The smooth face of the earthen dam spans the gap between two flat-topped mesas a half-mile distant, the mesas pockmarked with snow on their northerly aspects. From the bottom of the dam issues the river, flowing in a series of braids and riffles that then come together to form a fishing hole the size of Texas. The river reflects metallic beneath an overcast sky, and in the early light of a cold Sabbath morn, the faithful are gathering.
Among the patchwork of tussock lining the bank one angler sits cross-legged, contemplating the intricacies of tying knots with cold fingertips and translucent tippet. Next to his rod on the ground rests a generous pack – it seems he has few other plans for the day save what lies immediately before him.
Already in the water, an angler works the vee between two braids, standing upstream of the confluence and nymphing tight and close into the turbulent water below him. He moves with the sure-footedness and animation of youth, changing his position in the river without aid of a wading staff or need to look where next to plant his feet. Suddenly his rod tip bows. He lets out a stifled victory yell then, angling his rod toward shore, splashes his way across the braid into calm water, where he proceeds to play the fish until it fills his net. With a fist pump he kneels in the shallows, gently removing the hook and line from fish and net before scooping a gentle hand under his catch and releasing it back to the river.
A man and two women, clad in waders, beanies, and jackets, and each clutching a child and fly rod, emerge from a clump of willows onto the rocky shore of one of the braids where they stand, taking in the scene. A ubiquitous yellow lab follows them, tail high and tongue lolling. After a couple of minutes discussion, they decide to cross the braid to the same calm water and small beach where the young angler still kneels, checking his line for abrasions. Halfway across the braid, one of the women, an infant strapped to her chest in a carrier, slips on the slick rock and falls backward, half sitting, half kneeling in the flow, which threatens to sweep her off her feet. The man quickly passes his rod to the second woman then reaches to grab the first. For perhaps thirty seconds they teeter mid stream before the woman regains her balance and stands, infant dry, and they complete the crossing.
Oblivious to the predicament of the family, the young angler looks up from checking his line to see another fisherman, having watched him land his fish, and displaying little awareness and less understanding of etiquette, taking advantage of his absence to wade across and stand right where the young angler had until recently been casting. This interloper quickly unstrings his rod and begins to cast, with much enthusiasm but little apparent technique. The young angler shrugs, and turns to speak with the family.
While the interloper froths the water, a lesson is taking place on the far bank. One fisherman, beanpole straight, instructs his diminutive sidekick on the intricacies of the tension cast, letting the fly rig drift down below him then flicking it upstream again with an economy of movement. The taller one bends in an exaggerated stoop as he intently stares after the indicator as it floats downstream. The diminutive one then tries, tentatively but with a look of earnest concentration.
“I’m ready,” says Caveman from the bow of the boat, where for the last several minutes he has been contemplating a series of knots of his own. I sit up straight in the seat and haul on the anchor rope. Several more anglers arrive on the far shore as I ease the boat back out into the flow, to join the faithful on a cold Sabbath morn where four braids of the river come together to form a hole the size of Texas.