The Dark Heart of a River Report: Part 1

The first two nights of our recent trip KG, Adam and I spent camping along the Savage.  This has become a little bit of a tradition at the start of our spring trip every year.  Those of us who can secure the extra days off, do so and dirt bag it before the rest of the BCI crew arrives and we live it up in luxury.

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Most of the time when we do this, it’s on a Monday or Tuesday and have the campground to ourselves, hopefully with a freshly cleaned, porta-john.  This year started the same way.  After we ran the N. Branch our first full day down there, we noticed an older gentleman just setting up camp a few sites down from us.  He’s by himself but clearly knows what he’s doing.  We carry-on cleaning up and making ready to throw meat on our freshly built fire.

We gave little mind toward our new neighbor.  The meat now on the grate over red hot coals and several drinks in, we hear a person make his presense known. “better get more coals beneath that meat or you won’t be eating until after midnight!”

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It’s our neighbor.  After a few awkward minutes of small talk, we offer him a beer, and he declines then pulls a flask from his back pocket, “Sorry, I quit beer, just rye for me these days.” and takes a healthy slug.

He introduces himself as Barlow.  I ask, “Oh, like the front man for Dinosaur Jr and Sebadoh?”

He looks at me, “Who?”

Nevermind.  Barlow begins to ask us about the raft and where and how we fish.  We give him the BCI run down, and now he’s comfortable with the company he just invited himself into.  We tell him that we just run the N. Branch earlier that day with the raft.  He looks over at KG’s trailer and begins to smile.

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Barlow grew up out west, he fished all over Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and guided before getting tied into the mining industry out there, which ultimately brought him east.  He was always a fan of rafts, preferred them over drift boats out west even, “They sucked in the flat water, but when the water got technical and skinny, a raft is the shit.”

We threw on another steak for Barlow, and he began to tell us a story about the first time he fished the N. Branch with a couple buddies who brought their raft east about 15 years ago…

“We left the Jeep at the parking lot near the rail road bridge. I hopped in the truck with Harrison and Gartley to make the drive up river to central station.  The day had started with a downpour that cast a pall over the day, a day we planned to spend floating the river.  As we inched up switch-backs leading up to the ridge the sky broke and the sun began to peak through the dispersing clouds.  The clouds parted but the the words from Pjurtz continued to shade our optimism.  The steep winding road made Harrison’s truck groan and strain against the weight of our river boat on the trailer.  Our oversized rubber duck would carry us back to inner-station.”

“The dispatch from Pjurtz we received the night before indicated assured futility in our journey.  The river was high and unsafe to float.  The hatches just were not happening like they were supposed to.  To fish this river would be unwise and a waste of time.  The fish themselves had left for Florida.  As we pulled into the the launch area at Central station we took note of the water.  The flow, elegant. Color, that of gin splashing over cracked ice.  This was the first evidence as to the unsoundness of Pjurtz’s methods and soundness of mind.”

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“The gear loaded into our craft, a 14 foot self-bailer with fishing frame we affectionately called Big Red; we shove off and get underway from central station.  Harrison takes the oars first, Gartley at the bow and myself astern.  We exit Blue Hole with it’s high cliffs and final semblance of civilization until we reach inner station.  The first set of riffles was easily tamed by the oarsmanship of Harrison.  The raft was anchored up at the first run to fish when we noticed three March Browns fluttering in the late morning sun.  A hatch Pjurtz had described as a notch above non-existent.  We began to grow dubious of Pjurtz’s intentions.”

“On the drift down to the first large bend, I happened into catching a four inch brook trout.  A fish clearly too small and of too feeble mind to endure the trek to Florida as the other trout in the river had made.”

“Around the next bend and down a small set of rapids we anchor up in a large pool.  As the anchor takes hold in the river bed, a caddis lands on my arm.  Stuborness held me to my intended stonefly nymph with a pheasant tail dropper.  A dozen casts and not a hit.  Midway through my thirteenth drift another caddis lands on my arm and a fish rises.  I wind in the line and exchange my rig for an elk hair caddis and a sparkle emerger.  The fish rises again before my first cast with the new rig can land the flies in the water.  Three casts later the fish comes up and swipes at my fly.  I pulled the emerger right out of the fish’s mouth.  Harrison and Garltey take pleasure in my failing, busting in laughter and excitement at this.”

“A few more casts and the fish boils beneath the emerger, the hook point takes purchase in the fish’s mouth and the fight ensues.  A few quick minutes pass and Harrison serving his duty with the net embraces the fish in the clear rubber webbing and lifts the 19 inch brown trout out of the water.  A glorious fish that would be the best of the day.  I relax for the next piece of time hoping Gartley would hook into something as good if not better.”

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“Another smaller fish begins to start rising against the rock wall.  I pop up out of my half awaredness and drop a cast ten feet up river from where the fish last rose.  The flies drift down to the epicenter of the now fading ripples. Flash, splash, tight to the line.  A small cookie cutter stocked rainbow struggles to gain freedom against the strain of my 5-weight and bronzed steel in its maw.  After a moment of sporting pleasure, Harrison has the fish in net.  I disgorge the fly and set the fish back on its way to meet the rest of Pjurtz’s finned community in the sunshine state.”

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…To Be Continued…

Steve-o

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