It took a long time, as many things in marriage do, to understand that when my wife asked how my fishing day went, what she was inquiring about was the day as a whole, where what i thought she was inquiring about was the actual fishing itself. Needless to say, many days i would respond that the day had been fruitless and frustrating which of course lead her to believe that i’m sort of masochist (maybe?) and that all i was getting from a day on the water was heightened anxiety, cuts and bruises.
At some point it finally clicked that she wasn’t asking about THE FISH, she was asking about THE DAY and that if i wanted to continue to have days on the water, i better start observing the day through two different (and completely legitimate) lenses and recall alternate versions based on who i’m interacting with.
After a week and a half of non-stop driving and fishing throughout northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado during early March i’ve compartmentalized the experience and there are two editions of the trip that i recall based on my audience.
1) For non-anglers: “It was amazing, I froze my butt off camping at 12,000 feet and tread through snowbanks waist high with nobody around for miles. I saw the Rio Grande canyon, Taos, fished the San Juan, saw most of the Southern Rockies pan across my window, fished two legendary Colorado waters (Cheesman and Eleven Mile), camped on two beautiful lakes in New Mexico, and stayed at my parents modest but beautiful house where i quaffed quality red wine sitting on their front porch taking in the unparalleled panoramic view of the Rockies.”
2) For fellow anglers: “It sucked.”
I’ve spent a good decade fishing these locales, but it’s always been late in the summer after the snow has gone from a solid state to liquid, causing the rivers and creeks to once again pulse with life, reinvigorating both the fish and curious anglers such as myself. I knew suspected making these rounds this early in the year would likely through a wrench in the works, but i would never had predicted the fishing spiral that was about to unfold.
It began on a good note, with the first day of fishing on the infamous San Juan river in northern New Mexico, catching trout on the legendary San Juan worms i’d tied up the night before at the campground. The water was low and the crowds almost comical, but still multiple trout were caught that day, causing me to fall to sleep with images and dreams of fruitful days ahead, traipsing around the mountains landing trout after trout.
The next day however turned out to be the flip side of the coin, endless hours of hiking, wading and casting that wound down at sunset without a single bite having landed on my radar. The third day was more of the same. Downing freeze dried beef stroganoff and red wine that night while collecting my thoughts in the hammock, i decided to hedge my bets and head out first thing in the morning for familiar waters in central Colorado, waters that i was sure would help turn my luck back around.
Unfortunately that turn around never happened. A full day on Cheeseman, hiking far up into the heart of the canyon, nothing. The next day spent casting from behind giant boulders on Eleven Mile, certain that on this extra familiar water SOMETHING…ANYTHING might be landed, but still nothing. Another day on Eleven Mile…nothing.
It was strange, wading through these beautiful trout waters that i knew were teaming with trout stacked like cordwood, but casting endlessly and not even receiving a lethargic bump to let me know they were there. Occasionally my steadfast focus would briefly be broken and i’d look up only to be surrounded by panoramic vistas so drop dead gorgeous that occasionally i would get dizzy from the brown and green angles and the overwhelming sense of grandeur that they generated. Then the gaze was back on the water…staring…focusing…with first frustration setting in, and then eventually a deep malaise that signaled it was time to get back to the family before nature sucked me in and swallowed me up.
Heading south i received a text from a good fishing friend asking how the trip was going, and since the roads in west Texas are long and straight and devoid of distractions, it was easy to text back “Awful…heading back.” I didn’t have to explain what i meant, he’s an angler and his fished those waters, he knew that it was beautiful but that the fishing was obviously off.
Four hours later though, as i pulled into my neighborhood, i purposely pushed the lack of fish to the back of my mind while also pulling visuals of the snow capped Rockies to the forefront. I conjured up images of geese, heron, beaver and deer as i exited the car and walked to the front door, excited to share my amazing adventure with my wife and son.