At the early morning meeting I was invited by the manager of the DFW radar tech department (Billy) to visit a Doppler weather radar site. The weather was quite nice, and it seemed a better option then sitting in a dark room all day. Again.
Arriving at the site it became apparent the real point of the visit was to show me the “guests” the radar techs had been protecting since the middle of March. On the very top landing, just below the dome was a gigantic nest, roughly the size of a kitchen table. Even from the ground it was very apparent it had been built with great skill; not twigs for material but rather branches and small tree trunks.
The climb up was, by itself, a little nerve racking. Each step is very narrow, plus the pitch is seriously steep. It’s imperative to look down to ensure proper foot placement on the rungs, and since the material is “lightened” steel you basically look past your big toe at the ground. Which, by the way, seems hundreds of feet away, but is likely closer to 20.
At the last of four sets of steps the screeching starts. Not quite ready to fly yet, the Red-Tail Hawk “chicks” are staring right at you, in a leaning forward fashion that seems to convey that they only got half of the “fight or flight” formula explained to them. Of course, maybe since they can’t quite manage flight yet the choice was more deliberate. At any rate, from 15 feet they convinced me completely they would love nothing more than a serving of fresh human fingers. These are BIG birds, with wing spans of about 3 1\2 feet.
Oh, and than there’s Mom and Dad. Each swooping in from different directions, often getting very close, especially from behind. While I was taking these pictures Billy would announce (casually I might add) “At your 6”, indicating a parent was trying to grab the back of my cranium. Fortunately, the tower structure prevented them from carrying me away like a hobbit. In the midst of this excitement, each of the 4 birds were taking turns screeching. Not in what seemed a random pattern but rather in a manner that might construe strategy.
When originally discovered they were still three unhatched eggs. The radar techs protected the site, and the nest, watching the birds over a 7-week period grow to what I was able to photograph today. Mighty cool.
When we were heading back to the vehicle Mom and Dad never took their eyes off of us, and stared us down til we were finally out of sight.
Anyone who has spent anytime, in any angling shop would have been skeptical too. Not that Wes, or Doug, or any of the 15 Chris' that work at Anglers All had ever steered me wrong. On the contrary, I had only just recently stood in the Williams Fork catching pretty Browns while everyone around me looked on enviously with slack lines, thanks entirely to their laser precise advice. But the way they talked about the fish that swam in the Blue River on the Youst Ranch section seemed a stretch. None of the stories were about "a lot" of fish, just exceptionally BIG fish. Rainbow monsters that migrate up from the nearby Colorado River enroute to spawn, many who had spent most of their lives in the big water of Gore Canyon. No doubt feeding on hatches of Canadian Geese and flipping passing dories. Bow-zillas. Those were the tales that convinced me to put down the guide fee and private water charge. When I told my buddy Dan, he followed suit. After a couple more days 2 more friends- Mark and Karl- ponied up the coin. Trusting the boys at Anglers All had never failed me before, and this didn't have the smell of being the first, but you can't help but be skeptical, especially with other people's money riding the bet.
So on March 13, we followed Mark (fishing guide) onto the Youst Ranch. The "YR" for those cool enough to be in know. Flows were moderate, if not a bit low, at 215 cfs, water was glass clear. At 9:30 the air temp was passing the mid 30's on the way to a high of 62. Our two guides Reid Baker and Mark...., both of Freestone Outfitters, gave a quick overview, helped rig our sticks, then divided us into pairs before wetting boots in the Blue. Dan & I headed off with Reid. Mark took our Mark and Karl off upriver. First couple pockets came up empty, or at least they weren't buying what we were selling. Reid took the slow time to help Dan & I with our casting, or at least the spastic flailing that Reid graciously called our casting. In a few minutes both of us benefitted from his instruction and our roll casts were noticeably better. Better, but not prettier.
By now it was 10:30 and the air had warmed to the 50’s, which for a day in March, up in the Rocky Mountains feels really nice! Reid had led us down stream to a sweet run, 30 yards of nervous water, that even to my rookie eyes looked fishy. Sure enough, it was fish-on in 3 drifts! An 18” rainbow to open the day - sage green with neon red markings, just gorgeous. Four casts later, another healthy salmoniod. Meanwhile, Dan stung something substantial that shook him off like an old married woman. I was committed that Dan wasn’t going home skunked, so Reid had me swap spots in the hole. Now it was game on! First, Dan found a hungry 18” Bow. Handful of throws later and he was wrestling what Reid labeled a “pig”. When the fish was finally netted we realized he was right - a pig. A big, beautiful, thick Rainbow pig. Damn, that was 22” of fishing Viagra!! What a fish, besides size (which matters, thank you) the colors were almost fluorescent. And so it went, over the next 40 minutes we landed several more, all 18-22".
Just to keep things real, Dan fought a 16” Brown that played him hard for 5+ minutes, refusing to come up off the bottom. Dan is a ripped 200 lbs, but that pissed off fish yanked him downsteam 3 times. This made us all laugh, robustly and genuinely. Finally it cooled off, the fish went down and sulked.
Watching Dan trying to love that Brown out of the honey hole got me to reflecting. Now, I’m not gonna get all bromance on your ass, but it did seem that he and I are always sharing great days like this. Motorcycling, a few road trips, even the days and nights we whored around as single guys. We had a hundred great stories, almost every one true. And watching him get bullied by a 3 pound Brown, and laughing at his own doubled over rod, I knew this would probably be story #101.
Later in the morning we wet our lines under a bridge that crosses the property, me river left, Dan across on the right. Reid set me up to drift the double rig through the center of a long run, and as he was climbing back up the bank toward the road he mentioned, “They’re probably hanging right in that lime green water where the shadow of the bridge starts.” Seemed reasonable to me, of course I’m so new at this that had he told me to drop the nymph into a Coors Lite, I would have. I digress. Luck, not skill, drew my fly right through the seam Reid had pointed out and right about the time Reid was reaching the road above me the tippet slipped into that lime green transition zone………BANG. No delicate lip service here. Oh no. This brute slammed the fly, and it was on. Trying to be cool and nonchalant I called over my shoulder, “Fish on.”
Apparently I pulled it off cause Reid called back, “Really?”
10 minutes of drama and that fish was not done. I could work it almost all the way in but the moment it got in sight of the net it bolted. And it bolted deep, right to the bottom of the hole. And downstream. And the process would repeat itself. Several times I thought my ineptness gave the fish an escape, the opportunity to throw the hook, but luck worked on my behalf. To be honest, I was concerned about beating this gorgeous creature up by dragging the fight out, I had no intention of permanently harming it. At last Reid slipped the net under the fish, and we got a good look. Measured against the long net handle we came up with 23”. Besides the fact that I had certainly landed the best fish of my year, if not lifetime, I was shocked at the power and endurance of this Rainbow. Unless it saw the net, it was all calm, paced fighting, no panic. Reid explained that because these fish lived most of their existence in class 4-5 water they had become exceptionally muscular. Battling some middle-aged man against a creek running at a moderate flow was no great effort on their part.
Mark & Karl had similar stories to share, as their experiences had been nearly identical. When we all got together at lunch I was relieved to hear that the fishing had been as advertised for all of us. That gambler’s worry I had in the morning, driving up, was eliminated.
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