Seasonal Purist

  • By: John Gierach
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I live near the confluence of two perfectly good freestone trout creeks in the Rocky Mountains, but in early April when the midges are still on and the first of the bluewinged olives could be starting, the grass seems greener on the small tailwater in the next drainage north. This isn’t a long drive as drives to rivers go, but it involves going 20-some miles up my own canyon —gaining over 2,000 feet in elevation in the process —crossing the saddle above Muggings Gulch, then looping around Mount Olympus and down into the next draw.

In the kind of chilly, low-ceilinged weather that’s thought to be best for hatches, this trip also involves driving the narrow canyon road up into the sensory deprivation of the cloud cover. I know the route by heart, but when visibility is down to 30 feet, landmarks dissolve, one bend in the road looks a lot like another and I can catch myself wondering, is this Split Rock, or am I already at Lion Gulch? I’m not a fast mountain driver even in the best conditions, but I’m really creeping along now; peering ahead into the dark for a glimmer of taillights going even slower than I am, for the deer, elk and occasional bighorn sheep that are all possible obstructions on this road, not to mention the odd bike rider pumping uphill with his Spandex-clad ass aimed lewdly at my windshield.

I also know that this wet spring weather lubricates canyon walls, causing them to shed a winter’s worth of frost-heaved rocks. These can be anything from a scattering of sharp granite pebbles in your lane to a car-size boulder to a road-blocking landslide, none of which you want to come upon too suddenly. If you have any romance at all in your soul, the mountains in fog are hauntingly beautiful, but it’s best to keep your eyes on the road instead of mooning over the landscape. So it takes longer to get there than usual, but now that I’m down off the back side of the saddle, the visibility has improved a little.…

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John Gierach is author of Trout Bum, Sex, Death and Fly-Fishing and, the latest, Fool’s Paradise, among other of the mostbeloved books in fly-fishing. He writes the Sporting Life column for each issue of Fly Rod & Reel.