. But we were 15 feet apart so it was OK.  “That fly you tied on for me was good.” Wait a minute. I’m supposed to be decompressing, emptying my mind, living the moment.

I approached one of my used-to-be favorite holes. I sat on the bank, boots in the water, and began tying up my double dry fly rig - a No. 14 PMD trailing a No. 18 egg-laying caddis. I was in deep concentration, getting all the knots just right. When I detected motion in my peripheral vision.

I looked over just in time to see a ground squirrel running along the bank in my direction. I could swear it had a Dorial grin as it leapt at me from three feet away and landed in my lap, surprising us both. 

He immediately reversed direction, heading downstream, before I could even react. Is Mother Nature playing games with me today? Suddenly I heard Ray Stevens singing “Mississippi Squirrel Revival.” (Look it up). Wait. I’m supposed to be decompressing, and yes, that was a living-in-the-moment moment. My rapid pulse told me so.

Collecting myself with coffee, I waded into the river casting my double dry rig into my used-to-be favorite hole. Cast. Mend. Strip. I repeated the mantra for 20 minutes with only a single missed strike. Belaying the dropper hook on my rod, I packed up and headed for a favorite run, checking for smiling squirrels as I pushed through the willows.

Back through the pasture and heading upstream, my mind drifted back to Hayden Meadow and Shannon lying in the gravel with her hoody on complaining she was too tired to fish today ‘cause her cat had kept her up all night. I sympathized with her for I remember when I was….Wait. What happened to emptying my mind?

After wading into the next run and casting upstream near an undercut bank, hope was renewed with a couple of quick-but-missed strikes. 

Hmmm, am I perhaps distracted?  I pulled up a spot on the bank to change flies, again looking for smiling squirrels.  Attaching a recently tied  No. 14 Puterbaugh followed by a No. 18 Parachute Adams, I was ready to pursue larger trout I had seen rising just below a riffle at the head of the run. 

But I just sat there. 

The fish were in no hurry. 

Neither was I. 

My mind drifted back to Stream Explorers and our adventures in the Upper Arkansas Valley. Memory makes me smile like a deranged squirrel. Wait. Back to fishing.

I moved into the run and slowly traveled upstream dropping the Puterbaugh and Adams just below the riffle. 

The caddis had hardly settled when a rainbow engulfed the foam-bodied fly. 

There was no missing this strike. Hang on. The fish headed straight downstream, directly toward me.  No matter how fast I stripped the line, I could not make up for the closing distance. She made a hard turn into exposed roots on the undercut bank. I had no control (as if I ever did). 

Taking up all the aimless loops of slack line, I could feel my leader tangled hopelessly in roots. I tugged. Something tugged back. Through the spaghetti of roots and leader, she was still on. 

I waded upstream to this conflagration and let slack in the line. She inched downstream. I grabbed my net. You can still land this fish, unhook and untangle her. She was so deep into the roots I could only get half of her into the net. 

Plan B – hold the net in my left hand, stuff my rod inside my waders, reach into the roots with my right hand and pull her into the net. Plan B was working to perfection until she rejected my manipulations, rejected the caddis, turned jumped out of the net and was gone. 

Good for her. Patience, persistence, perseverance. Lessons taught. Lessons learned.

For more information about Collegiate Peaks Chapter including our events and projects visit our website: collegiatepeaksTU.org.

Jerry Wright is Treasurer and Youth Education Mentor for the Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited.