2011 Fall Contents

Drake 2011 Fall Issue
  • Thomas McGuane catches the last steelhead
  • Rock Creek, MT
  • Michigan carp
  • Maine brookies
  • Wyoming cutties
  • Wisconsin pike
  • New York Albies
  • peacocks in the canals
  • anchovies in the bay
  • stripers in the surf
  • Trey Combs
  • Baja roosters
  • midge over mayfly
  • Bighorn over everything
  • Charles Bukowski goes steelheading
  • and David DiBenedetto goes crazy
Steelhead by Thomas McGuane

I STOOD IN THE NEAR DARK AT THE TOP OF THE TRAIL THAT LED DOWN a series of switchbacks to the river. A neighbor had told me that for several days there'd been grizzly tracks all down the trail. I thought that grizzlies probably liked these low light levels and could see well enough to take your face off with a swipe. I was certain that if I could pass this test I would catch at least one steelhead almost on arrival. That was strong incentive and a steelhead had a better chance of forcing my move than a channel cat, perch, or horned pout. I fingered the bear spray and thought the sliding cap was awkward considering the speed of a bear. A friend of mine was attacked by a grizzly while he carried a rifle. He shot from the hip as there wasn't enough time to raise the gun to his shoulder and dispatch the airborne carnivore.

Image: Will Jordan

There was a Western Governor's Association annual meeting held on June 29, 2011, in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho. And among the various sessions was one called "Restoring and Managing the Health of Forests in the West." A worthwhile topic, right? I mean, who's not for healthy forests? So I checked in via YouTube to see what some of our governors had to say on the subject, and some of the most interesting words came from Idaho governor C. L. "Butch" Otter. Otter was in Congress when it passed the "Healthy Forest Initiative" in 2003. Regarding that bill, he said, "Our vision was to have the states much more involved in the management practice and to be able to shortcut—er, shortcut's the wrong word—but streamline some of the processes that we have in managing our forests."

Image: Kevin Emery

We're miles from the truck and 600 feet below the canyon rim when the first raindrops dimple Trout Creek. Charlie Card has spent his entire life in this country and guided it professionally since he was seventeen. I figure that makes pulling the plug his call.

"What do you think, Charlie?"

Image: Kevork Djansezian

Can the Apache Trout Recovery Program recover?

Sunday, May 29, 2011 began as an ordinary day in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona. Memorial Day weekend draws large crowds from hot deserts to the high country to camp and fish. But at approximately 2 p.m. that afternoon, smoke began to rise from an abandoned campfire in the Bear Wallow Wilderness Area on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, about 15 miles southwest of Alpine. Windy conditions and rugged terrain kept local Forest Service Initial Attack crews from containing what would blow up to become the largest wildland fire ever recorded in Arizona.

Image: Andy Anderson

The water’s surface is oily and shiny and silver and orange. The outgoing tide is tepid, with the current passing between your legs being the only indication that you’re wading, because the water is the same temperature as your shaking, nervous body. 

“Remember to breathe.”

Vision drifting in and out, eyes straining for focus. Legs are wavering, shrinking into the soft mud and grass. Your heartbeat is growing.The flyline is pulling against your hand; being dragged backward by the current. Sweat drips from your head to the cork grip of the rod.  

“Get ready for the shot. Get ready. Concentrate. Look. Focus.”

A spike rises from the surface, flaring, pink, purple and black…  then another… then another...

“This is it. Go-Go-Go!”

The silence is broken by the woosh of the fly rod as the line rips from the water’s oily grip and the weighted crab lands with a plop to the side of the school. The spikes straighten and turn...

Strip… Strip… Strip…

Hands are fumbling, slipping, and shaking. There’s no breathing.

The surging tail lifts and stabs into the air. The line tightens… 

Image: Lucas Carroll

It isn’t those first, crisp, mahogany-spinner mornings that get me, the ones ending with a warm afternoon and a few straggler hoppers still clicking. It’s the days that come a couple weeks later, after the onset of frost, when the first nasty cold front under low-lying clouds makes you hustle through the wadering process because it’s painful not to. You can only hope, on mornings like this, that the day might warm by afternoon. But it’ll probably snow instead.

The details we tend to romanticize when we think of fall—which may have described the place just a few weeks earlier—no longer apply. The ambers and magentas are mostly gone, and the rich smell of decay that typifies the season can still be found aloft, but only by inhaling large amounts of air and sifting through the minimal contents. What we are left with, primarily, is a cold and sterile smell signaling the beginning of the end. This is what gets those big browns moving. And it has a similar effect on me.