"I'm in, see you at 5am", hung up the phone and frantically started packing my gear. By 3am my eyes slammed shut. Alarm goes off, I swear just closed my eyes. Grizz and his trust sidekick will be here shortly, I better not hit the snooze button, dam it's early. Load the gear and were on the road to….
"Where are we going again?" I asked
"Not sure, any ideas?"
You have to understand that some of the trips are all planned out but the others, well, nothings really decided, and nothing is ever set in stone, this was one of those times. On the freeway, with a map in hand, the question not easily answered, we estimate that we'll be at the crossroads in about one hour, so we need to decide the path to take. Our options… left, right or straight.
"I'm going to close my eyes and put my finger on the map" I told Grizz
"Sounds good" he replied.
I opened my eyes to see an area that I am not familiar with. Grizz knew of it (of course), he had heard rumor about a place that's supposed to be a myth and it's hypothetically in this area. Because none of us know anyone with first hand information that would be reachable (not me) I did what anyone that needs off-the-beaten-path info would do… I called Ralphy. No answer, oh well I am calling him at work. Ralphy had some good information. A few things stood out from our conversation, first its private and there's very few, if any, public access and none that he personally knows of. Second, it's rumored to hold monster fish and third, it's a very tight-lipped river and its not talked about lightly. Sounds like a challenge. We made a choice in about 2.9 seconds, West Fork of the Allred it is!
Within a few hours from the outlaw signature we should be in the tiny town. As the co-pilot I am trying to locate any information on this fable and the whereabouts of its treasure. Then I spotted it,
"There's a fish and game office in town" I blurted out in excitement.
"They'd know what's going on if anyone does" Grizz replied.
Arriving in town we have one goal, to get information on the river… at all costs. Rolling down the "main" road the sign to the F&G office was spotted. We took the turn and are now headed down the information highway…
"You think its down this far?" I asked
"Not sure, but I've been down this road before", "hey, look at that fire over there"
Off in the distance and following our same course is a wild forest fire. Its on the ridge line and appears to be in control at the moment, that’s right, the fire is in control. Twenty minutes goes by before we figured that we must have passed it. So the back tracking began and we ended with the same results, no F&G building located. What the …… Heading back into town we noticed a Town Hall, were both thinking the same thing; they have to know where the building is. It's an old building, more like a old house, something that reminds me of New England. Two ladies are working behind the counter, one is what you think of when quiet small town comes to mind, simple and kind, the other, well, she looks to be weathered and not to be trifled with.
"How can I help you" The kind lady asked
Grizz replied, "Were looking for the fish and game building"
The conversation quickly went from directions to the West Fork. That’s about the time when the lady in the back came out… with a glare.
"Its private property" she said in a stern commanding voice
That caught both of us off guard. With only a millisecond to respond we asked if there is public access. "Its private property, you're better off at Lower Blue, there is plenty of access there".
"Nah, were looking to get on the West Fork" Grizz told the lady "is there public access?"
"Well, yeah" she replied "but its private... how many of ya?"
"Two and a dog"
The lady slightly dipped her head when she asked "what kind, do you have it with ya?"
I am certain that Grizz was thinking the same thing, the dog is our in.
The quiet lady in the corner piped up "she's the local dog catcher". I looked over nonchalantly she was staring at us with a sinister grin on her face. There goes that I was thinking to myself. But the lady started to ramble, naming a few areas and offering us access on her property. Sweet!
Finally, I thought, now were getting somewhere. Walking out he door I felt as if we had just gotten the crap beat out of us. Instead of asking questions we somehow ended up getting interrogated by the local dogcatcher. We did gain a few puzzle pieces, such as the fire has tripled in one day, the river is private, locals hate the rich bastards a few mountain ranges away and that we should have brought our bullet-proof vests as we might get shot at for fishing it… but at this point things are quite foggy. F&G will know something so that's where we headed next. After talking to the lady there, we left F&G with the same basic information, same as town hall but without the attitude. The lady was helpful and gave us a ton of maps, but they were for another river all together. We are now faced with one last dreaded option, the fly shop. We discussed our strategy. We are going to wait until all customers leave before we ask any questions, as we know the words West Fork are not openly spoken around here, especially from out-of-towner's. We'll buy some flies and make small talk, that's when one of us will pop the question. As we entered the shop we immediately noticed that nobody was around. The old shop guy greeted us with a smile. We laid it down, right then and there. He started off with the same rubbish that everyone else has fed us, "its private property" and the over played "go down to Lower Blue, there are lots of access points". I started to fumble though the fly bins, some cool flies I haven't seen but overall a weak selection. Finally, the guy cracked and started talking. Nice going Grizz! Every time he answered a question, somewhere in the rebuttal, references were made to what a pain the access is and how the land owners are watching with spotting scopes to make sure that nobody is trespassing, etc, etc. Then a map came out and more information was being spilled. All was going well when the owner, I think, walked in. The guy quickly pulled the maps down off the counter and hid it underneath. It's all over now; the guy's not going to talk any longer, I thought. Small talk was made and we again heard about he rich yuppies coming into their turf. Jeez, it's like Hawaii here, tight lipped and locals only…. I love it! The owner walked into the back. We bought our flies, grabbed he map (a piece of yellow-white paper with smeared black lines) and left… a bit confused.
There were a few key things that the shop guy said…. Everyone uses the same shuttle service; the river is private (again) meaning no anchoring, no wading, and no standing, floating on the water only. The fact that everyone is trying to detour us from fishing it makes us even more determined to get on it. We decided to follow the information. Instead of booking shuttles from that shop, who'll call the only shuttle service as well, we decided to head straight to the source. If anyone knows access points it has to be these guys. Getting out of the car I couldn't help think that this is our last hope. The shop wasn't really a fishing shop at all, although there were a few things here and there, but there wasn't much. A nice employee greeted us and we laid it out, blatantly. He knew the river, but when he didn't know exactly where the access was he shouted over to a fellow employee who was putting line on a spin reel. Over in the corner of this little shop, but packed with a ton of stuff, was a short and stout fellow. You could tell that he was a climber by the way he carried himself and the clothes that he was wearing…his name is Josh. Josh is nothing flashy, actually the opposite, a humble honest dude from the mid-west living the life way out here in no-mans land, raising a family, climbing and fishing. After five minutes of talking with Josh we had more information than all the other combined. One of us finally just asked, "Where would you go?". He shared that information without hesitation. He pointed on a map, "here but it’s a 12-hour float." We booked a shuttle for tomorrow morning without blinking. Josh also told us where to camp, its relative out of the way yet close to town. The fly selection he used (along with everyone else) was basically three patterns. A generic Chernobyl ant, a muddler minnow, and another sub surface fly was it. Nobody has heard of anything that we were packing, no articulated flies, no 4" death monsters, no sinking lines, no sink tips. Interesting, very interesting. We thanked our new found savior and skipped to the car… well, Grizz walked, I was probably skipping.
We found the camp exactly where Josh had told us. It was right next to a beautiful stream and tucked out of the way. Unloading our gear I realized that I tossed my newly bought flies in the garbage at the grocery store
Dawn came and I was stoked, Grizz was too. Over a cup of coffee and a Red Bull we discussed our options. We'll rig up a dry rod and a streamer rod and go from there. We arrived at the launch site. "Are we in the right place" Grizz asked "hell if I know" I replied with a surprised look on my face. Were both in bit of shock, the river is about as wide as the middle Provo, maybe. Josh had told us that the only way in was a small tributary, which flows into the larger river…. this has to be it.
The start of our journey was filled with excitement. The stream was small, really small. We bounced off walls of brush, scraped bottom more often than not, crossed though large orange tarps that are draped across the river and dogged barbwire. The large orange tarps are attention-grabbing…. they have large slits every few feet creating, imagine an old school car wash that you'd see in the movies, the ends of the tarp sit in the water conveniently collecting moss, algae…what I'd call sludge. There is only one way to get past these things, straight through. The long rectangle strips of florescent orange tarp slap you in the face as you make you way underneath the hanging cable that holds this giant eye sore. Now back on track, the odd thing about this tributary, it's the gem clear water but not a sign of a fish. Grizz was on the oars as I pounded the water with no response, no movement, and no nothing. Almost an hour later of battling the tight S-turns we came to a fork where the water spits, now the tributary is half the size. By this time Grizz is pushing and/or pulling the boat over the shallow river bottom. Trespassing? Perhaps, but we have no choice. I put the rod down and grabbed the back-up oar to push us away from the brush wall of the river… or at least slow us down from ramming speed. The river is tight, really tight and some areas it's moving rather quickly. Grizz was killing it on the oars. I am a rookie at best and am dreading my turn.
Just when we'd almost had enough of playing bumper boat Grizz spotted it, the entrance to the West Fork. Off to our left was the other half of the water that left us earlier. To its side were other smaller tributaries pouring into this larger water… the river is whole again. Immediately entering the junction the bottom of the river was alive. White fish covered the pools and the trout held on the outskirts and near any structure. Tens, twenties, even thirties of Whitefish held tightly to the bottom then moving out of the way as we floated over, The bottom looked busy. The first large trout was spotted pretty quickly; it was large to say the least, then another and another. This was a gem in the middle of nowhere. It banks are filled with Bald and Golden Eagles, Ospreys, other birds that I don't know the name of, Deer and Beavers, its untamed… oh and the moose, up close. We heard an awkward bird cry and looked up to see a Bald Eagle squawking relentlessly. Neither of us had ever heard this particular sound before, so we watched this bird with curiosity. Floating by, our eyes still fixed to the bird, we rubbernecked all the way around the bend waiting for something to happen. That right about the time we spotted a bull moose standing right in the middle of the river and that's right about the time when we started scraping bottom in the shallow small gravel and right after that, we came to a complete stop just a few feet away from the large animal. Holy shit, we need to get "beeping" out of there. Grizz quickly hoped out of the boat and started pushing. The moose wasn't bothered though, it actually he walked away with a disgusting look on his face. The last few hours of the float it started to rain, actually pour, we pushed out to the car.
Back at camp we planed our next assault. Were going back to the same stretch. The basic scenario is this, we have one shot at each hole and a few casts per run and the fish we are targeting are rather large, not to mention that we didn't move a fish on top. There was only one choice, streamers. We achieved our redemption, another great day. We picked of some hefty fish, lost even more. I learned the "what not to do's" on the oars and feel pretty good about the technical crash course (literally) that I had the pleasure of participating in. As soon as I got behind the paddles I was nervous, alert and realized that its way harder than Grizz makes it look. I am glad that I didn't wreck the boat and was able to get him in range of a fish… even if it’s a crazy behind the back cast with an awkward mend, I'm still trying to figure it out.
We thanked Josh on our way out of town and learned that this will probably be the last week to float it. We had no idea that there is a two-week window all year to float it. The rest of the year is private property…. The fishing God's were definitely smiling on us this trip.
Above pics shot by Grizz