Being There: Sirloin and Salad Substitution Edition

Meter maids are not the issue

Let’s trade some access

A lizard scrambles across the tracks, ducking under the inside edge of a rail. He is short-tailed, a chubby little guy, huffing and puffing as though out of breath but clearly more alarmed by the gargantuan shadows now being cast over him. We will leave him to his grasshopper feast – there are plenty to go around.

But not a brewery for miles

Homebrew ingredients

Having right of access, or at least tacit authorization via thoroughfare barter, is but a stepping stone before the threshold leading into wonderland. Wild hops line the path, and the willows, now peppered in pollen, are taller than we remembered during previous visits. Bush-whacking is required to reach the water. The companions turn for home even earlier than expected, but leave an ominous declaration behind: “Make sure to bring back some dinner.” We’ve promised pan-seared trout, and are prepared to take two in suffice. A few hours into this charade we have but two-inches of fish to show for it.

“There are some really nice pools further upstream.”

Definitely not range balls

Launch payload

The temperature approaching ninety degrees, we take the high road, occasionally peering down the steep rocky slopes at lone fish parked in front of submerged boulders. “That one is not worth the scramble,” I try convincing myself. Even though it is. “We’ll see more.”

High atop the opposing canyon wall sits a contemporary home, deep reddish-brown facade blending astutely into the landscape. “I heard some astronaut owns that place.” I step on a golf ball; its friends litter the path before us. “Do you think they were hit from that house?” “That would be about a 600 yard drive. Must’ve been dropped during a previous shuttle launch.” “Makes sense, as they aren’t even range balls.”


Each pool and tailout, every expanse of fast-riffle, is inspected and debated. “There is better water just around the next bend.”

A wave over is followed by a upright pointed finger against the mouth. Creeping closer as though rabbit hunting, a lone rainbow is found actively pursuing unseen bugs in a boulder-strewn eddy. “Sneak down that way,” I am told. “Hide behind that rock and I’ll spot for you.” He is sipping emergers, but after considering the thick vegetation hugging tight to the bank certainty prevails that he will be interested in a hopper.

“I’ve got to re-rig.”

Art imitates life, with a Sharpie

Modified art

We sit on the railroad ties not seeping yesteryear’s creosote, occasionally peeking over the bushes to see if he is still there. A foamy Moorish, previously marker-ed up to darken its underbelly, is picked from the box; it matches the naturals bounding around by our feet precisely. Just in front, a bumblebee and a hummingbird share nectar off the flowers – they are inches from each other, but neither seem bothered by each other’s presence, nor ours. I am spinning up a knot blind, attention captivated by the little dance this odd pair is performing.

“Still munching away, do you have that rig done yet?”

I am now crouched behind this rock, aspen branches hanging over, grasping a ten and a half foot switch rod and trying to figure out how I am going to deliver the fly within this confined space. I would have been better prepared with a two-iron and a ball of twine, but decide to improvise somewhat less; lay the line out slowly downstream, quickly draw a quarter-circle on a plane parallel with the water, and hope for the best. The hopper slaps down on the water a foot to the rainbow’s right, leader and line looping out in front. He turns to inspect. Closer…closer…mouth open…an eat! Hookset attempt…fly now firmly ensconced in the bush behind.

I peer high up on the bank; my colleague wears a wide grin. “That was so damn cool.” It sure as shit was.

The fish circles around the pool, settling right back where he was before and continues his quest. I try again, only this time using the reach I have in hand to dab the fly over his nose, rotating and drawing the rod handle back over my left shoulder as the fly drifts toward him. The gagger moseys towards, grabs the back half of the foam, spots his maker, and takes off. The line and leader are now wound around the branches above. He is onto us, and two fly changes later we realize we are hungrier than that trout is, and it’s a full ninety minute walk out.

My grandmother used to say “It is what it is” – is defined in this case as empty-handed. Alas, a trip to the grocer is unavoidable, so elements of a simple salad – mixed greens, feta cheese, tomatoes, and light ranch are added to the list, along with the sirloin-as-substitute. The bright side of accepting defeat is you can also steer past the package store to up the ante on post-dinner Zinfandel. Two bottles had been polished off the night before while we laid on beach chairs looking up at the night sky, searching for shooting stars and space junk, identifying our discoveries with a shout out and an addition to our personal tallies. Competing, although gloating rights is the only prize for winning this silly game. Yours truly cheats dominates.

Six 14,000 foot peaks made for a tolerable backdrop

Six 14,000 foot peaks make for a “tolerable” backdrop

Technology sworn off

Beach chairs anyone?

Like everything else we’ve endured in the day, seemingly endless chance is part of the script. A telescope is assembled to aid in the evening’s star gazing. The spotting scope is dead; batteries are pilfered from iPod speakers. The machine will not calibrate, so the Google Sky Map app is enlisted for support. Employing all manner of technology, after swearing it off for the weekend, we catch a glimpse of star cluster M15 before the clouds roll in, obscuring our view of all but the porch lights.

Packing up should never mean calling it a game, at least when you are making the rules. Take a detour; explore outer reaches before returning to civilization. Following the Colorado Trail, the clouds rear their ugly heads once again, so by the time we reach the first water crossing we have already decided to turn back. Finally, we are parked in an organized campground. I pull out the lightest stick I have (a soft 4), and feed small brownies a #14 orange stimi for the next hour and a half. Then we bid the adventure adieu.

A rainbow follows from the east side of the divide down past Lookout Mountain, nearly all the way home.

Lingering rainbow

If we’d taken a break between harassment sessions, I wonder if the other rainbow would have too.

MG signing off (because if just being there means having to buy dinner instead of catching it, I’m still game)


[…] wonderland is always much more than just the fishing. With star gazing, salads, and sirloin, Michael Gracie writes about why “Packing up should never mean calling it a game, at least when you are making the […]

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