Brian G. Angevine
always left real early in the morning. Dad and I would pack everything up the
night before, then get up about 4:30 or so in the morning. At Denver’s altitude
it always seemed to be chilly that early. We’d wolf down a little breakfast—Dad
always believed in eating breakfast—and hit the road.
fishing vehicles over the years assumed many forms, but usually consisted of
the family sedan. One time we managed to borrow someone’s half-broken-down
jeep—the bare bones military style. That was a real experience. I remember
nodding asleep during the drive that time and almost falling out of the jeep.
No doors, no seat belt, just hang on and pray. Not conducive to sleeping
was always mindful of the neighbors as we crept quietly away and headed
generally southwest out of Denver. We enjoyed the highway travel in spite of
the darkness and cool temperatures because things would soon get rough! A
little gravel bypass road took us off the unfinished Interstate 25, through a
hilly, growing residential area and into Sedalia. From there gravel roads led
to the formidable Nighthawk, a steep pass over the foothills to the South
Platte drainage. I remember some of the vehicles we drove barely had enough
power to make it up that hill, and it was so narrow only one car could use the
road at a time. We would sit at the bottom of the climb listening for other
traffic. Getting up a good run we blasted up the hill, blowing the horn all the
way. Pitching over the top we careened down the other side hoping the brakes
the western slope of Nighthawk led to the river, our goal. The road paralleled
the twists and turns of the river for several miles. This section always tested
my courage. Dad was such an avid fisherman that he liked to check the water
conditions while driving. Not only did he check the water but also he scouted
likely fish locations, watched for the hatch of flies and anticipated the
strike of the big trout. His excitement was transferred to his foot that became
decidedly leaden on the gas pedal. Of course his eyes traced every nook and
cranny of the trout havens while occasionally flicking to the road ahead. White
knuckled from gripping anything solid, and staring rigidly ahead, I dared not
say anything about the narrow misses of boulders, trees, drop-offs and other
hazards. Dad usually timed our arrival at the river so that there was enough
light to scout the river instead of watching the road.
blew through Deckers in a cloud of choking dust and screamed up the right fork
to a roadside pullout several miles upstream. Once I asked Dad why we never
fished all that likely looking water that we raced by. He mumbled, “That gets
fished too hard.”
army surplus backpacks were hauled out and strapped on before we started the
trudge up the Gill Trail. Since my Dad’s nickname was Gil, I assumed that trail
was named for him. When I was younger I carried little, but as my size
increased, so did the load. We skirted the upper edge of the private Wigwam
Camp and began the pull over the hill into Jarre Canyon. When I was a kid Dad
pulled me up the steeper stretches by having me grab the loose straps on his
backpack. When I reflect on that now I realize all the sacrifices he made for
hit the river at a place called Steelie Riffle. It was a long, deep run of
swift water over rocks. Our routine dictated that we never fished it on the way
in, although we often caught excellent rainbows there on the way out. But going
in we had four tough miles of hiking ahead of us. The trail wandered up and
down the canyon walls, its path dictated by huge, house-sized boulders, and
other obstacles. Gravel covered rocks made the footing treacherous and, in
places, the trail all but disappeared in slides down sheer drops. Many times I
feared for my life, but we never suffered any mishaps.
was a spring at Soldiers’ Crossing where we always stopped for water and a
breather. By then the sun was slanting down into the clear water of the South
Platte and we enjoyed looking for fish working under the big rocks spaced
through that hole. Sitting in the cool shade of the trees surrounding the
spring felt really good after the exhausting couple of miles we had just
covered. Our fishing fever continued to mount as trout swam into our view. Usually
by then the chill was out of the air and sitting in the shade sipping the cold
water was always welcome relief. But we never stayed there long. Dad always
popped up with some comment like, “If we stay down too long we’ll never get
made our way to Sandbar Crossing where we usually crossed the river. Our waders
were pulled out of the backpacks and we started the first part of the crossing
over shallow, moss-covered rocks. The footing was slippery and I often splashed
crazily about trying to keep my balance. The deepest channel was near the south
bank and we approached it cautiously. The water was swift through there and we
never knew how much sand had been washed away. Dad taught me how to face
upstream to get the best purchase with my feet, and how to focus on some
stationary object to avoid the dizziness of looking at the water rushing past.
Still, the water came to the tops of our hip waders (chest waders were not
available then) and I usually bent my knees to get a little better balance in the
deepest part. The result was always a rush of cold water into my waders. Then
I’d forget caution and in panic lunge toward the bank. The thought of being
washed downstream under the enormous boulder just below the sandbar was not
now we were almost to our destination. A grueling climb halfway up the side of
the canyon brought us to the cave. I was always surprised when it suddenly
popped out of the trees and rocks without being visible from a distance. Grant
Foster, my great uncle, had enlarged a natural opening under a rock and fronted
it with boards, a door, and even a couple of windows. He had built it as a
trapper’s cabin many years before and my Uncle Merle and my Dad had kept it in
the family as a fishing camp. Everything in that camp had been brought in on
someone’s back up the same trail we had just traveled. These guys believed in a
little comfort on their retreats. Inside the cave was a mattress and springs
from a double bed, a wood burning stove, and various storage cases to protect
food and other items. They had even carried in concrete to shore up walls and
to build a catch basin for the spring a ways on up the hill.
first order of business was for me to get fresh water from the spring while Dad
brought the cache of equipment from its hiding place among the rocks. We set up
camp quickly and headed for the river as soon as possible. Now the fun could
usually hit the river just below Mason’s Hole. I don’t remember the name of
that stretch, but I always worked it hard. It was shallow enough for me to wade
out to fish around a couple of large rocks in the center of the current. I
caught quite a few fish there over the years, but I always spent far too long
trying for the big one. There were far better holes to fish but none quite so
easy for me.
always liked to try Peg Hole. The moniker fit because one approached the
extremely deep run across a smooth rock face, and grabbed a peg drilled into
the rock to lower gently onto a small shelf to fish. The other bank was a sheer
rock wall about 20 to 30 feet high, so there was only one spot from which to
fish. I usually stayed away from there because it terrified me so. Besides,
when I finally worked up the courage to fish there I never caught a thing. I’m
sure there were enormous trout in there, but I never saw one caught.
upper reaches of Mason’s Hole, a rocky stretch above that, and Rainbow Hole
were my favorites. I usually caught some very nice trout; although nothing much
over two pounds fell for my clumsy delivery of flies or Flatfish. Dad always
caught plenty on what they called “rock worms,” but I could never stomach
hooking the pudgy, greenish-gray larvae. Besides that it took a perfect drift
on light line to fool the trout. I never mastered that.
Hole was another tough spot for me to fish. The approach was across the tail
end of a shallower pool to the deep run against the other bank, though the pool
was a little too deep for me to wade and I was leery of the power of the water.
Once out on the sandbar in the middle of the river one could fish the deep run.
The water cascaded over a mini waterfall after pooling around an enormous rock,
and then rushed past some smaller rocks on downstream. Dad claimed that a guy
named Swede caught a fifteen pounder from under the big rock once. Dad had
hooked and lost some monsters in there. You could stand on the rock shelf and
cast up under the boulder, or fish the smaller rocks in the current. I caught a
few in there at times but never hooked the big one.
fished very light two and four pound test line because the fish were so smart
and spooky. Once, in Rainbow Hole, I tied into a nice one in the swift water. I
chased the fish downstream for about a hundred yards trying to ease the
pressure on the line. I stumbled and splashed and yelled my way all along
trying to keep up with him. Finally, when I landed him without a net, I think I
was about as proud as I’ve ever been. He was a beauty, and I had fought him on
his own terms and won.
usually go back up to camp for a nap and food until about four o’clock. Then
we’d trek back down the hill for the great evening hatch. That was always my
favorite because I nearly always caught fish. The climb back up in the dark was
tiring but I was usually satisfied. Much needed dinner, often made of Dinty
Moore Beef Stew (delicious after a hard day), and a very welcome bed, rounded
out the day.
morning we were up way before sunrise and poking in more breakfast. I never
quite learned how to drink coffee in those days, but it sure smelled good. Dad
always wanted to be on the river before sunrise to catch the morning rise. I
always went along with this plan but I seldom caught much in the morning.
Somehow it never quite worked for me. Give me the evening hatch any day. Seeing
the sun come up over the hills and work its way slowly down deep into the
canyon to finally light up the river was reward enough for me though. When the
day heated up we made our way back to camp to eat some more, chop wood, and
clean up the area.
our jaunt was a weekend only, we usually started fishing our way back out
then. We worked the better spots
all the way back downstream, which took most of the day. Many times we would
finish off at Steelie Riffle just in time to catch the evening hatch. What fighters
those fish were in that heavy current! Dad always expressed disdain for those
fish though. He claimed they were hatchery fish stocked at the Wigwam Club for
the paying customers. He would much rather have the native trout on upstream.
learned a lot about life on those trips with Dad. Not only did I learn how to
be a halfway decent fisherman, but also I learned values and techniques that
have stayed with me my entire life. Learning how to find my way back to camp on
my own in that formidable canyon was the most valuable. Every few steps I was
told to look back over my shoulder to see what the landmarks looked like from
that angle. After all, that’s the view I’d be seeing when I headed back. The
patience my Dad showed while untangling my numerous birds’ nests, and teaching
me how to tie on flies and lures, was admirable. Even now I have a tendency to
put a loop in my fly casting motion that manages to tie little knots in the
fine leader. Of course they break just as a fish strikes. Another trick I had
was to get too much line out of a back cast and catch a bush, or break the barb
off the hook on a rock. I lost a lot of good fish that way. But most of all I
learned to enjoy the outdoors for its own sake. Whether or not I caught fish I
always liked being there in God’s country. We put back most of the fish we
caught and kept only the few we wanted to eat.
from the good old days are never the same when you go back. One summer I wanted
to take my Dad back to the Canyon to relive some of those experiences. Neither
of us had been back for fifteen or twenty years. We knew that the camp was
vandalized and all the equipment stolen. We knew that the stream is endangered
and fishing is limited to certain lures only. We knew that some unsportsmanlike
people have ruined it for everyone and that some are still using illegal bait.
But we still had a desire to go back.
fell and hurt his back a few months before we were to go back to the canyon. He
also had triple bypass surgery and felt he would never be able to hike in there
again. In spite of his pain and misgivings I still wanted to get him back to
his home, his refuge, the Canyon. I get misty-eyed just thinking about it. I
know it won’t be the same. But doesn’t he deserve just one more trip?