Ralph's Rough Winter
Will this winter never end? We need to go fishing! Yes,
it's spring, but not here at 8200 feet elevation in the
northern Colorado Rockies. Soggy, wet snow, sloppy roads,
and icy nights. Still lots of ice covering the shady holes
in our home waters on Fish Crick, and very few fishing
By Dan Fink (danbob)
My fishin' buddy Ralph has had a rough winter, he's feeling
it now much worse than I am. First it was getting banned
from our local watering hole, the Wounded Walleye, for
convincing our buddy Vern to flyfish in their saltwater
aquarium. Then there was the incident with the little old
lady down the road, Mrs. McGreavy--she's really a very sweet
lady, but Ralph just went too far this winter. He loves
animals of any shape, size, form, and, uh, smell. And I'm
sure those baby skunks looked so adorable and so hungry,
following Mom in a line across the porch like that. In
short, Ralph started feeding dog food to the skunks each
night. Right on the porch.
Word spread rapidly amongst the local skunk population,
and soon there was a regular skunk fais do-do each night
right outside his sliding glass door, complete with skunks
playing little accordions and washboards so the rest could
dance -- at least that's how Mrs. McGreavy described it to
the local Game Warden, who put a stop to it after her third
frantic phone call to 911. Though not until after her yappy
little Shi-Tzu got thoroughly soaked with skunk spray. Ralph
is still delivering cases of tomato juice and bottles of
perfume to her weekly to try and make amends.
Ralph's Live Bait and Tackle business on the shores of Greer
Lake fell on hard times over the winter, too. Not nearly
enough customers, and those that did show up were even more
scruffy than Ralph himself, which is to say REALLY scruffy,
and very unlikely to spend any Jacksons or Hamiltons (much
less Franklins) on Ralph's home-tied flies. The few customers
that came by wearing Orvis fly vests and fancy neoprene waders
were a bit put off by his guide service literature, too:
"10 carp per day or your money back!" Not to mention Ralph's
flies themselves-- if there were actually real aquatic insects
that they represented, no one would ever dip so much as a toe
in that water without an entire regimen of tetanus shots
afterwards. His redneck fly vest always scared off potential
guiding customers, too--it was a plastic Safeway bag. Heck,
it took Ralph a year to finally switch from paper to plastic
for his fly vest, after he discovered the plastic kind didn't
get soggy and break.
He even tried making some highly artistic fish paintings to
sell over the winter, when Greer Lake was frozen solid. Ralph
was pretty excited when his first potential customer walked
in and looked his paintings over with a critical and interested
eye. He introduced himself as a well-known wildlife artist,
and in fact he only wanted to borrow a tow chain and shovel
to get his Hummer unstuck from the corduroy road up the canyon,
in the famous mud bog. But he was actually looking at the
paintings! Ralph was ecstatic.
"How much for the cubist abstract painting of the brown trout
with the pre-cancerous lesions, fin rot, and sea lice?" he
"20 bucks, and I'll include a frame with all my favorite dry
fly patterns hand-carved in the corners," Ralph replied. "Caught
that big brown right here in Greer Lake last fall. Ya see, I
was fishin' the north part of the lake, right off the weed bed,
dredging the bottom with a big old woolly bugger with the
propeller in front and rubber legs and all, when that big
brown come a' shootin' out from under the big stump, and..."
As Ralph continued his sales pitch, the famous wildlife artist
threw a $20 bill on the counter and snatched up the painting.
He gave it one last, disgusted look before he tore it into
tiny bits on the floor. As he left with the tow chain and
shovel, I heard him mutter "One more small step for good
taste. Well worth it!"
I felt really bad for Ralph, and walked over to give him
some words of encouragement about his fishing art. But he
was already out the door, and yelled excitedly back at me
"Anything you want from the liquor store? It's on ME today!
Wa-hooooo! I finally sold a painting!"
Around February, Ralph had another brilliant idea, and I
couldn't argue with his logic. He was trying to attract
more upscale customers, since with the lake frozen solid
his live bait business was not doing so well. He was tending
his minnow tanks and muttering about the lack of customers
when it struck him.
"What the heck am I supposed to do with all these durn minnows
and all these other critters?" he asked me. "They're getting
huge since nobody's buying them. Wait -- I got it. I finally
GOT IT! I'm gonna be rich!"
Sure enough, the new, hand painted sign went up the next
week, and he even hired our local Dog Mountain Band to
record the radio commercial for him.
"Ralph's Live Bait and Sushi -- the freshest catch!"
"You dip 'em, we snip 'em!"
"You can fish while we cut bait!"
"Pick your fish, we'll slap it on your dish!"
"Daily specials -- Kung Pao leeches, Moo Goo Gai Gill,
minnows with snow peas, General Tso's mealworms."
As you might expect, Ralph's new business paradigm was less
than successful, despite his vigorous advertising blitz and
considerable culinary expertise. Ralph began to sink into
deep depression, and we all made sure to drop by daily to
make sure he was doing OK and attempt to cheer him up.
After a few weeks and a few tall 16 ounce glasses of bourbon,
Ralph seemed to snap out of it. That maniacal glitter we knew
so well was back in his eyes, and he got excited for the first
time since the home waters froze over last fall.
"I got it!" Ralph yelled with vigor we hadn't seen from him
in months. "I know how to make this business work. I need to
get my mugshot on the cover of Fish Tickler Magazine
holding a big trout. With a shot like that, my guiding business
will take off, my flies will finally sell, and I might even
sell more fish art! Shoot, the editor will probably even drop
by for some sushi."
Once again, I couldn't argue with his logic, and Fish Tickler
Magazine was the most popular glossy fly fishing publication
in the area, read by all the upscale, rich types. I resolved to
help Ralph make his dream happen. We immediately set to planning
a fishing excursion, and I volunteered to carry only a nice camera
and a net, to help him get the cover shot that would save his business.
The next day we pointed the old 4WD pickup south for the warmer
climes of Southern Colorado and the Arkansas River, near Salida,
where the ice would be already gone.
"One thing I can't figger out, Danbob," Ralph asked me as we
chugged south. "Why do all them guys posing for the magazine
cover pictures hold their fly rods in their teeth? And why are
they kissing them big fish on the lips?"
"Well, Ralph," I replied. "I suppose they hold the rods in their
teeth because they don't have any hands free. And I think kissing
the fish is supposed to show respect, or at least to tell the
fish that he isn't going to get bonked in the head and eaten
Ralph snorted and said "Well, if it gets me that cover shot, I'll
try it. You got that fancy new camera ready?"
I assured him that it was indeed ready, and I didn't even bring
a rod as we waded across the Arkansas in anticipation of the
first blue winged olive hatch, as the clouds and drizzle moved
in. Perfect for the hatch! And we were so far south of the home
waters that the river was clear of ice. It was nice to finally
see water in its liquid form again. We climbed the embankment
and walked the railroad tracks downstream a mile to a giant
series of plunge pools carved through solid rock. During runoff
season, it was known to the local white-water rafting guides as
BSFDR rapids, which Ralph opined must mean the "Burlington and
Santa Fe Denver Regional" rapids. In reality, it was something
more like "Big Scary F*** D*** Rapids. Now here in early spring
it wasn't bad to wade, though his hyperactive little Jack Russell
terrier Otis was nearly lost downstream as we inched our way
across the Ark.
Ralph started to catch some small browns immediately, and posed
for the camera with each of them. At first it was more comic
relief than anything, though, especially the shot of his
dentures clamped into the cork fly rod handle while he grinned
toothlessly at the camera, holding a trout. Great for Mad
Magazine, but not Fish Tickler.
The fishing got better and better as the rain continued, and
I was positive that Ralph's fancy new wading jacket (a black
plastic lawn and leaf bag with holes cut for his arms and neck,
sealed with duct tape) would be a big hit on the cover of
Fish Tickler, if the fish was big enough.
We hit a section of water that was very strange, down in the
plunge pools. The Arkansas was flowing backwards. Yep, due
to a strange eddy, for about 100 feet it flowed upstream.
I was baffled.
Ralph simply said, "Well, I figger I'll just make my normal
upstream presentation into a downstream, and then turn around.
That'll be an downstream upstream. Or is it a upstream downstream?
It'll give a dead drift, though."
As I wrestled with this tortured logic, he attached his little
foam strike indicator after carefully writing "This is NOT a
bobber" on it with a marker to foil any purists who came along.
His tiny copper john made a perfect upstream dead drift (the
first time I'd ever seen this phenomenon, I must admit) and
his strike indicator twitched. He set the hook, and the fight
was on. It was a beautiful brown trout, easily 23 inches, and
rarin' for a battle. It took him to the backing 4 times on his
little 3 weight rod with palm drag.
I prepared the camera, and waded out the net the fish for Ralph.
He was beaming.
"Fish Tickler Magazine, here I come!" he hollered, as
he triumphantly raised the monstrous trout to his lips for
the big trout kiss photo.
The next few seconds are etched in Kodacolor film for eternity
thanks to the motor drive on my camera, though Ralph has seized
the negatives and won't release them to anybody, not even me.
As close as I can remember, photo #1 was as near a perfect
magazine cover fish kiss shot as I'd ever seen. But in photo #2
that big brown latched his toothy mouth right onto Ralph's nose!
Photos #3-6 were blurred from frantic motion, but a spray of blood
was much in evidence, on the camera lens too. Photos #7-10 seemed
to show a large, highly offended trout airborne, with Ralph holding
his own nose, attempting to stop the bleeding.
Photos #11-16 showed Ralph coming at me in anger, wielding his
wading staff, blood streaming from his face. I have NO idea why
he was so angry with me, though I suppose it might possibly be
because the last thing I remember yelling to Ralph during the
whole sorry incident was "No tongue, Ralph! No tongue!"
Publisher's Note: You can meet Ralph and danbob in person
at the Idaho Regional Fish-In, Sept, 24 - Sept. 30th, 2006
Lowell, Idaho. ~ dlb
Lighter Side Archive