Day 24

There are different words for everything here. It’s not just cross-country skiing; it’s Nordic skiing. That, of course, is different than skate skiing, which is quite different than telemark skiing and in telemark skiing you can use “skins” which is whole other deal. But you can also use skins in AT skiing, all-terrain, and most people who live in “The Butte” do all of the above.

But Nordic skiing was yesterday, and already I can tell the learning curve is steep. When I went to bed my first night in Crested Butte, I could hear my heart pounding in my eardrums, working hard to retrieve oxygen from the air. By day two, I am jogging above 9,000 feet, chasing Cam down the cut banks of the Taylor River in Gunnison National Forest, the sun at our backs, and walls of mountains towering over the valley below.

We begin with the basics: there is side ice and anchor ice and once you see the anchor ice, fly fishing season is pretty much over. But today, after we fish the Roaring Judy, we head up to Taylor because there is a damn a few miles upstream and the water release is from the bottom of the reservoir – where the water has not yet frozen. This makes the river warmer than the air temperature (0 degrees today).

Then there’s catching the fish. The rod, the reel, the lead, the line, the lures, the weight. There is the indicator, too, which is the thing I watch the most because it floats atop the water. Cam’s housemate has loaned me polarized sunglasses and I’m trying to learn how to spot the fish.

“There Schultzy, there, can you seem ‘em?” Cam doesn’t point or shout. We’re hunched low into the side of the snow-covered riverbank, careful not to cast our shadows to tall into the deep pool below.

I can’t see them, or at least not as many as he can, but still, I’m curious to see how this will all pan out. Cam casts, and mends, and casts again. It is a dance that requires immense focus while at the same time, demands the ability to lose oneself in the task at hand.

“Schultzy here, stand on my left.” He smiles when he casts but it is only because he is squinting into the sun, tilting his head back in order to follow the S-line above us, that telltale fly fisherman’s cast that makes an ordinary sport seem undeniably poetic. I stand just behind Cam’s left shoulder so we cast one shadow and so that I will not get snagged in his line as it arches back and above our heads, whipping a graceful snake pattern through the air before landing on the water.

There are midges and stone flies and all kinds of worms but really, when it comes down to it, most anglers should know that in the winter time you’ve got to use a handmade zebra midge fly of the small variety in order to mimic the natural world. Then there are the fish, the rainbows, the browns, more than I can name or even know, but Cam catches a few and I get to see them up close, bodies flapping and glistening in the sunlight, then calm in his pink palms, gasping and given over, then released back into the water, hook free, damage free, back to normal. (It’s nice watching a professional fly fisherman because there are no ripped off fish lips, no terribly snagged lines, no laws broken.)

By the end of the day, I am Colorado Rocky Mountain pink from the sun and Cam and I jump in the van, hit the road for an hour drive back home, and sing to Robert Early Kean rolling down highway 135. I am more relaxed than I have been in at least a month. I have visited another person’s world, learned new things, and dozed on the rocks in bright, bright sun. It was cold, but never too cold, and besides, when we get home Cam cooks up elk burgers from his boss’ last hunt and before I know it we are full, warm, drinking wine then tea, and everyone in the house huddles up in the futons for a movie.

Wow, what a day!

See pictures of a daylong adventure observing fly fishing along the Taylor River. Perfect sun, cloudless skies, and even a few fish caught!

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