By Jim Aylsworth
Corey, an old friend from college, has become a wise philosopher. He thinks life is all about “experiences” and how he wants more of them.
This adventure to Colorado was my sixth attempt to time my trip for the famous Mother’s Day caddis hatch on the Arkansas River. The moment the Ark maintains a water temperature of fifty-four degrees, a bug the trout love to eat begins to hatch. This year I invited seven friends and surprisingly five agreed to make the trip. They not only were willing to go, but to prove it, they also made reservations at the hotel which required a large payment in advance.
When transcribing from my fishing journal, I identified a dozen experiences of note. Corey would be proud.
Experience 1. This is the first time I have organized such a trip. I now have committed to six anglers and three guides on top of the five rooms reserved at the hotel. Eight days before the trip my best friend Tom had to rush to Phoenix since his 92-year-old dad was going to pass away. I quickly made changes. Organizing a trip for six people has many moving parts.
Experience 2. To make the first get-together special and to celebrate all of us getting our COVID-19 vaccines, I set up hors d’oeuvres, soft drinks, Pellegrino, scotch, beer, cups, ice, napkins and small plates. I made a point of being the first one at the hotel, set this all up on the large third-floor, French-style balcony of my room overlooking the river. One by one everyone showed up. I will never forget that party.
Experience 3. One night while at dinner, Jack was the usual guy he always is, funny as heck, and then I realized how much I have missed this kind of gathering since the pandemic hit. With all due respect to the fine software used by so many of us the past year, Zoom pales in comparison to in-person get-togethers.
Experience 4. On the second day of the float down the Arkansas, I caught two nice rainbow trout within the first five minutes of launching the raft–the largest one was nineteen inches. The fishing was epic all day. We primarily used drifted nymphs, but also some BWO mayflies on the surface. The guide showed me a much more efficient way to remove the hook without ever taking the fish out of the water. Keeping fish wet keeps them alive.
Experience 5. One of my fishing buddies complained about the Colorado law requiring a personal flotation device. Well into the second day’s float, while trying to unhook and release a trout, the raft he was in hit a rock and threw him into the river face down. Initially, he began to struggle and make things worse, but then his guide spoke in a firm, calm voice and said, “Relax. Don’t panic.” He complied, the PFD did exactly what you would expect, it put him face up in the water as he worked his way to shore with the guide’s help. The PFD saved his life. Those things really work.
Experience 6. On the third and fourth days I decided to include some variety with a couple days of fishing some lakes in Colorado rather than a river. On Wednesday it began to rain, later sleet, then it began to hail, then a hard snowstorm was blowing in my face. I was not catching fish, so I wandered back to my warm, dry car in the parking lot and watched the other anglers try to catch one. Then Corey, the fifteenth person I have introduced to fly fishing, caught a nice trout in the storm. I was so proud.
Experience 7. Dave was on fire. Picture this one morning: there are five people fishing lined up on the lake each one with the same flies. Brad, Corey and I had not caught any, Jack had one, yet Dave had already caught five huge trout. No matter how good I think I am at casting a fly, there is always someone much better.
Experience 8. The next day, the same lake, clear, no wind, 70 degrees. The weather in the middle of the valley surrounded by 14,000-foot mountains is rarely predictable, so be prepared for anything.
Experience 9. While fishing the next lake, a guy died from a heart attack while in his one-man raft on the lake. His two buddies brought him to the shore and called the police. Law enforcement of several branches showed up put him in a white body bag awaiting the coroner. How do I know this? I was only two hundred yards away on the opposite side of this cove of the lake fishing for three hours. I remember thinking, “I have to admit, if I die, a heart attack while fly fishing sounds like a good way to go. Even better if it happens when I catch a fish.”
Experience 10. We were too early, the brachycentrus caddis hatch started two days after we left Colorado. As with so many things in life, it is all about timing.
Experience 11. On the drive home I decided to see my brother from another mother, Jerry. I spent the night in Kerrville, Texas then took a two-lane highway thirty miles to Fredericksburg to have breakfast with my brother-in-law. There was a hard rain, so despite the 70-mph speed limit I was only going 50 mph. While driving over a small bridge on the road I noticed a pickup truck overturned on the other side of the creek bed and two EMTs were carrying a white body bag. Two body bags in a week is two too many.
Experience 12. Gosh it was good to get back to Sugar Land, where there is no equal. Janet ran up and hugged me, then let me hug my dog Orbit for 10 seconds, then my beautiful wife came back for a second hug. Like I said, it’s good to be home.
I will always remember these experiences, good and bad, along with a hundred other things that happened that week. In the long run, I find what will really sticks out will not be the size or the number of fish caught, or even the weather. It was the fun I had in nature. Great friends mixed in with a beautiful outdoor setting means, no matter how you may view the experiences of a trip, the memories will persist.