If you are a fly fisherman in any sense of its madness, you love summer heat for so many reasons. Throwing stupid big dry flies to gluttonous trout and burbling poppers to a bass or two on your lunch break, and not bundling up like Randy in A Christmas Story. The most glorious aspect though, is wet wading. Every summer we camp and fish the high country of Colorado like it’s not going to be there tomorrow. Like a freak biblical rain storm is going to roll in and erode the mountains into the endlessly flattened plains of middle America.
Last weekend a fishing buddy and I bushwhacked through thick brush into little Elk Creek way up by Clark, CO. I pack for camping like I’m going the park so I have to wear the same clothes all weekend. On the way home from camping, we always stop at a local eatery for lunch and the poor crew on hand surely cringes when I walk through the door. The dirt on my shorts is typically camouflaged in with soot, food grease, and beer and I consciously hide my fingernails as the black French manicure just isn’t in style. After idling up to the counter, the whole staff gets hit like a baseball bat in the face by the pungent odor coming off me like Pig Pen. And worse, after all the crashing through the forest in shorts all weekend, my shins and arms and hands looked like I had been in a knife fight, and lost. Most of the dried blood on my legs had washed off in the river, but now the scabs looked disgusting, especially if you were eating smoked ribs with barbecue sauce. Sorry Moe’s Barbecue patrons. The mutilation was a result of crawling through tamerisk along the river banks the beavers had cut to points like Vietnamese booby traps. Luckily for everyone in the place, we opted to eat outside on the patio.
Wet wading is of course a little dangerous, but hands down the best method of cleaning your legs when camping dirty. On the first night of the trip when I was sweaty and disgusting from making camp and cutting a month’s worth of firewood, I dropped into the river, made a few casts and had a nice brook trout on in fast moving water. She bolted for the main channel and as I fumbled with my landing net I slipped on some slick boulders and was baptized in the Elk River up to the belly button. After almost losing but landing the ferocious little fish, I looked at the surrounding pine trees and announced “That is NOT how you do it.” It was one of those moments where I knew if I were standing on the bank watching all this clumsiness unfold, I would still be laughing.
When you take that first step into a high mountain stream with bare legs, you know it’s going to be cold. You do your best to mentally prepare for it, and it might even comfort you to think of it like getting an IV in your arm. The initial shock is staggering, and your head swims a little by the sharp pain and confusion your body is trying to deal with. The blood in your legs is also telling your brain to “Get the fuck out of the water!”, yet you have to override the brain and force yourself to “get used to it”. Much like an IV, your body does accept the sensation and somehow adjusts, but the discomfort persists until the whole body is back in equilibrium, drinking bourbon by the campfire.
As a kid in the hotter than hell Texas panhandle, we were always in the creek cooling off, yet there were leaches, and the mud smelled like methane, but wading into that water was almost a necessity to fend off heat strokes. I will say the fishing there is beyond outstanding and leaches were few and far between, so that creek was almost as refreshing as the Elk River, just in a different, more dual exhaust and Copenhagen kind of way.
I stood in the knee deep water of the Elk River after releasing a brook trout with colors and patterns only a fish could have, straightened out my tired back and took a deep breath, absorbing the towering mountains of Zirkel Wilderness, the sounds of hummingbirds darting between blue spruce, and ice cold gin-clear water rushing around my bleeding shins, and I spoke once more to the pine trees, “I love Colorado.”