The Dark Heart of a River Report: Part 3

Here it is, the long awaited Part Three

Here are the links to PART I and PART II

This is the final installment, but it is also the longest so I have decided against throwing many pics into this one.  Sorry, it’s just words.

North Branch  012

“Harrison checked first and was clear.  I did shortly after.  Gartley doubles over in laughter proclaiming, “nobody actually shits themselves when they’re scared, come on!”

“Harrison yells out, “Did we come here to shit ourselves or did we come here to fish?”


“We float down the next bend which leads into a nice long pool and start casting.  nothing but a few hits and misses.  At the end of the pool is a series of runs that leads into the only major rapid along the North Branch, Robin’s Nest.  It’s a class III on it’s worst day, but the quick right to left to nail the run is a bit technical and can be a little tricky on anything bigger than a white water kayak.  Harrison’s experience nails the rapid and we’re through Robin’s nest with ease.”

“Harrison rows us into the back eddy behind a large rock and we step out on the shale shelf for an overdue break.  A break, serpent free.  We kick back for a good twenty minutes.  Gartley pulls a bottle of Tullamore Dew from his bag that he had kept hid for the past several days.  He opens it, and passes it to me.  I take a big nip and pass on to Harrison who isn’t as used to the juice of the barley and takes the smallest of sips then coughs for a solid minute before saying it tasted good.  We spend our time laughing about our snake encounter and passing the bottle around.”

“We decide to press on and I volunteer to take the oars.  Even after years guiding out west, rowing a raft down a river isn’t like riding a bike.  Every river is different with it’s nuances.  This run looks like you should approach from river right, but actually you need to start at the middle but back paddle toward river left because of the boulder you can’t see that sits four inches below water that you’ll hang up on if you run from river right.”

“Maybe my skills were never that good, or the learning curve on the north branch was just that high, but I hung the raft up on every rock I tried to avoid.  This made the great pocket water unfishable for Harrison and Gartley, and made me look like the horses ass.”

“This dramatically slowed down our approach to inner station.  Nonetheless, Gartley maintained his spot on the bow and Harrison astern.  They cast away in hopes of connecting with one of the trout that Pjurtz assured were not in the river.  Eventually, after Gartley had hooked three times as my rocks as I could row us into, his indicator goes under and this time, when he lifts the rod, it’s not bottom.  This time the weight comes with him down stream, then it runs back up stream.  It’s a fish.”

“This fish wasn’t a trophy, but it was vindication for 15 yards of retied tippet, a dozen and a half flies and the wholesomeness of every rock’s mother called into question with abject profanity.  Even with the bungling of casts and failed hook sets, Gartley brought the fish in without issue.  In short order, I netted the fish, and allowed Gartley to pose for the camera.”

“At this point Harrison pipes up, “this fish must have come back early from Florida!”

“Fucking Pjurtz.  At this point even in our delight over catching fish we’re displeased by Pjurtz’s attempt to keep us off of the river for his own needs.  We talked about Pjurtz for a little too long and I had stopped paying attention to what I was doing at the oars.  We were now facing up stream and lined up to hit a large rock guarding a drop off of about 2 feet.  The futility of forward paddling was made most evident.  My attempt to avoid the rock placed us at the worst possible angle to negotiate the drop off.  We bounced off of the rock and nearly flip the raft as it violently shuttered then went over the drop.  Harrison, standing at the time and braced against the leaning post collapsed the post as soon as the boat hit the rock and nearly went overboard.  I grab him by the wading belt and while doing so the oar strikes bottom then pops out of the oar lock.  Harrison manages to stay in the boat but I only have one oar.”

“Has he gotten into our head to the point that we’re going to end up, injured, maimed or worse on our float to inner station?  We couldn’t let that happen.  In the next section of flat water we catch up to our oar.  From this point on I have my wits and skill with me to get us down to the take out at inner station without incident.  Nothing like nearly launching a friend out of a boat ass-over-tea kettle to make you wake up.”

“Gartley on the bow half-heartedly plops a cast up stream from the raft and drifts it in front of a downed tree.  His indicator goes under, surely from the fly getting hung-up on a submerged Adam.  Then suddenly, judging from Gartley’s rod tip he definitely had a fish.  Our drift was slow but the piece of water we were on clear enough so I could drop the anchor and let the fish be properly fought.”

“The fish is played out and brought to net.  As I release the net, out of the corner of my eye, I catch another raft coming down the river.  A yellow raft slightly small than ours.  Pjurtz rows a yellow raft.  I call this to Gartley and Harrison’s attention.  They both look up, and Harrison is all but certain that it’s Pjurtz.”

“We briefly contemplate a mid river confrontation, but noticed he was with clients.  They were likely the clients Pjurtz was protecting the river for.  Nonetheless, it was Pjurtz’s intentional deception, not the Clients’.  We also notice that they are floating through a stretch of water we thought of stopping at, but I bungled the anchor and decided to float on down.  Both clients are seated, and neither are casting into the prime water.  They were a solid half hour behind us at this point so the water was calm and any fish spooked by the clanging of the anchor along the river bottom should have settled back into their holding lies.  They were too far away to judge facial expression or body language, but something was clearly amiss on the raft for there to be no lines in the water.”

“The three of us talk briefly about pranking Pjurtz or maybe messing with his rig at the take out.  This didn’t seem justified though it would have been fun.  But, we were grown men, and didn’t really want to get involved in the criminal justice system at this stage in our lives.  Besides, we were given shit information, our day wasn’t ruined..however he could have been more clear as to why we shouldn’t get out of the boat.  We knew there would a good chance we’d interact with him at the take out.”

“The river has one more busy piece of water between where we were and the take out.  I start into the rapid with not the greatest line, but finely with a clear head let my arms and back work without interference, pure instinct took over and led us through without even coming close to a single rock, boulder, strainer or the bank.  That was until I let humility escape at the bottom of the run and I loose track of my intended line and hung us up hard on a barely submerged piece of shale.”

“I played the mistake well and told Harrison and Gartley to hop out and fish the pool beneath the run.  Harrison gets out of the boat first, then Gartley with only his bottle of Tully leaving his rod in the raft.  Harrison begins casting, Gartley and I pass the bottle and light up a couple cigarettes.  After my second slug of whisky, A fish rises at the head of the pool, Harrison immediately winds in his line to begin switching out his stonefly and indicator rig for a dry.  As soon as the fly is cut from Harrison’s tippet two more fish rise a yard closer to harrison from the first.  Clearly early returned snowbird fish.  Harrison’s hands become a whirling mass of fingers, tippet and feather hook.  Another rises.”

“Harrison, squirts out half a bottle of Gink fly floatant, flicks the gob off of his finger then gently applies the smallest of amount to the elk hair caddis.  In one motion Harrison throws the fly away from him reaches down and strips off 30 feet of line from his reel.  Two false casts and he lays the fly at the head of the pool.  It drifts down to where the double rise was when there is a flash darting up from the depths of the pool and the river drops out from under the fly replaced by the shimmer of white fins and amber scales.  Harrison”s strength and reaction gets the better of him.  He strikes at the fish as if planting a fly into the mouth of a tarpon.  The 5x tippet didn’t have a chance.”

“Harrison throws his rod in the river, walks a quick circle then flips off the pool.  Gartley and I are howling!  Not saying another word, Harrison rolls up his sleeve and reaches into the water and pulls the rod out, then sets out to retie new tippet, and a new caddis.  This time Harrison is more deliberate with the task.  Gartley and I offer up some Tully and our helpful advise which Harrison didn’t acknowledge or accept.”

“The motion was smooth again as Harrison payed out the line from the reel, casts and lays the fly into the trouts’ feeding lane.  First cast, nothing, Second cast, nothing.  On Harrison’s next back cast two fish rise and the cast lands perfectly between the two growing sets of ripples from where the two fish rose.  The caddis drifts closer back to Harrison.  From our vantage point on the river bank, Gartley and I see a trout following the fly on it’s drift, a beautiful brown trout about 18 inches long.  As if in slow motion, the fish finally commits, breaches, opens then closes it’s mouth on Harrison’s caddis.  The fish turns quickly once back under the surface of the river and bolts upstream setting the hook into its own mouth before Harrison has even had time to react.  He is still deliberate in his motion and simply raises his rod tip taking up the slack line and gets the fish on the reel.”

“Harrison plays out the fish, who made several runs that made his reel sing.  In a few short minutes Harrison has the fish in hand, unhooks the caddis from the corner of the the mouth and slips the fish back into its pool.”

“Harrison stands up and shakes the water from his hands grabs the rod then heads back to the raft, climbs in and sits back on his seat at the stern.  I ask Harrison if he’s ok.  Harrison smiles a wide toothy grin, “I’m good now!”

“Gartley corks the Tully and we climb back in the raft.  I realize that we hadn’t unstuck the raft from the shale and tell everyone get out, it’ll just be easier that way.  They oblige, the raft obliges, we all hop back in and float on.”

“Nothing of consequence happens the rest of the trip down to the take out at inner station.  Pjurtz’s raft is still just barely in view up river.  Gartley makes a few casts and catches another Adam and loses his last fly of the day.  He winds in the rest of his line and uncorks the Tully again.  Harrison makes a few more half hearted cast but we just enjoy the the long shadows of the day on the river and talk about what’s for dinner.”

“We pass beneath the rail road bridge at inner station then I row us into the take out.  We step out and carry the raft up the bank a little.  Gartley stays with the raft as Harrison and I walk to my Jeep and the we ride back up to Central Station.  We see Pjurtz’s rig in the parking lot and just laugh.  Fucking Pjurtz!  We were over his bullshit dispatch.  Who cared at this point we had a hell of a day on the river.  On the ride Harrison and I talk and laugh about the day, and particularly the look on Gartley’s face when he saw the first snake under the picnic bench.”

“Harrison hops in his rig and I follow him on the winding roads back to Inner station.  Once there, Harrison backs the trailer right down to the river back and we load the raft.  Just as Harrison pulls his truck up the path back to the parking lot Pjurtz rows in to the take out with his sour looking clients.”

“Gartley asks, “How’d everyone do?”

“Shitty!”  The client on the bow barks”

“We’d be flying a skunk flag if this raft had one” came from the stern.”

“Pjurtz piped in, “River just wasn’t on, this can be a tough place when things aren’t just right, how’d you guys do?”

“Only two on nymph,” Gartley says”

“Oh,” Pjurtz responded.”

“Yeah, and the other dozen or so came on elk hair caddis.”  Gartley followed up.”

“The two clients just shake their heads and then stare down Pjurtz.  Pjurtz says nothing.”

“Gartley and I catch up to Harrison and begin to help him clean up the gear and make sure the raft is secure on the trailer.  We catch our breath and take a few more swigs of the Tully when we hear yelling down by the river bank.  Pjurtz and the Clients are in a heated argument over the tip they gave, or rather the lack of.  Pjurtz explains it’s not his fault and he did everything he could, the clients were pissed and walked away from him and headed toward their car.  The one client turns around and yells back to Pjurtz one last time, “The horror you prick, the fucking horror, go back to guide school and maybe you’ll get a tip from your next clients!”

“Damn!  The three of us just double over in laughter.  The car doors open and slam shut, then the engine turns over and they fly out of the lot.  We keep laughing as we pack the Tully away and get in the rigs to head back to camp.”

“Just then Pjurtz walks up to his rig and looks at us, “You believe those two assholes just stiffed me on my tip?”

“Harrison leans out his truck’s window, “Sucks man, Karma’ a bitch!”

“Harrison drives off and I follow him back to this camp right here.”

KG and Adam, mostly drunk at this point just sit there saying wow.

“That’s a hell of a story, Barlow!”  I said, “Thanks for sharing!”

“Nothing to it, nothing worse for this sport than shitty guides,” said Barlow.

Garrison affirmed, “Fucking eh!”

“Well, boys, I enjoyed the company and thanks for listening to an old man’s story.  If you fish the Savage in the morning, I’m starting at the PhD hole then working up to the wire, if you head up that way say hello but don’t high hole me.  Thanks again for the steak.  You guys have a good night.”  Barlow said then walked back to his camp, and climbed into his tent.

“Good night Barlow!”  I said.

“Cool Story” came from Adam after a minute or so of awkward silence

KG answered, “Yeah, but I think he’s full of shit about the part with all of the fucking snakes.”

The End.


Disclaimer:  The preceding story was a work of fiction based on some things that may or may not have actually happened to the BCI crew.


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