It began like a lot of half baked schemes do, amongst the company of carnies. I bump into a friend who I hadn’t seen since last winter at the town carnival and we get to catching up as our kids spin around on the amusements that all look a cotter pin short of safety certification. Our conversation drifts to fishing and the fateful words are issued, “I’m hitting the Pan tomorrow if you want to come.” And with that proposition, the ball is set in motion – the last minute spousal negotiations to get a Saturday pass begin. But there’s a catch, always a catch…
The Frying Pan river in Basalt is approximately a four hour drive from my Front Range outpost and the question is “I’m thinking of camping or we could come back Saturday night.” Being short on bargaining chips with my wife, I need to take the safe bet and don’t even broach being away overnight. A one day trip it will have to be, exactly a one day trip. “See you at 5:30 then?” is the last question for the night and we part ways until the morning.
Driving four hours, no big deal, we need to arrive early, it’s the weekend and weekends here can equal combat fishing with the crowds. We know we need to stick around for the evening hatch, so it looks like we have a full day of fishing slated with eight or so hours of driving. In hindsight the math is simple (and stupid) roughly twenty hours of action and four hours to spare in the day. That simple equation would have, should have, had me throwing my sleeping bag on top of the gear pile, but it’s only now that I can see the absurdity of the equation.
Alarm is chiming and I’m up for some coffee and a bagel. Pack the cooler up, it’s going to be a hot one, so some frozen water bottles and leftover pizza. Time to go.
The drive flies by and pulling into Basalt we make the obligatory stop in at Taylor Creek for some flies. 50 dollars later I’m ready for any bug the Pan can spawn.
Up the canyon and on the river. The crowds don’t seem too bad and we pass a number of open spots, as we venture a bit higher up. We spot a nice stretch of water and pull off and break out the gear. I drop to the lower hole and John goes up a bit. The PMD’s are coming off and a few casts gets some looks but no takes. I move around and shoot a cast across the current into a pool under some trees. I get a strike, and set, it’s on. But then something unfortunate happens. Snap. There goes my five weight – crap.
I head up the road and find John fishing away. I share the news about my broken rod. My backup rig is a Tenkara rod I always carry around. I wasn’t planning on going to the backup (who ever does?). But when John sees my situation he’s quick to offer up one of his bamboo rods. You see John is a bamboo aficionado. It’s all he fishes. We live in a town of bamboo purists – John Gierach, South Creek Fly Rods, it’s everywhere in Lyons – heck there’s even an annual bamboo rod festival, The Cane Conclave in town each year. Me? I’ve never touched a bamboo rod. I’ve looked at them, even touched a few. But the last thing I need is another gear cash vortex. Bamboo fly rods seem like they could easily become this for me, so I’ve responsibly kept a safe distance, until now. John tells me I can fish his 1950 something or another Abercrombie and Fitch five weight for the day – no problem. Gulp, sure no problem. I just managed to break my high tech graphite rod on my first fish of the morning, so picking up a well kept, beautiful, antique, bamboo rod that doesn’t come with a no-hassle lifetime warranty, I’m a little nervous, to say the least. John assures me it’ll be fine.
Back on the water. The first casts with the Abercrombie rod are like a young hot steamy… No, not really, but I can’t help thinking what an Abercrombie and Fitch rod would be like if it were made today. I am surprised with the smoothness of the rod. When I slow down my casting, it loads up nicely and I find a groove – hmmm, I could get into this. The performance is a bit like maybe the difference between driving an Accord and a Caddy, bamboo is the Coupe de Ville. It’s smooth, rolls over bumps with a few long rolling bounces. I’m liking the bamboo, the vortex begins to spin and I feel a tug on my wallet.
We take a lunch break and head up river. It’s a warm day, with no clouds in the sky. The rods are carefully broken down and stowed in the cab of the truck. I get it, old, valuable, hard to replace. I do like throwing my graphite rods in the bed and not sweating it. But would I leave my de Ville on a sketchy Philly street at night with the windows down? Nope. See, I get it.
We re-rig and get ready to drop into a new stretch of river. Standing at the truck we can hear the fish rising through the willows between us and the river. When we get down to the water the PMD’s are out again and we spend the rest of the afternoon hooking good sized fish. Watching the big fish porpoise up and swim off with our flies, only to find a surprise when the line rips off the surface of the water and goes tight. I continue to enjoy the bamboo action and playing the fish off of the ultra nimble feel of the wood. We reach the end of the run and head back to the truck happy with the great fishing.
Decision time. John floats the idea of heading back down the canyon for a bite to eat and a beer. Or we stay and fish through while we wait for the Rusty Spinner hatch. We loaf around and for kicks I break out the Tenkara rod and step down to the river. I tie a PMD onto the 6X and throw a few casts. After a minute I get a take and hook a healthy brown. I work the Tenkara and play the fish down curent and land it. “That was fun” and I pass the rod to John who after a few casts and “just one more” is hooked up on another brown.
We head up river and look for spots for the evening hatch. We identify a good section of open water with a beaver dam complex in the middle. As we’re re-rigging another inflection point arises. I decide I’m going all in on the Tenkara. Why not, right? Could be fun to fish the hatch with Tenkara and honestly the pressure of fishing a friends nice bamboo rod was getting to be a little much for this guy, time to put the Caddy back in the garage before I ding a door.
Checking the clock in earnest, we’ve been at it now for over 12 hours and going strong. Fishing seems to be a way to make an entire day fly by in what feels like a couple of hours and this day is whizzing by, but it’s been good up to this point. Time to finish off with a bang – Rusty Spinners, time to drop like little packages of joy from the heavens.
Fishing the Tenkara rod turns out to be a blast. The stretch of river was filled with smaller fish in and around the beaver dams and I work through the pools landing fish after fish. I move up off the braid and back into the main river.
Just before the hatch picks up I hear a loud splash. I look behind me to see a guy in all white – from the Hanes t-shirt to the knee high socks, reeling in the Rapala he just chucked over my shoulder. He looks like Magnum P.I., but all I can think is really? Really! Tubesock guy moves up to John and I hear a simple, brief exchange “Do you mind?” followed by a quick scurry up the bank and a polite “Appreciate it.” The interloper disappears and we’re back to the business of the hatch which is picking up. The fish are getting bigger and the last two fish I’ve had on break me off. I’m out of Spinners and I go back into my box of flies from the morning visit to the shop when… Oops. Twelve or so flies are airborne. Slow motion now – noooooo, kerplunk. And then I’ve released my own little armada of Stimulators, Emergers, Olives and Duns all setting sail down the river to freedom from the confines of my pack. I begin running down stream after the flies, but each step creates a wake that pushes them further away. I make one final reach and scoop up two flies. I don’t know whether to be mad, sad, done, what?
I look around and an orange waxing crescent is rising above the canyon. The bugs are teaming, the wind has stopped and the splashing of rising fish fills the night. I dig into my bag and pull out a #16 Caddis and decide I’m going out on a better note than this.
I spend the next 15 minutes working some pools along the bank, casting into the dark and come up with two nice fish on the Tenkara. I’m happier with this ending and make my way back across the river by feel.
Down the canyon and a pit stop. Burgers, beer and warming up in town.
On the road again. It’s a long haul home from here. But our math has us arriving home by 2AM if we haul.
Both dozing off, we vie for a rest stop. 30 minutes of shut eye should help get us down the pass and through the final 50 miles.
Oops, slept too long, back on the road now. Howard Stern at 2AM can be really funny (especially when you’ll do anything to stay awake).
22 and a half hours later we’re pulling back into town. The carnies that set up the rides for the carnival earlier in the week are speeding out of town like bandits with the loot, broken down rides in tow.
As the day comes to a close, at the same time the next one is beginning, there is a lot that’s gone down. Great fishing, my first experience in the elite bamboo club (which may just be a little too exclusive for this guy), a renewed fascination with the old Tenkara rod and the realization that the Frying Pan is not a day trip from my house. All of this has happened in about 24 hours, just one long rickety spin of the earth, maybe a few cotter pins short of being sane.