‘Bows and Blowtorches and Bears, Oh My!

A warm welcome to Chris Lawson, who will be writing periodic guest posts. Thank you, Bill Hager, for connecting us with Chris!

I’m not on the river nearly as much as I would like to be these days. Three kids, a wife in grad school, a job, and a new puppy will do that to you.

To better understand my life just look up the word hectic in a thesaurus and begin to read. This simply means that, like a game of Whac-A-Mole, I must hit every opportunity that pops up quickly before it disappears. So, when a “work meeting” gets me close to a favorite little river of mine, the fishing gear comes to the meeting with me, and I take a swing.

Maybe closer to the river is a better word; I still had an hour and twenty to the site when my meeting released at four on Friday afternoon. But telling myself (and my wife) that I’m close(r) to the river is technically true, and technically serves as a legitimate reason to go fishing. The drive had me pulling on my waders and stepping into the water around 5:30 pm, offering a solid couple of hours to try my luck.

I started at my favorite hole, a beauty of a run first introduced to me by my good friend and mentor, Bill Hager. The hole sits just downstream from a small island with riffles that flow into some deeper water near the river’s edge. I started at the end and worked my way up when, on just my third drift, a sudden twitch of my indicator relieved me of all disappointment of my hectic life.

With a quick bend of my rod, the line darted away and so did all my frustrations. After a fun little fight, a chunky 15” rainbow graced the bottom of my net and all seemed right in the world. It’s amazing how a beautiful river and tight line can do that.

I soon found a few more of his friends in different parts of the run. All of them took interest in a Devin Olsen’s Blowtorch that I had tied just days before. Side note: When Bill first taught me to fish eight years ago, he said that if I wanted to really drink the fly-fishing Kool-Aid, I should come over and he’d teach me to tie. Well, gulp, gulp.

There is something special about catching trout on a fly tied with your own hands. Of course, I still purchase flies for my arsenal and I’m certainly no expert tyer, but to fool a trout with something you created adds some magic to the whole experience. The Blowtorch is a fun little fly to tie and I think it has all the combinations that make it attractive to fish. On this day, several rainbows agreed.

After the initial spurt of activity, I noticed a fish rise near the top of the run. Admittedly, most of my fishing is with an indicator. It’s how I learned, I’m pretty comfortable with it, and it’s useful in a variety of waters. But I’m wanting to get better with a dry and this offered the perfect opportunity.

I grabbed my second rod rigged with a dry dropper waiting on shore just behind me. My first few attempts didn’t get any action, though a tiny fish did come and kiss my fly once. Was this a sign of things to come or just a tease?

I moved upstream slightly to offer a longer drift, and after happily putting my fly on a good line I saw the rise.  Somehow, from somewhere, a small piece of fishing knowledge—we won’t call it skill—allowed me to set the hook at the appropriate time. Moments later another ‘bow was in my net. I was beyond thrilled, went back for more, and found one more who was interested in the dropper.

Having fished the hole to the best of my abilities, I decided to drive a quarter mile downstream to another spot at the river’s bend. Just yards from the pull-off, I spotted something crossing the dirt road in front of me: a very large, black bear. He paused in the road to glance towards my car and then ran down into the brush near the river. My heart was beating pretty quickly.

I’d seen few cars and zero people since I’d pulled off onto the dirt road alongside the river, and yet suddenly I was not alone anymore. This bear was now only a few hundred yards from where I was planning on pulling off and wading in.

You can see my dilemma, right? I could have driven home, content with my outing. I could have played it safe and just called it a day. I could have…well, there are many things I could have done. Probably a few I should have done. And yet I chose to fish. This was one of my Whac-A-Mole moments, and to quote Hamilton, I was not throwing away my shot.

After driving back and forth a couple of times looking for the bear, I couldn’t spot him anywhere, so I parked and crossed the river. Ever attentive, I fished the bend and caught two more rainbows, both of which I quickly released and then washed my hands. I didn’t want the smell of fish lingering in the air. (I told myself this would help. I told myself a lot of things while fishing in a river by myself with a bear somewhere nearby.) But not wanting to press my luck any further, I waded across and packed it in.

There was still more daylight to be had, probably a few more fish to catch, but I left the rest for the bear. I hoped my kindness to him might be repaid if I ever see him again. I was more than pleased with the fish to net and the ones I released at distance. With that, I drove home happy to have fished and lived to tell about it.

And when the next opportunity pops, I’ll be ready to give it another whack.

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2 thoughts on “‘Bows and Blowtorches and Bears, Oh My!

  1. Great article, Chris! Don’t fool yourself, if you had left the river early, it would have been unBearable. (couldn’t resist)

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Bill, and the well-timed pun. When I made my decision to stay, I asked myself, “What would Bill do right now?” And that made for the rest of the story.

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