Monday, September 19, 2011

Fishing Anyone’s St. Vrain

There is a term used by fly fishermen from time to time—locals in town, mainly. “Like Boulder Creek...only wider and with larger trout.”  It is a standard point of reference. Like a standard, but vague unit of measure. A scosh. A few. A slog.  Sometimes it is South Boulder Creek or even the Big Thompson River that is the unit of measure. It depends on who the participants of the conversation are…and what exactly is being referenced or compared.
I have many favorite John Gierach stories. But the one I have re-read over the years far more than the rest is the one he wrote about his own yard stick, the St. Vrain—the home water that he and his fishing buddy A.K. Best had made famous during their heyday as trout bums. I’d Fish Anyone’s St. Vrain.
“A couple of years ago, just before leaving on what was shaping up, via long-distance telephone, to be a wild, rambling trip through Idaho and Montana, I told A.K. about a little stream a man had said he’d take me to—that is, if I could “spare a day amidst all the razzle-dazzle I had planned.” Without mentioning its name, the guy had described it as a fair-to-middling creek that didn’t hold any really big trout, but he said it was close to his home, real pretty, not too well known, and that he fished it a lot.”

“It won’t knock your socks off,” he’d said, “but I think you’ll enjoy it.”

“Sounds like the St. Vrain,” I said, and he [A.K.] replied, “I’d do it if I were you. I’d fish anyone’s St. Vrain.”
This story was my first real taste of what this part of Colorado was like. I fell in love with it from afar. I was a boy, then…staring out a endless acres of field-corn tassel and dreaming about these places out west with mountains, wild trout and trout streams so commonplace that some were simply driven over and forgotten about. Gierach writes this story about his home water, his own forgotten/ignored stream not as a fly fishing writer, but as a naturalist who also happens to carry a bamboo fly rod along with his binoculars, pen and pad of paper. He describes how, on this stream, he is more apt to get distracted from the trout fishing and end up wandering aimlessly into the woods—consumed by things found alongside a stream, not in them. Berries and owl pellets…wildflowers and mushrooms…and once, a mountain lion.
So, it is a bit odd, I suppose…that I have two St. Vrains in my life now. Not two branches of the same creek (the St. Vrain has three forks, actually) but My St. Vrain which is Middle Boulder Creek…and the Actual St. Vrain. I have my own very intimate relationship with Boulder Creek, and I, too, usually find myself picking up rocks and taking bites out of apples caught in the eddies rather than casting. I know where every fish lives…and I have met them all more than once. And I even have my own “mountain lion” story. Well…it was a black bear, actually (I fear the parallels to the stories and streams are beginning to get confusingly intertwined)…and I chased him up a tree with nothing more than a 3 weight rod.
But it is sometimes nice to venture up to the real St. Vrain—the other nondescript little creek that John had made so famous so long ago. It is not too far away and it has not changed at all. Or, I should say, it seems to be just the same stream…with just the same pools and runs…and with just the same amazing (but not gigantic) trout willing, more often than not, to rise to a dry fly.
And…coupled oddly with these beautiful traits of the stream is the lack of people. Even on weekends it can be wonderfully vacant. You are always happy to have a place like this to yourself—just you and maybe two of your closest friends—but you can’t help but smell the pan of eerie on the stove. Why are we the only ones here? You know it is not private land. Has everyone in Colorado mysteriously died from the time it took us to get from Boulder to here? The last time I felt this was years ago when a new lieutenant accidentally navigated our platoon into the heart of a 100 acre howitzer impact area. Quiet. Not a sign of life anywhere. Lots of big holes and misshapen pine trees, though.
Just when I come to believe we are truly the last fly fisherman left on the earth…I glance downstream and catch sight of an old man and what appears to be his grandson standing on the small wooden bridge I had passed under earlier. They are dressed simply and I see a glint of reflected light from a metal ferrule. Must be a bamboo fly rod… I wave and the old man nods and they vanish from sight.
Later, my buddy Greg pops his head out from the thick brush along the creek and says, “Hey! You’re never gonna believe who I just ran into!”


“The guy on the bridge…that was A.K. Best!”

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