Hayden Mellsop - The Accidental Angler

The firs stood tall and straight on the mountainside, stacked like a crowd packed tightly into a vast, standing-room-only bleacher. The rays from a low-angled sun merely brushed their tops, accentuating the gloom within.

Watery snow lay along the stream bank and across the tops of the trunks of deadfall that crisscrossed the stream, appearing like soft beams of light cutting through the shadow.

Misjudging a footstep, I slid across the top of a snow-covered rock, landing with a splat on my butt in the shallows of the stream. A curse, followed by gratitude that I was wearing my waders fastened over my shoulders, thereby preventing the icy water from flowing down into my boots.

I stood and brushed myself off, wondering at the size of the bruise I’d likely picked up. A few yards ahead of me, Caveman turned, alerted by the commotion, and sniggered at my plight.

Late morning, and already it had the hallmarks of one of those days. My head throbbed gently from the aftereffects of one too many whiskeys in camp the night before, and in the tight, technical conditions over the course of six casts I’d lost three flies to the surrounding foliage.

Caveman, on the other hand, had caught the day’s only fish to date, and with a delicate artistry and deft touch that belied someone of his stature.

The gradient of the stream was such that it resembled as much a tumbling cascade as babbling brook. Likely holding water for a fish was limited to an occasional small pocket off to the side of the main flow. Prior to my falling in the stream, one such pocket had presented itself, perhaps 2 feet square in size. At its downstream end the tip of a fallen fir protruded from the bank across its width.

Landing the fly into the pocket would require draping the leader across the top of this obstacle. Behind, two other firs, one on each bank, angled out across the stream, leaving a 3-foot-wide lane for a back cast. Not only would placing the fly in the pocket require an inch-perfect forward cast, the back cast would need to bisect the two firs behind.

For me, this scenario had snag, swearing and frustration written all over it. Caveman delivered, however, splitting the angled firs without touching them and placing the leader across the fallen fir. The fly landed at the head of the small pool and hesitated in the aeration created where the stream water spilled into it.

A brook trout rose almost immediately and engulfed the fly. Setting the hook skyward conventionally would result in losing the fish as the leader snagged on the deadfall, so he set sideways toward the middle of the stream, drawing both fish and line clear of the obstacle. It was a beautiful catch, crimson and yellow with the colors of the season, and it slid from his fingers back into the cold water.

After a couple more hours of equal parts fruitlessness, frustration and wonder, we decided to hike up and away from the stream to a ridge-top trail that followed the water’s course. From this vantage point the forested slopes appeared as an ocean of dark green scattered with the brilliant yellows and oranges of aspen groves in full color. Two or three miles distant, this palette gave way to the stark gray of the Flat Tops, snow dusted in their granite crevices, while over all a few puffy clouds hung in a breathless sky, bluer than seemed possible.

A lunch of cheese and summer sausage ensued, washed down with a beer that instantly had me pining for the comforts of my camp chair. I guessed an hour until the sun dipped beyond the mountains, another two till dark. The gradient of the stream showed little sign of relenting, and Cave took little persuasion in turning down-valley.

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