Last night the clock rolled back an hour. I was in a restless dream trying and failing to speak Spanish to a confused crowd in Mexico about coffee. It was as frustrating as the time I tried to tie on a tiny black midge in the dark and kept cutting the tippet instead of the tag end, and I was a little stoned. Chalk it up to another reason I don’t love nymphs.

A time change usually means I wake up slightly confused and the coffee will be lukewarm. At that point I’ll remember daylight savings time has begun and I’ll start trying to remember which buttons to push on the appliances and in what order to set the time correctly, still foggy eyed trying to recall how to say “clock” in Espanol.

This morning was a little different though.  It had been several weeks since I had stood in running water. Being an architect had started to seem like the wrong life decision.  There were deadlines and commitments leaving me feeling like a fiddle player down to his last strand of horse hair.  After a half-ass amount of planning, three out of five of us piled into a pickup and headed into a day of being on airplane mode. 

The fall weather had been more like a typical February in Colorado with an unwelcome amount of snow and way below average temperatures.  We had been holed up too much lately trying our best to act like husbands and fathers.  We had the overwhelming urge to feel like we were free American men, fishing on uncrowded public water while our careers and families faded ever so slightly into the periphery for a few hours. 

It’s been said that fly fishing shouldn’t be an escape, so I won’t call it that.  I’ll call it a mini-vacation for the mind.  Vacations slide me out of the mindset of anxiety and stress so when I return to work, I find myself asking, sometimes aloud, “What’s the fucking hurry?  Do you know how insignificant we all are?” 

The take I have on life confuses a lot of people and pisses off the rest.  When I’m in an uncomfortable situation, I think, “Is this life or death?”  Typically not the case.  Therefore, if the situation isn’t life or death, we would be wasting precious energy freaking out about it.  Coupled with the belief that we will eventually go by the way of the dinosaurs, whether by interstellar catastrophe, alien invasion, or more likely, self-inflicted devastation, my Give-A-Shit-Ometer can come off as having the Check Engine light on.  Honestly, it hardly makes sense to me sometimes.  As Benjamin Tod says, “Don’t waste your time pondering me.”

The plan was to hit the Arsenal for a pike or two and then find a spot on the St. Vrain that I had fished twelve or so years ago, if we could find it.  When we pulled up to the lake it was completely frozen over, or capped, as the Midwestern guys on Saturday morning radio fishing shows call it.  Somebody suggested throwing rocks through the ice to create a hole that we could drop a fly down.  We dismissed that nonsense and headed west with our spirits a little sunk already. 

I was sitting in the back seat with the wind blowing through the open rear window. Fly rods were sticking through so I’m not sure how it was decided to hit South Boulder Creek instead of the Vrain with all the noise, but as long as it was moving water, I didn’t care. 

The day was too short for exploration of unfamiliar public water anyway that may or may not have been public.  Getting shot by a landowner on a Sunday would likely have made me rethink my freak out tolerances.  The road up from Boulder’s old money neighborhoods is so winding that the switchbacks have switchbacks and if you happen to be rubbernecking the views or wildlife, the results would be unforgiving. 

Snow still stood eight inches or deeper in most shady areas but the hike we were about to embark on was down a south facing slope.  The hike isn’t strenuous even at just about two miles, but it is all downhill to get to the river and if you aren’t thinking about the hike out on the hike in, you are in better shape than me.  We’ve done it in the summer, and it is worth putting a towel down in your seat before driving home because of the swamp that now occupies what used to be your boxers.  Luckily on this day, it was just below fifty degrees with a stiff wind, so we wadered up for the hike down to cut the wind and save a little time gearing up on the water.        

The trick to all Colorado public water now that our state has become so popular is to just keep walking.  The further you walk, the fewer trails, and fewer fishermen.  Even better is to locate a stretch of water that is dangerous to get to.  This creek isn’t necessarily dangerous but there’s enough water to fish most people don’t waste the time bushwhacking and rock climbing another half mile for a little solitude.  We didn’t see another fisherman all day and the tracks in the snow were not fresh.  Winning.

As I stepped to the water’s edge, time switched gear into 4-Low.  This is my gear that feels the most natural.  When there is a rod in hand and water rushing around my shins.  My brain slows down and becomes more focused than it could ever be behind a desk.  

When I was a kid living on the ranch, snow was not pretty to me at all.  It meant feeding hay and trying not to get stuck.  This is where I learned 4-Low.  The trick was to find a good long flat area with no bone jarring bumps or deep cow trails.  I’d start at one end and drop the engine to 4-Low and shift into first gear.  At that point I’d give it enough gas to get started rolling, jump out the door and run around to the back of the truck and climb up on top of the hay bales while the whole contraption bumped over frozen cow patties. 

It was a race against time.  I had to move quick to cut bailing wire and sluff the layers of square bales onto the ground, then jump to the next bale until there was enough on the ground to feed the herd.  At that point I’d to bail off the slippery flat bed and run around to the door, climb in, and take it out of gear, all before hitting such obstacles as a feed trough.  The point is, everything slows down, while your mind must focus on the task at hand.  Quit paying attention and you miss a strike or run into a heifer.

The flows on the creek that day were ideal at about 82 CFS.  Plenty of water to hide fish and not stranding them in large pools.  We finally paused at a long deep run, and I studied the water for a few minutes.  One surface splash was all I needed for my hands to start shaking with anticipation. 

I started with an Adams parachute so I wouldn’t lose it in the bubbles and low light. Immediately there was a splash and a miss.  I covered the pool for way too long without another strike and switched to something noticeably larger and sparklier as Hank Patterson would suggest.  Why eat a cookie when you could have a whole cake, right?  Nadagoddamnthing. 

On the hike down, Brady had said he was going to use a dry dropper today, but if there’s one thing I do not love, it’s nymphing.  I’ve caught many fish using the method, without a doubt, but it’s my last resort if dry flies or streamers aren’t working.  So naturally I switched to a small streamer with bead eyes and feathers from quail and pheasant.  Gifts from back home. 

I swung it through the pool entirely too many times with only one half interested follow. I could see at least fifteen fish frolicking in the deep part of the pool an others rising sporadically all around me.  I lost track of time and was now frustrated and had started to seriously question my abilities.  Brady came into view from down river and walked up while I was untangling a three fly rig consisting of a stimulator, San Juan worm, and a pheasant tail on the bottom. 

I was embarrassed.  I’d been dredging the pool for so long that this is what I had been reduced to.  He flatly said, “You should move.”  “Three more casts,” I said, and I held to my word.  I moved just above the pool to fast running water that didn’t look fishy and cast upstream anyway.  Immediately a good-size mouth swallowed the gaudy stimulator on top with a splash.  He took me across the creek and under a boulder where I proceeded to lose all three flies. 

After that, I stuck to a small dry and kept moving. From then on I proceeded to catch perfectly sized wild rainbows and browns into the late afternoon, as I by god should have. 

It’s amazing what a change in location can do.  Sometimes it can be sitting in a different chair in your house that gives you new perspective on your whole life or walking the dog in a new direction could find you touring an open house when you weren’t thinking about moving.  Or taking the few steps to a different pool.  Shifting locations can give you new hope, new points of view, and sometimes better luck.  An Air Force fighter pilot we fish with never casts more than five times in the same pool before moving and he consistently out-fishes us all.       

We walked uphill out of the canyon in the fading light leaving the perfect trout to their happy existence.  I thought about how backwards it was that disturbing their lives could add clarity and reduce stress from mine.  These tiny-brained, speckled fish with no formal education could do more for me in a few hours than listening to myself complain to a highly educated therapist could ever do.  As little as I’ve figured out in life, at least I know that switching into 4-Low now and again is all I need to keep from going postal. 

Published by willbarch78

I grew up in the middle of nowhere Texas. The nearest Walmart was a full two hours away. My family still runs a ranch back home that I grew up on, but at some point in my treasured youth I hung up the idea of becoming a cowboy, and pursued my passion for architecture. Today I still find myself trying to fit in to a life that has treated me with the average ups and downs one can expect after a certain number of years. My wife and I moved to Denver after attending Texas Tech School of Architecture in Lubbock as we needed a grade change from the Llano Estacado. We camp with our three growing girls all summer and into the fall while I write and create and fly fish to maintain sanity. Life is moving fast as our careers and children progress in all areas, so being outdoors with each other keeps us mostly grounded.

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