There are some old army green shelters scattered along the gorge bottom, with picnic tables inside. They were built sometime in the seventies, and look it, but still keep most of the rain out. Ours was home to two enormous daddy long legs; they suffered our presence silently but emerged like vampires in the night and attacked what scraps of food we had neglected to clean up. They were good housekeepers.
Our site was the very last one as you head upriver. It sits on a high bluff under Ponderosa pines. For years now the trail to it has been buried by the springs that rush to the river there, and the resulting profusion of grasses, vines and poison ivy create difficult passage. I learned of the poison ivy when I called the place home for a few weeks, some years prior. I had come face to face with the wall of growth and charged through it like an angry water buffalo. The next morning I woke up, covered in welts on my arms and legs. I managed to send smoke signals for calamine lotion, and when my mom finally delivered it a few days later, I pounced like a starving lion....but nothing happened. I turned the bottle over. It had expired in the early nineties. For weeks my loved ones crooned the 'poison ivy' song at me....'It's gon-na take an Ocean, of Cala-mine lotion....You can Itch but you better not Scratch!' I now have an aversion to the vile plant that goes well beyond respect.
This time around I came prepared, and we skirted the barrier high above on slippery rock slopes. Once there, all the work is done. I love this spot. It has a wonderful fire pit with Anasazi-like rock work to keep out the wind, and a cluster of sofa shaped boulders that are perfect perches to look out over the river from. A few times we saw fishermen downriver, but no one ever braved the mess below our camp. We drank and cooked with spring water and harvested watercress for salads; One night we had buffalo shish-kabobs and ate like savages with blood running down our chins. The stars were so loud and bright at night they almost hummed.
The summer monsoons had started the week before, and as we hiked down we could see the river was up and a little off color. Nothing you couldn't fish in, we reasoned. But it seems we were wrong. Even though the river cleared over the few days we were there, and despite good water temps, trout didn't want much to do with us until the sun got off the river, by which time we were generally so worn and bashed up from hopping rocks all day that the idea of doing it all over again, and this time in dim light, lacked appeal.
On the second evening, though, reclining on our sofa rocks, we saw something that changed all that. Fish. Big fish. Huge dark shadows wafting into view and then fading, ambling lazily through what seemed like pretty fast water. There must have been twenty of them at least. Two of them dwarfed all the rest. Of course they were all on the far side. You can cross the river here at low flows on a jumble of rocks, but these flows were borderline too high. There is one sketchy hop onto a shoe-sized patch of rock in the middle, and if that is wet, rubber soles turn it into ice.
Felt soles are suicide on these rocks; studs too, though I've seen enough marks from the poor souls who've tried. The rock was still dry, but that would change when the sun left the water. We would have to work fast. That first night I stayed put and had a perfect view as JP scampered across with the grace of a gazelle. Show off. He was fishing a Pat's rubber legs to a little caddis, and I watched him work the water well in the lowering light. He got one to go, and to bear witness to the battle was a thing of beauty.
It was a heavy fish, (a Carp if you haven't already guessed) maybe seven pounds, it was a swift water section, and the fish was not going easily into that sweet good night. On several occasions he swung it close, only to have it charge away. Trash fish? I got my shot the next night. We decided to debut JP's grass flies, designed specifically for these fish. I dropped it behind a Pat's RL. I had a fourteen inch trout hit the RL on my first drift over the granddaddy Carp and shook him off with a tsk tsk before I could stop myself. We both had a good laugh over that. We'd been trying to catch them all day, but now trout just got in the way.
After quite a few shots it all came together. I swung the grass fly in front of a fish who was sort of surfing water over a just submerged rock, and he exploded with indignation when the grass bit him back. Totally awesome. We got pics, which I'll put in the gallery sometime soon. We never got the big fish, and our last night we had rain and wet rocks, but they were all still there, taunting us from the far side. I have their number. This fall, I will be back. (and hopefully catch a few trout and pike too!)