It is not exactly my favorite piece of water to fish, the one from Big Bend downstream to the diversion dam. Once below the dam, the action always seem to pick up for me, but above it, I struggle to catch fish with regularity. Strange, as the structure of the river is excellent, and the biggest fish I have personally caught on the Ark was on this piece. I know many anglers for whom this is their section of choice. I guess I just haven’t figured it out yet.
In other ways, it is my favorite stretch of river. Turning away from the busyness of the highway as it does, the river here flows gentle and pastoral, ambling through meadows and cottonwood stands that quietly speak of times I imagine more simple and idyllic. Every now and then its possible to park the boat river-side and, looking upstream, see not a single sign of human intervention. Its that place on the river where I find I have to work the least to picture how this part of the world must have appeared to those first human eyes.
This particular day, it would have been easy to take in the sight of these same cottonwoods bending and groaning to the wind and decide to delay the float for another time. But then, how often do you get the chance to float the river running clear at 400 cfs at the end of May? And if your M.O. is to only fish when conditions are ideal then it is difficult to make any improvement. Anyone can cast like a pro on a calm day, but wind shows little mercy when highlighting deficiencies in technique and timing.
The smart thing to have done, from a catching point of view, would have been to have fished a nymph rig. Whatever bugs unfortunate enough to have been out and about that day would surely be huddling in the lee of the bushes and undergrowth, blown from the water in an instant. It is worth remembering however that below the surface there is no such thing as wind. Windy days means shorter drifts, which in turn suggests lead to help sink the flies quickly. I thought of golf ball sized wads of nylon and split shot wrapped around the tip of my rod. Prudence and a swirling southerly suggested keeping things simple, so we tied on a single dry and headed downstream.
One of the benefits of not being interrupted by catching anything is the places your mind takes you during the lulls between fish, what Tom McGuane refers to as “the longest silence.” These silences have a tendency to put things in perspective. Its difficult to complain about any aspect of a day on the river. Except if it is freezing cold and I have to guide – then I’ll bitch with the rest of them. We thought and spoke of many things. Surely there are better things to worry about than who marries who, or what. We recalled some departed from this world, and other things that remain on the river, thoughts that dart and flit through your mind like the swallows working the riffles, flashing briefly then lost to the ether.
One particular silence was broken in rather abrupt fashion, in a manner familiar to all who angle. After drifting my dry for ten or fifteen minutes without sign of a fish, I vaguely became aware of the need for a scratch at the back of one ear. Releasing the line from my stripping hand, while one part of my mind was directing a finger to the itch, another was softly ringing an alarm bell. “This is exactly the time a fish will choose to take,” said the voice. It was right. I almost saw it before it happened, left hand scrambling to retrieve the line as the fish rose and took the fly, my ineffectual set not bothering it one bit. The air turned blue. Caveman sniggered. I felt like a guy who keeps sticking his knife in the toaster to see if anything different will result.
By the end of the float, we’d caught a few fish. The wind didn’t work us too hard. I felt reconnected to that piece of the river. Perhaps its a place destined to reinforce to me the value of quality over quantity, and that too is fine by me.