June 13, 2012

Small Flies, Small Fish, Red Columbines

South Fooses Creek — tangles and pocket water
When I think of South Fooses Creek, a small stream in western Chaffee County, I think of three things. Two of them are pleasant.

Red columbine
One is that in summer I always find red columbines growing in its canyon. I have the hardest time with these at home — granted, home is a little low in altitude, a little dry, and a little alkaline of soil for optimum columbine cultivation, so I have to baby columbines along.

For some reason, the yellow varieties that I have seem more robust than either red ones or the official-state-flower blue-and-whites.

There are other flowers too: I think this one (right) is bitter cress, Cardamine cordifolia, in the mustard family. At least it looks like the picture in the field guide, and the habitat is right: "Grows in wet areas, such as stream banks, meadows, and forest depressions."
Bitter cress

And there are fish, mostly little brook trout, the kind that are mature and reproducing when they are six inches long. Once you venture off the Colorado Trail, which has been cleared of winter's blowdowns, the forest is full of fallen logs, and about every third fishable pool has a dead tree lying across it ready to grab your line with a hundred gnarly hands.

The rest of the pools you sneak up to — "Indian up on them," as Dad used to say — and drop a dry fly in for a short float that might produce a strike from an undersize brookie.

I keep a couple of the "trophies," but I don't photograph them.

When I return to the Jeep, I am standing by where we pitched the tent on Dad's last camping trip.

I had come down the same trail with some fish in my pack, only to find a clothesline rigged above our campfire with some underwear and socks drying on it.

He told me that he had gone down to the creek to fill a water bucket, but even though he had a walking staff, the boggy ground had thrown him off balance, and he ended up sitting in the shallow water. Hence the change of clothes. He seemed a bit annoyed.

And when he dropped me off at home, he opened the tailgate and started unloading stuff — the tent, the Coleman lantern, and so on. "It's yours," he said, "I'm through with camping."

After all those years. But If he couldn't trust himself to walk down to the creek without a fall, it was time to quit.

Sometimes I stand in the basement looking at the shelves of camping gear and I wonder, what should I get rid of?


Anonymous said...

Great story! My Dad and my Uncle used to backpack and fish all over the mountains when I was too small to go along. Although Mom took me fly fishing starting at age six months. She put a harness on me, and a leash tied to her belt. She would wade out into a stream, plunk me down on a nearby rock, and start fishing. She said (I don't remember) that it got a little dicey when she caught one, trying to balance her fly rod, a net, and a six-month old kid, but she persevered. My earliest memories of camping include the taste of fresh-from-the-creek brook trout for breakfast.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Your mother sounds like a real Artemis-woman. And did they call you Fishbait, like happened to a cousin of mine?