“Wait! I want to slide on the boat!” I called them as my dad was getting ready to launch the old rock boat off the trailer and into the icy waters of the river. “Okay, hurry up and get in!” My father called again. I climbed into the boat and waved to my mother as she watched us spill into the water.
Honestly, sliding into a boat off the back of a trailer is a little scarier than it sounds, but a lot of fun. I hate to compare the great outdoors to a ride at an amusement park, but falling off the back of a trailer while riding a moving boat is like a minor shock when the roller coaster starts to take off. My father laughed at me as I shook off my surprise and sat down in the seat. I turned my seat to face my father a little.
“Don’t make fun of me.” I playfully scorned. My father chuckled and gestured to the oars. “I thought, Mij. You are old enough to have the strength to start driving me. what are you saying? Want to paddle your old man down the river? he offered, releasing the oars from their holder.
Actually, I had tried paddling before, but it had been on the lake. I couldn’t coordinate my strength very well when I tried it, but the experience wasn’t terrible. By the end I was able to make a smooth and fair shot. I thought I’d give it another shot.
“Of course. Why not? But you’ll take over if we have any trouble, won’t you? I asked. My father nodded. “Of course. I’ll guide you through it all, don’t worry,” he assured me. I nodded and we switched places. I gripped the long handles of the oar in my palms and took a deep breath. At first I had some trouble , but it didn’t actually take me long to coordinate my right and left arms. I was doing it! I was driving! I was pretty sure of myself…until we got to a more technical speed. “Would you like take over?” I asked Dad, but he shook his head.
“You can do it,” he assured me, “I’ll walk you through it.” I nodded and put my grip back on the oars.
“Okay, first, you’re going to steer the boat to the left,” my father told me. I swung the boat to the left and looked to him for further direction.
“Okay well, now just wait a moment,” he directed. I tensed, mentally preparing myself. The Rapid was known as the “mother-in-law” for its infamous need for perfect accuracy… Like a mother-in-law… Or so I’ve heard. The rapid was a series of moderate waves that led into a corridor between a large rock that was known to eat dinghies (including the seat tube that was currently attached to it) and a flat rock wall that exited through several more waves. big. The Rapid was quite nervous with someone as experienced as my father – who drives better than he walks.
Seriously, he never touches a rock, but he can’t go a week without stubbing his toes – thanks Simms for the closed-toe sandals, cheers for keeping a wheelchair out. The thought of me, for the first time, doing this was absolutely terrifying.
I took a breath and held it as I advanced the first wave. I eavesdropped as I steered the boat into the watery corridor of rock and mountain. I stood up to push the left oar forward in order to avoid the rock wall, but felt my feet slip out from under me as I did so. I quickly pushed my right oar forward so the boat was facing straight before my navel slammed into the foot pedal for the anchor. I screamed as my head rolled back, hitting my cushioned seat lightly. I climbed back up to grab the oars but soon realized I had made the perfect shot to ride the waves. Breathing heavily, I turned to my father for an answer. We both burst out laughing both at my fall and the excitement that I had just nailed one of the hardest rapids in the first section of the River.
“Hey!” An older voice called from another boat to our side. My father and I turned to see an old man in fishing gear and a rod in his hand, giving me the thumbs up. “Now you can have any boy you want. That was great.” My father and I looked at each other and burst out laughing again. I turned to the man and gave him a thumbs up. “Thanks man!” I called. He winked at me as I grabbed the oars again.
My father decided I was good enough at rowing for him to fly fish while I piloted our miniature ship. “Hey, Dad, how old were you when you started driving?” I asked as I turned the boat on an angle so I could see ahead better.
“Oh, I was probably about 12 when grandpa started making me shave it,” he replied, making a cast. He laughed a little as if he remembered a memory from when he was young… Which he had. “You know, when I was starting out, one of the oars hit a rock underwater and it flipped the boat a 180 and knocked Aunt Miranda out of the boat.” He said laughing as he told her.
“Wait, really? That’s super funny,” I commented laughing to myself.
“Oh, and this other time we had Aunt Ellie in the front of the boat, Grandpa driving the boat—I was on the floor—and we went over the Rapid Bridge when the water was too high and we hit a big wave that sent Aunt Ellie over my head and into Grandpa, and off the back of the boat he went,” Dad doubled over laughing as he finished, making me laugh too. He told me some more fishing stories, including the one time he and his grandfather Harold accidentally caught a seagull – a bird I didn’t know lived around here – before he told me to retreat to shore. I did this with a few powerful strokes and set the anchor down. “Let’s fish for a minute, shall we?” my dad said, pulling a big smile off my face.
“Yes!” I exhaled, jumping out of the boat and grabbing a fishing rod.
My father and I walked a long way upstream, away from our boat, before choosing a spot. I found a rock near the shore and cast the rod. Up. Stop. Forward. Wait. We saw the fly as it fell downstream, looking to catch the eye of a fish. It didn’t happen. I tried again to no avail. Stripping the fly so it wouldn’t hook any rocks, my dad and I walked upstream until we found a spot we thought might be good. I repeated the previous tactics as I settled on a rock next to the flowing water. Sighing in disappointment as I was faced with the same result as a few minutes ago, my father placed a hand on my shoulder. “Hey, don’t get discouraged, you’re doing everything right. Let’s try again more upstream, and then maybe we should go.” I nodded and smiled, letting him know that I believed his words. We walked upstream a few more meters and stopped at a good spot where fast water swirled with slow pockets.
I jumped to the edge of the rushing water and watched the fly as it sped up the seam. I almost cast it again when the fly went underwater and I knew it had entered the trout’s mouth. I raised the wand and laughed happily as my guesses were correct. I had a big old fish.
“Did you get one?” Dad asked worriedly.
“Yes! And he’s a big one too, holy cow!” I yelled, using my hips to position the rod as my weak wrists couldn’t do it on their own. I stepped on the uneven rocks as I chased the big fish downstream. I wasn’t going to lose this big boy. I nearly tripped, but I kept the focus I wasn’t using on putting the fish on its feet. I fought him for the longest time, the big boy didn’t want to give up. Swinging the rod to the right, I added side pressure and drove the fish toward the bank. Finally, we took her into a rocky forest with micro-ponds that weaved in and out of the rocks for her to breathe. It was a big thick stalk of fish, but a beautiful brown trout. The fish was a German/Lochleven mix, a type of mutt. His true beauty was found in his imperfection. I tried to wrap my arm around his body to hold him for a quick video and release him properly, but the big coffee was too thick to wrap my hand around. My hand didn’t fit around the fish! I laughed in frustration and waited as my dad showed me how to hold it: thumb and forefinger gripping tightly around the tail and the other covering the body like a cushioned porch swing in my grandmother’s backyard. It took me a few tries to get it right, but when I did, the video turned out great and I’d say it was a successful release. My father and I put down our wet hands and laughed happily together.
“Great job, Mij, it was great!” he said excitedly.
I shook my head vigorously: “Thank you! It was great, he was so big!” I shouted, appraising the size of the fish with my hands.
My father laughed at my feeble attempt and checked his phone. “Oh, we better go, mommy will wait for us if we stay longer.”
I nodded and we carefully returned to the boat. We both jumped in, this time Dad took the oars doing his own version of a rowing paddle.
We were only a few minutes late at the ramp, but luckily we were able to slide right off. I jumped on the ramp and pulled the boat so it was anchored to the concrete and hailed my mother halfway.
“Hey,” she waved, “how was it?” I stopped a few meters away from her and nodded. “That was great, I caught a big fish and dad made me line up,” I said, hands on my hips. Mom looked surprised. “Really? Wow, that’s great,” she congratulated.
Dad nodded, coming up behind me. “Yes. She did very well,” Dad said. “She even fell on her butt, didn’t she?”
I elbowed him in the stomach and he shook my shoulder, laughing and pulling me close. “Yeah, but she caught a big brown trout! Pinjolli was big, wasn’t he?
I nodded. “Hell yeah! He was so thick, I couldn’t catch him!” I screamed. Mom laughed and put her hands on her hips. “That sounds like fun. Why don’t you show me on the way home?”
Article written by Mij Feathersby, courtesy of Ryan Kelley @greenriverflyfisher. The reporter walks daily around the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Faith, Family and getting kids out.