Neil Travis - May 2, 2016

Why was I here when I could be home where I could settle into my recliner in the coolness of my front room? Truthfully I doubt that I could answer that question in any coherent way.

The sound of clicking wings as the male grasshoppers launching themselves over the hay meadows that flanked the stream was the only sound that broke the silence of the hot late summer day. A lone hawk was carving lazy circles in the hazy summer sky as I settled back in the shade of a cottonwood tree. The bark is rough against my back and even in the shade the summer heat was relentless and the occasional breeze was hot. A small trickle of sweat slid down my cheek and dripped on my shirt adding to the sweat that already soaked the fabric.

From my repose in the shade the stream was laid out in a grand sweep before me. To my left the stream splits around a small island where a few years back a Sandhill Crane raised her two colts, a strange name for young cranes. Any angler that came close to that small spit of land would be instantly confronted by the adult that was sitting on the nest. The reaction was more than worth the price of admission. The cranes moved their young off the island as soon as they were strong enough to cross the channel and led them away into the surrounding fields. Whenever I approach that island I always remember those cranes. Their presence added another dimension to this place but they have not nested there since. I miss the cranes.

The stream flows around the small island making two small riffles on each side and then flattens out into a long, slow flat. A small set of concentric rings appeared against the far bank just off the long grass that was trailing in the water. Likely it was an errant ant or beetle that the little breeze blowing off the fields dislodged from its perch along the bank. Once it found itself on the water surface its struggles to regain the bank attracted the attention of a trout that was resting under the trailing grass. As I watched the rings dissipate in the flow it brought back the memory of a similar situation that I encountered just downstream a couple of years back. I was working my way upstream randomly dropping a small beetle imitation along the stream edge; picking up an occasional smaller trout. Compliancy is the enemy of the angler and when I dropped the little beetle next to a small clump of grass it disappeared in a tiny dimple. Thinking it was another small trout I did a quick strip strike actually hoping to pull it away from the fish. The water erupted as a large trout felt the iron in its jaw; it rolled, ran straight toward me and jumped right in front of me. Two feet plus of brown trout slowly twisted in the air, the image forever seared into my memory and when it hit the water the tiny beetle lost its grip and the brown disappeared creating a huge wake. Compliancy had robbed me of the opportunity to land a memorable fish on a small fly but it's a precious memory of a time and a place that now only lives within my memory.

The long flat flows into a small pond-like area and exits through a culvert in its journey toward the main river. A small slough enters the stream at the pond and at one time a single strand electric fence stretched across mouth of the slough where it entered the stream. The charger that powered the fence was called A Weed Cutter, and sent a powerful jolt through the wire that would kill any weeds that touched the wire. The fence kept the ranch cattle from getting into the stream and all of the regular anglers that fished the stream knew to avoid it. The power of the fence was vividly demonstrated when one of my friends waded across the mouth of the slough. A fish rose and without thinking he flipped his rod tip behind him to make a cast. There was a snapping and crackling sound behind him and when he turned back to see the cause he noticed that the tip of his graphite rod looked strange. The rod tip had touched the fence just below the tip-top and the electric charge had cut the rod tip off. Fortunately it was a rod with a no questions asked lifetime guarantee but it was a vivid reminder to avoid the fence. The ranch no longer has cattle roaming the fields near the slough, gazing at the anglers clad in funny looking pants and carrying long sticks. The cows and the electric fence are just another memory tucked away in the recesses of my mind.

Over the years the slowing of the water has resulted in the deposition of silt at the lower end of the flat, and the once gravel lined bottom is now covered with a thick sticky layer of silt. Although the bottom under the silt is solid I no longer wade this flat since my old legs do not like deep silt.

So here I set in the shade of the cottonwood tree with sweat dripping off my chin. As the sun slowly edges toward the western horizon a thunderhead begins to build and as the sun slides further toward the horizon sheets of lighting light up the darkening cloud bank like a glow mold and the low growl of thunder echoes across the valley. I decide that my hope of fishing tonight has been terminated by the building storm.

I drive up the two track dirt road that leads back to the main road and I pause to look back at the stream now bathed in the deepening twilight. I can see the island where the cranes nested, the flat and small pond-like impoundment and now I know why I came out here and sat under a cottonwood tree in the late summer heat. This place is where my memories reside, the place that defines my life in more ways than just flies and fishing.

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