Deep Freezes and Desperation

  • By: John Gierach
  • Photography by: Bob White
Alone

There can be dead spells in the sporting life. Sometimes they seem TO build from an innocent catastrophe that, in hindsight, looks like a precipitating event. For instance, I’ve just finished writing a book and am getting ready for a late-winter steelhead trip to the West Coast. I’m a little burned out and this is just what I need: a long stretch of time away from the desk, stepping and casting with a Spey rod. This isn’t mindless fishing as some claim (a friend who says it could be done just as well by a zombie is wrong), but it’s true that it doesn’t demand a lot of deep thinking.

This Year's Fly

  • By: John Gierach
  • Illustrations by: Bob White
Into the Light

The best motel in Basalt, Colorado is the Green Drake. It’s clean, plain, not too expensive and you can guess from the name that fishermen are welcome. The resident dog is named Baxter. He’s a hundred-pound yellow Lab, and a friendly and sudden leaner. You quickly learn that when you stop to pet him you have to throw a leg out and brace so he doesn’t knock you over.

You’d have to describe the place as nice and homey, but it hasn’t entirely escaped the gentrification that’s occurred in the 25 years since Basalt was a workingman’s alternative to nearby Aspen. In almost any other town in the West, this establishment would be called “The Green Drake Motel,” but here it’s “The Green Drake: A Motel.”

New Water

  • By: John Gierach
  • Illustrations by: Bob White
New Water

Like most of the trout streams in my life, I first saw this one from the window of a moving car. We were at right angles to each other at a narrow bridge, going our separate ways. It was just a sidelong glance: not much more than a fisherman at the wheel registering flowing water.

Farther along, the road turned to roughly parallel the stream and there were longer glimpses and then full views. In this stretch it was mostly riffles with uniform cobble bottoms, and darker slots at the bends where fish would hold. I followed it downstream as it took on feeders with unremarkable names like Willow, Spruce, Moose, Buck, Bear and Boulder creeks and grew from a creek itself to a good-size stream and finally to a proper little river.

Lodges

  • By: John Gierach
  • Illustrations by: Bob White
Promise of the coming day.

As businesses, fishing lodges are rarely big money makers, and there’s a surprising mortality rate. The editor of a sporting magazine once told me it’s not all that unusual for him to assign a destination story on a lodge, only to have the place close before the article runs. Think about it: You’re operating what amounts to a hotel, a restaurant, a guide service, a travel agency, a small airline, a modest navy and sometime medical evacuation unit, and you have to make your nut in a season that can be as short as eight or 10 weeks.

Tenkara

  • By: John Gierach
  • Illustrations by: Bob White
Tenkara

We were in my kitchen in northern Colorado on a warm August evening. I was at the stove stirring a pot of elk spaghetti sauce; Susan McCann, the journalist and editor I’ve lived with for the past 20 years, was constructing an enormous salad and Ed Engle, the fishing writer and my oldest continuous friend, was slicing French bread. Daniel Galhardo, owner and founder of Tenkara USA, had offered to help several times, but it was a small, crowded kitchen with cats underfoot and there was nothing left to do, so he’d settled for volunteering to wash the dishes.

Becoming a Steelheader

  • By: John Gierach
  • Illustrations by: Bob White
Becoming a Steelheader

Last October, While taking a break between passes through a pool on the Klickitat River in Washington state, Jeff Cottrell said to me, “I think you’ve become a steelheader.” I took it as a compliment, even though I didn’t really know what he meant. Probably just that I’d worked the entire run methodically, starting higher than some would and fishing so far into the tail that the fly ticked gravel on my last swing.

Great Bear

  • By: John Gierach
  • Illustrations by: Bob White
Around the Fire

It’s sometime around midday and either Martin or I —I forget who— has just landed the five-pound lake trout that will be our lunch fish. Our guide, Craig Blackie, motors us to shore, digs out a blackened iron grate and props it off the ground on rocks while Martin and I hunt for firewood. We’re at the northern end of Great Bear Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories, above the Arctic Circle and near the northern tree line, so wood is scarce, but we only need enough for a quick twig fire.

On the Ranch

  • By: John Gierach
sporting life spring 2010.jpg

Driving west across Colorado on Interstate 70, there was a specific quarter-mile where the public-radio and classic-rock stations I’d been grazing through all faded to static and were replaced by country-western and preachers. The exit for the town of Silt was in the rearview mirror and the Colorado River was off my left shoulder. I’d crossed the Continental Divide some 90 miles back and could have made the Utah border in less than an hour, but it was only then that I felt like I was officially on the West Slope where the airwaves are filled with pain and redemption with livestock reports on the hour.

Into the Off Season

  • By: John Gierach
SportingLifeBobWhitemarch.jpg

The conceit among trout fishers is that we’re all such unreconstructed fanatics that when fishing possibilities dwindle over the winter we go quietly insane. In fact, some do—and not always quietly—but others seem to take the break more or less in stride and a few even think it’s “good for the soul,” as Nick Lyons once said, to have an off-season for rest and reflection.

Stalking the Conejos

  • By: John Gierach
SportingLife.jpg

"Creeks are 'dear to my heart,' as my grandmother would have said, and since I don’t have a spare heart to turn to, I’m glad to know there are hundreds of thousands of miles of them: more than I could fish in thirty lifetimes."