We sat in the bar, looking out on the river, mulling over alternatives. For the second time this year we’d had to cancel a trip to Flaming Gorge owing to inclement weather.
First in February, and now in March, snow and below-freezing temperatures were forecast for the several days we’d set aside to float the Green River below the reservoir.
While a guide, I’d had my fill of river time spent in adverse elements. Although “if you’re silly enough to want to go, I’m dumb enough to take you” was my motto, guiding was how I made my living. Saying no meant missing out on a paycheck. Nowadays I opted for discretion.
“What about the San Juan, below Navajo?” I suggested. Further south, the forecast looked more reasonable. Cave thought for a minute, then shook his head.
“Not feeling it,” he said. A few years back we’d spent a surreal Super Bowl weekend fishing the river below the dam – the sole occupants of the only motel open for business, no heat and broken hotplate, all stores and restaurants closed, squinting at the vintage TV bolted high to the wall, taking turns adjusting the rabbit ears as blurred coverage of the damned Patriots winning another championship ebbed and flowed.
“Let’s shoot down to Pueblo for a day,” he suggested. “Check out the river below the reservoir.”
It had been years since I’d been to the Ark near P-Town. Since that time, numerous improvements designed to enhance the recreational experience had been made to the river – whitewater park, fish habitat and holding water chief among them.
The forecast for the chosen day looked promising – temps in the mid-50s, partially sunny, light winds. John Lennon once said, with ultimate irony, that life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. The same could be said for weather and weather forecasters.
Driving down the canyon, early morning sunshine gave way to a blanket of smothering cloud, misty tendrils fingering their way down the crevices of the mountainsides. The temperature dived into the 20s with the overcast. It’ll surely clear once we leave the canyon and get out onto the plains, I thought.
Cañon City East gave way to Pueblo West, and still the cloud lowered. The temperature struggled toward 30. We spent an hour scoping the river between the reservoir and downtown, stopping to take a short hike around some bass ponds, and getting lost in a one-way system near the zoo.
By early afternoon it became apparent that temperatures in the mid-50s would be a pipe dream. We found a spot by the river among skeletal cottonwoods, layered against the cold and stepped into the water. Despite heavy socks, waders and boots, within minutes I lost the feeling in my feet. My fingertips pinched red and painful with the cold and the line guides on the rod iced over.
Personally, this is where standing in a river fly fishing crosses the line from healthy pastime to tragic psychosis. After a half hour of frigid, fruitless endeavor I retreated from the water and walked downstream to where Caveman was working a deep drop-off. I looked quizzically in his direction.
He held up two fingers. I held up one in return. If there is a fish to be caught, he’ll find it.
Soon we were back in the truck, heater blasting, contemplating our next move.
“Let’s head back to the mountains, where its warmer,” I suggested.
An hour or so later we stood once more in the Ark, close to home, this time in sunshine and the temps promised in Pueblo. I netted a couple of lovely rainbows, felt complete and wished that the liquor store that once stood riverside where we fished was still open for business.
Hayden Mellsop is a Realtor with Pinon Real Estate Group and a former fishing guide.