Saturday, February 11, 2012

It's Good To Be Alive

Friday was my birthday, so I gave myself the present of a road trip to Rocky Ford Creek. Yes, I was also hoping to get one of those big, fat, spring creek Rainbows, but that was not to be. I sure enjoyed what I got, though. That is, most of it.

It was in the high 30's, foggy, and rainy when I left home.

An hour and a half down the road I stopped at one of the amazing landmarks in this amazing state: Dry Falls.

Here, for your edification, is the story of Dry Falls.

I enjoyed being there on my birthday. I'm not that old, but standing there at the site of that ancient cataclysm thinking about geologic time I felt positively young.

A short way on down the road I drove out of the rain and noticed that there was precious little snow left on the ground. This is the Grand Coulee Country, the true semi-arid desert region of eastern Washington, and it's much drier than the valley I live in.

A little over two hours from home I parked, climbed out of the truck, and discovered that the temperature had changed too. It felt almost balmy, though the wind, as is its wont, was whipping down the coulee.

I rigged up and started my hike down this access road. The creek is down there running between the sage flat and the cattail marsh. It's an invigorating little hike. I had passed up the popular stretch of the creek, over by the hatchery with the big parking lot that is often fairly full, and came on south to this, the back door of the creek.

Here the creek flows into a small impoundment. I have had good days here fishing just where the fast current fans out into the wider, deeper flow.

I waded across to the scene of former glories and discovered significant sedimentation where there had been clear water and clean rocks before. Now the rocks were buried under a foot of mud. I made a few half-hearted casts and wandered down through the cattail marsh on the far bank looking unsuccessfully for footing solid enough to get close to open water. By then I had begun to wonder if there were any fish left in this stretch.

Then, as I crossed the catwalk over the spillway, I saw the first trout breach. Not jump, not wake, not porpoise, not rise--breach like a whale: lunge half out of the water, splash back in, and then do it again a few more times. For the next hour or so trout were breaching here and there all over the impoundment.

Big trout. Trout that make you start looking for the earliest opportunity to get back here again.

I found a couple of places on the near bank where I could wade out past the cattails. I fished. I tried a midge dry--the Lady McConnell I just tied up; I tried a muddler; and I tried scuds and micro-leeches and nymphs under an indicator. It was good fishing, if not good catching, and I was totally engrossed.

Then something buzzed through the cattails and hit the water with a loud pop no more than six feet from me. It sounded to me at first like a firecracker. I hadn't heard a shot. But then I heard one as a second bullet popped into the water a little farther away. It sounded like someone with a pistol on the road I had hiked down. I yelled, but the shooting went on, now concentrated on the coots feeding up at the end of the impoundment. While they flew off in alarm I reeled in as fast as I could and climbed onto the bank in plain sight. The shots had stopped, and I saw someone with a rifle way up on the ridge beyond the road. That has to be a good 300 or 400 yards away. He was turning and walking away. I think I saw him look back at me before he went out of sight.

Lots of things go through your mind when you're in the line of fire. The big question was whether I was being harassed by someone--in which case they would be trying to get close but still miss me; or whether some idiot didn't even know I was there--in which case there was a good chance that someone was going to  accidentally shoot me, maybe without even knowing it. I wasn't afraid--I didn't "hit the dirt" in the water. But now I wonder why I didn't. At the time it never occurred to me that I might actually get shot. Instead of being afraid I was angry. I just wanted to confront the shooter, both so he'd know I was there, and so he'd know how stupid he had been.

Well, it turned out OK. I hope that guy has done some thinking and has resolved to be much more careful about his field of fire in the future. For my part, I reflected on the way home that on my birthday I could be grateful both for the year past and for this next year that I still get to live through.

One other thing: getting shot at ruins the fishing. It really messes up your concentration. I found myself glancing back at the ridge top every few minutes.

By then the daylight was beginning to wane, and a big, noisy flock of Red winged Blackbirds settled into the cattails. That's one of the earliest returns I can remember. Spring can't be too far behind.

I stayed a little while longer stripping that Bugmeister--who knows? it might have worked-- then hiked out while the cars down on the highway were turning on their headlights. The hike back up the hill was even more invigorating than the hike down. All the way up I thought about the day and its many pleasures and wonders.

And the whole time I was thinking, "It's good to be alive!"


  1. Happy Birthday Jim! It sounds like you had a wonderful day on the water to celebrate it as well (minus the shooting incident).
    Some beautiful scenery up there , the pictures explaining about the coulees were very interesting , I had no idea the geologic history of the area.
    Looking forward to that next report.....

  2. First of all Happy Birthday. I was really getting into the story. The coulee, the landscape description and the fishing. The last thing I was expecting was a gunshot and you being in danger.Your understatement"Getting shot at really ruins the fishing" was priceless. A testament to your great attitude.

  3. Happy Birthday Jim.
    Sorry about your terrible encounter. No matter what his intentions the guys STUPID.

  4. HighPlains/Brk Trt/Herringbone: Thanks for the birthday wishes. Glad you enjoyed the post, as I enjoyed the day. The shooting incident was interesting. I was behind the cattails so the guy might not have seen me, but I've been wondering if my hat might have looked like a duck on the water! Lucky the guy was a bad shot--he didn't hit anything but water.