Toward the end of trout season each year, the Wildlife Department has an annual get-together and meeting along with a most delightful fish fry. For the last two years the Blue River Fly Fishers have been invited and this year's attendees were Michael Mercurio of Arlington, Texas along with Charlie Wright and yours truly from Sulphur, Oklahoma.
Both Michael and Charlie have been big time fans and supporters of Blue River as a whole and both have taken a special interest in the catch & release area. Michael is also heavily involved with the San Juan river establishing a foundation to benefit that wonderful waterway and Charlie operates a bed and breakfast inn, Sulphur Springs Inn, that just happens to cater to the fly angler. Visit Sulphur Springs Inn at www.sulphurspringsinn.com
The three of us met at department headquarters on Blue where we enjoyed the food and fellowship. Of course area manager Matt Gambel was on hand and it's always a joy talking to Matt and Matt Mauch was also on hand and it is likewise always good to visit with him. Retired wildlife department employee Paul Mauch also attended and for those who don't know, Paul was our contact person in establishing the catch and release area.
So, we broke bread with the wildlife department and still had plenty of afternoon in front of us. Merc had already made plans to stay at Charlie's inn and fish the next day... but what were we to do the rest of the afternoon. Merc suggested we think about fishing even though we knew the river was dingy to muddy and the wind was gusting to forty miles per hour. I was good to go but Charlie had to beg out because he had guests coming to the inn this afternoon. When we were trying to decide where to fish I told Merc to pick the spot and I'd follow. He said, "South wilderness", and those are words that for me are synonymous with abracadabra...magical words if you will. So off we were.
On the hike in Merc kept saying the fish would eat, the fish would eat, and each time he'd say it our confidence would grow. But each time we got a glimpse of the beef broth that the river was... my confidence diminished.
We started out at Coyote Pass and I armed myself with a brown bugger deciding to drift it through some runs. Merc took position on a point fishing both sides. A half hour into it I hadn't felt a single bump so I moved upstream to some faster water. Here I would take four bows but they were all on the small side - certainly members of the Arkansas tribe. Merc had taken a fish at the point but now moved upstream to fish the far side from me. Still the fishing was really spotty so we decided to move upstream to the Cove, however that would require back-tracking or forging ahead. Merc forged ahead and it was some rough going.
At the Cove we took the water above the falls and the water here was still more of the beef broth that was common to the wider areas of the river. I kept with the bugger drifting, but soon decided to simply cast upstream and strip. Stripping the bugger seemed to be the ticket here and I took two nice fat bows on the brown bugger. When fishing this particular spot it's easy to hang up a lot on the ledge before the falls. I got lucky Saturday and avoided hanging up here, but Merc was standing in the wrong spot evidently and lost a lot of flies. The visibility of the river was at best six inches and this was one of the obstacles we were having to overcome.
From the Cove we headed straight for the last stocking point in the south wilderness - Dividing Line Falls. Dividing Line Falls was at full force and we stepped into the soup once again wading out on the sandbar. Merc took one side and I the other. Merc pulled a trout up with his first cast while I kept trying to find bows with a down and across cast and swing. There was nothing for me so I tied on a crawdad pattern, turned around and fished the other side taking one small bow. Meanwhile Merc had spotted some water that seems to hold special appeal to him.
In my mind, Merc likes intimate complex water. It's the complexity of the water that seems to hold a special allure for Michael. He seems to thrive on analyzing and dissecting the intricacies of a particular pool; exploring each seam; fishing each current including the micro currents; maneuvering his fly through the eddies and such. Without a doubt Merc is probably the best nymph angler I've seen and his mending is magical. I stood on the sandbar for sometime watching him working that intimate pool plucking bows. The wind was beating me down so I wade out and take position on a log on the bank and continue to watch Merc pick a bow every now and then including one nice fat bow. It was an artistic thing to watch.
The wind kept bearing down on me so getting Merc's attention I signal I was going downstream. About a mile downstream I find a falls with a significant scum line and decide to fish the scum. Here I would take the prettiest fish of the day. She was about fourteen inches but the beauty of this fish was in the color and pattern. She was an opaque forest green color and from gill to tail there was the most beautiful pattern of black dots. Simply a beautiful fish.
By now, I knew it was getting later in the afternoon and Merc had caught up with me so we start to hike out. Thinking it was around four o'clock or so, I asked Merc for the time and it was almost six. Oh crap, where does the time go and what will Miss Carol be thinking. Back at the schooner and upon checking the phone sure enough there was a voice mail from Miss Carol that simply said, "I'm getting worried". It was time to go to the bunkhouse but before that could be done Merc and I had to drink a beer together - it goes with the outing you know. He presented me with a beer I'd never seen before and being quite particular about the beer I drink I had my doubts. Think it was called Minnesota Beer or Brew and I have to tell you it's some dang good beer. Michael told me it's cheap and the only thing better than cheap beer... is cold cheap beer. He's right!
Merc and I came to the river today knowing we'd be facing obstacles with a muddy river and high wind but somehow we overcame those obstacles and battled bows. I guess between the two of us we brought somewhere from fifteen to twenty bows to capitulation. Our only regret was that Charlie didn't get to come but as that is... it gives us another reason to plan a future trip when Charlie can make it.
COME THE HARVESTERS
When our fishing outing ended Friday, Merc and I laid plans to fish the catch & release the next morning. It would be my first trip to the C&R this season and I wanted to go so Merc could show me the upper section and few know that section like he does.
Of course the C&R was opened for harvest on March 1st and I'd been hearing of reports of groups of anglers taking large numbers of fish from the area. I knew this going in but still wanted to go.
A pleasant surprise was that while staying at Charlie's inn, Merc met another guest that just happens to be a fly fisher named David from Oklahoma City and David had packed his gear so naturally he was going a-fishing with us.
Little did I know that the first thing that would happen in the upper section was my cell phone taking the plunge. I accidentally drug the bag it was in into the river not knowing the bag strap was caught on my boot. Cell phone dead.
We hit the upper section about ten o'clock and fished the dickens out of it but it was pretty much sterile. The harvesters wasted no time this season in really thinning the bows. I started working downstream and Merc was soon to follow. We ended up in the middle section and went to the far east falls and here Merc would find some bows. Meanwhile, I was still searching for my first bow and finally found it casting upstream and drifting. It would be my only bow of the day.
There is some really pretty water in the C&R and it's kind of sad that so many bows had already been harvested. As a matter of fact there is some talk going around about a later harvest date. One argument against having a later harvest date is out of the fear the fish will not be harvested and simply perish as water temperatures warm. But, I would argue getting these fish harvested will not be that big of a problem... plenty will come and take part in the feast.
Saturday I started feeling the effects of the hike on Friday and the hike into the C&R this particular morning so I decide to leave the area about an hour before Merc and David. Merc had found six bows by now so he and I shook hands and thanked each other for the experience. It indeed was a good experience.
SLOW DOWN TURBO
Around my house it's quite common for Miss Carol to look at me and say, "Slow down turbo." I do tend to move rather quickly - type A personality, high metabolism... I don't now. And I guess for a short legged person I tend to walk fast also.
On the trail out of the C&R Saturday the weather was warming up quickly and I was layered quite heavily. It didn't take long to break a sweat and I was anxious to get to the parking lot and turn the air-conditioner on in the Prairie Schooner.
When the parking lot came in sight I guess those turbo-chargers of mine kicked in and I started walking faster. For anyone that's been to this particular parking area (the corrals) you know very well there's that spot in the fence you have to duck under.
You know, I was pretty sure I ducked.
I was at full throttle, head down, but evidently didn't duck low enough. It wasn't my forehead that hit that three inch pipe but the front top of my head... it was indeed sudden impact. The most disturbing part of the whole micro fraction of a second incident was the cracking noise I heard in my neck. I hit the ground stunned and not worried at all about my head and having brain damage or something... I mean with me that would be an afterthought... you know too late in my case. But, I couldn't get over that cracking noise I heard. Endorphins rushed to the scene of the accident sparing me any immediate pain.
I was completely sprawled out on the ground and the most embarrassing part was I had a witness. A spinner fisher was rigging up and he looked at me and asked, "Was that your head you hit? You okay mister?" His question prompted me to ask myself exactly what he'd heard? Was it the thud of my head on the iron pipe, that terrible cracking noise in my neck, or perhaps that "Aww son-of-a-bitc.!!!", I said on the way down.
To save face in my Charlie Chaplain antics I told the guy I was okay... just stupid. I stayed on the ground for a short while then staggered up collecting the fly boxes that were strewn from the impact, and headed for the schooner hitting the trail to the bunkhouse.
At the bunkhouse the first order of business was a hot shower concentrated on my neck and the second order was a cold beer. Then came the ice pack and me strategically planting my butt on the couch next to Miss Carol where I would commence to milk her for every ounce of sympathy I could.
However, about the only sweetness that would come forth from Miss Carol was, "You need to slow down Barry - you're not young anymore." I thought, "Oh, well thank you so much Miss Carol for your keen observation." She's right, I know it.
So, the end result of my Saturday day would be a fried cell phone, one lonely trout, a cracked neck, and here I was about to loose an hour of sleep because of the friggin' time change.
Maybe it is time I loose my turbo-charged ways, slowing down, and taking time to really smell the roses.