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Think of this blog as a comfy room in an old hunting shack. A bunch of pot-bellied guys are sitting around a big pot-bellied stove shooting the breeze about our outdoor exploits, some of which may have actually happened. Several dogs of indeterminate lineage are lying around under our feet, and we’re probably having a drink or two.

How was your duck season? Where’d you shoot that big buck? (besides in the shoulder). Got any hero pictures of the monster trout you caught recently? How’s that new dog working out? Got any good turkey or pheasant stories? Any fly patterns you’d like to share? Read any good books about the outdoors lately? Planning any trips to the San Juan? The White? Canada?

That’s what this blog is all about. What this blog is NOT about is POLITICS unless it pertains directly to outdoor sports. I’m sure you’re not interested in my political opinions and I’m not interested in yours.

So pull up a chair. What’s on your mind?

The Opener

opener-illust-_edited-1

This story was published in the September 1999 issue of Wyoming Wildlife magazine. It was awarded first place in the Magazine Humor category of the 2000 OWAA Excellence in Craft Contests.

 

The Opener

To an incurable duck hunting addict, opening day of the season is like no other day. You may have other interests that occupy your time during the rest of the year, but no matter how much you enjoy them, they are, after all, just a way to kill time ‘til duck season.

We all have our own ways of preparing for opening day. I once had a hunting partner who  went into this most important day of the year with no preparation all.

“You mind stopping by a convenience store?” he would ask in the truck as we drove through dark city streets on our way to the interstate. “I need to pick up some donuts or something.”

Once he even uttered those words you never want to hear at 4:30 A.M. on opening morning: “You don’t mind taking a little detour, do you? There’s a place across town that’s open 24/7. I need to pick up a hunting license and some shells.”Needless to say, he’s now my ex-hunting partner.

Such people often use their work as an excuse for this thoughtless behavior.

“I didn’t get home from work ‘til midnight so I didn’t have time to get all my stuff ready.”

I turn a deaf ear to this pathetic whining. You can always find another job, but a ruined opening day is gone forever.

My preparations usually include nausea, diarrhea, irritability, and compulsive rechecking of shells, decoys, and dog paraphernalia. Does my shotgun have the plug in it? Is the automatic coffee maker programmed to fire up at the appropriate time? A.M. not P.M?

I set a minimum of three alarm clocks to ensure that I don’t oversleep, which is ridiculous because I never  sleep at all. If I do happen to fall asleep, I have a  realistic recurring nightmare in which I wake up at 9:00 A.M. in a cold sweat, cursing my malfunctioning alarm clocks.

My long-suffering wife always volunteers to sleep in another room to avoid my tossing and turning. When I get up at four-thirty opening morning I try to be quiet so I won’t wake her as I tippy-toe out to the kennel to let my Lab out. This is pretty dumb on my part. Who could sleep with all that racing around, slobbering, panting and whining going on? And that’s just me! The dog barks, stares at the door, and sometimes pees on the floor in her excitement.

At one time I made a living selling cartoons to a popular men’s magazine that features photographs of attractive young women. At least once a year I would fly to New York from my home in Kansas and have lunch with the magazine’s self-important yuppie cartoon editor. These trips were blatant attempts to suck up to him, not “hoping to catch a glimpse of the bimbos” as my wife’s accusations suggested.

On one such trip the editor explained that each year the magazine throws a big party with lots of free food and drink. All the luscious models featured in the magazine would be there. Would I like to attend this year’s gala as his guest?

I am a normal male human being. While my testosterone level is probably no higher than the next guy’s, I’m sure it’s no lower. This sounded like an occasion I wouldn’t want to miss.

“Sure”, I said. “When is it”?

“November first.”

“Well, in that case, I can’t make it”, I said sadly. “But send me an invitation anyway. I’ll frame it and hang it in my studio”

“Hey, they only give me five,” he said. “I can’t waste one on someone who won’t use it.” He took a sip of his Perrier with a twist of lemon.“What could be so important that it takes precedence over a bash like this?”

I looked him straight in the eye and told it like it was. “That’s opening day of duck season.”

“You mean you’d rather sit in a cold wooden box in a swamp and hope a bird flies by so you can shoot it than go to a party like this?” I thought he was going to spill his Perrier on his tassel loafers

“It’s a tough choice,” I said, “but yes, I’d rather be in a duck blind.”

He shook his head and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling.

“What are you – some kind of weirdo?”

“Yeah. You might say that,” I replied. “I’m a duck hunter.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trout fishing at Lake Taneycomo

It’s always a treat to fish Lake Taneycomo even if the fishing isn’t up to its usual standards. Last week I enjoyed some beautiful Ozarks scenery, ate a great chicken fried steak at Lambert’s (the throwed rolls place), and scarfed down some tasty barbeque at Dana’s.

My life-long buddy Ned Spence and his lady friend were supposed to come up from Oklahoma City and meet me but they took sick and couldn’t make it. I wanted to take a selfy of me holding up a huge trout and email it to him but it didn’t happen, mainly because I didn’t catch any huge trout. In fact I almost didn’t catch any trout at all.

I didn’t see anybody tearing them up Wednesday morning. I did manage to fool one little rainbow with a yellow crackleback. You know it’s slow when you catch one trout and a guy comes over and asks what you’re using.

Thursday morning the fishing Gods smiled upon me and I was rewarded with two small rainbows for my two hour’s work. Actually I shouldn’t call it work because at least I was fishing, the weather was beautiful and I didn’t fall down and drown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Build it and they will come

build-it-illust

This story was first published in the  2005 November/December issue of Wyoming Wildlife News

Let’s get one thing straight right now: building a duck blind is nothing like an ordinary carpentry project. You can’t learn skills like this from a book. They are handed down from father to son, uncle to nephew, or old duck hunter to young duck hunter. True vertical and horizontal?? That’s for sissies. Mitered corners? What are you, some kind of latte-sipping, granola-crunching, tofu-eating civilian?

To build a proper duck blind you must put aside your preconceived notions of what good carpentry should look like. You should even put aside your notions of what lumber should look like. Or all building materials, for that matter. You must learn to think outside the box. In fact you should probably tear up the box and use it in your duck blind. The well-drawn plans you see for blinds in magazines are all hoaxes.

You only BUY lumber for duck blinds as a last resort. The best blinds are fashioned from lumber that was originally intended for other purposes. Remodeling you basement? When you tear out those old studs, save them for your next duck blind. Some blinds are even made from – dare I say it? – stolen materials. I don’t mean actually STOLEN stolen. STOLEN means they were taken from their rightful owners. Say you saw a 4X8 sheet of plywood lying around and you instantly recognized the fact that it would make a perfect roof for your duck blind. So you loaded it into the bed of your pick-up and took it someplace where it would be put to good use. The fact that it was lying around near a construction site is immaterial.

What about tools, you ask? Cordless drills are indispensable, unless you forget to charge up the batteries like I usually do. But in that case you can use the drill as a hammer. If you should happen to have a measuring tape you can also use that as a hammer. In fact you can use any heavy object as a hammer. Remember the old joke about a guy who walked into the hardware store and said “I want a wrench” and when the clerk asked what kind of wrench he said, “Don’t matter. I’m gonna use it for a hammer”? That guy was probably building a duck blind.

What ordinary carpenters call measuring is unnecessary in duck blind carpentry. If you are building your blind on-site you are probably using a chain saw and your cuts will be less than precise. Simply get one of your partners to hold the board  for you and when he says “cut it along about here somewhere” you cut it along about there somewhere, making sure all feet, fingers, and dog noses are safely out of the way.

Imperfections that would drive a real carpenter batty can be an asset to a duck blind. That four inch gap on one end between the door and the floor? No problem. It just makes it easy to relieve yourself without leaving the blind. I’ve probably shot at least fifty ducks in my lifetime with my pants unzipped.

Take that eight foot 2X6 you ripped long-ways with the chain saw so it would plug the three inch gap between the front wall and the southeast corner 4X4. You know, the gap that was left because you didn’t have a tape or pencil to make the measurements you needed so you just “eye-balled it”. You thought you were cutting a straight line, but when you stepped back and looked at it, it looked like an elevation line on a topo map. No problem. It looks more natural this way. Have you ever seen a straight line in nature?

That dog ramp you worked so hard on, the one that juts off the front of the blind at a funny angle. Forget about it. If it looks okay to your dog it’s fine. Besides, this way it looks more like a beaver-chewed log. That’s probably what you wanted but you just didn’t know it.

Corrugated tin from barns and outbuildings makes excellent duck blind material. It is easily attached to a wood framework and is impossible for beavers, muskrats or squirrels to destroy. It is best to wait for the tin to be removed from the buildings by forces of nature such as tornadoes, as removing it yourself can result in animosity from your neighbors and possible legal hassles.

Any job that requires physical exertion makes a man thirsty. A recent scientific study has proven that beer is the best thirst quencher known to man. The fact that all the scientists who participated in the study were beer drinkers is not important. However, a subtle law of physics is at work here: the Law Of Diminishing Returns. If you and your partners consume… say… a case of beer while building your duck blind, it does not necessarily follow that your blind will look twice as good if you consume TWO cases. In all probability it will look worse. But then again, one objective of blind building is to build a blind that does not LOOK like a duck blind, the idea being that it might actually fool a duck or two. In this case beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the beholder is a duck.

When you and your fellow carpenters have finished your blind – and your beer – stand back and take a good look at it. If the floor is level , the walls  perfectly vertical , and the roof straight then you have probably screwed up somewhere. But take heart. A lot of camo in the form of marsh grass, oak limbs or willows  will hide this embarrassing perfection. And after a season or two your blind will sag on one end and have a hole in the floor. Some of your purloined four-by-fours will be sporting beaver notches, and muskrats and raccoons will have left their droppings here and there. Feathers, empty shotgun hulls, and junk food wrappers will litter the floor.

In other words it will look like a respectable duck blind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kansas dove hunt

Thanks to long-time friend Scott Morgan I finally got into a good dove hunt. No limits but enough shooting to make our shoulders sore.

Scott, Roger Harper, photographer Jon Blumb and I hunted an eastern Kansas wheat field Friday afternoon. Hunkering in the shade of  hay bales we expended a humongous amount of ammo and managed to bring down a respectable number of birds. Flights of low-flying Canada geese provided entertainment while we field dressed the birds, then  headed to Baldwin City for drinks and dinner at The Wooden Spoke restaurant.

Roger, Scott and I went back for more the next day. I took my Lab Maggie with me this time for her first dove hunt. Some dogs are reluctant to pick up doves because the feathers come off in their mouths and Maggie was no exception. But when I dropped a bird she marked it down well, making it easier for me to find. Before the end of the day she was retrieving them. Well…sort of.

Maggie did OK for a rookie and  we put six succulent bacon-wrapped dove breasts on the grill, toasted the Spirit Of Migration, and froze another six for later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WOW

 

This story was first published in the September 2006 issue of Wildfowl magazine.

“What is it with these places, anyway?” I asked as we got we got into our car.

My wife and I had been visiting my mother-in-law at a retirement home.

“What do you mean?”

“They’re all so… well… feminine.” I nudged the car out into the stream of traffic and we headed for home.

“The walls are all peach or beige. Doilies everywhere. A man doesn’t feel comfortable in that environment.”

“They’re so feminine because ninety percent of the residents are women”, replied my wife.

“Sure”, I said. “ We work ourselves into early graves trying to keep you ladies happy”. She shot me a hostile glance.

“How would you like them to be tricked out?” she asked. “Wood paneled walls? Spittoons?”

“You bet! Nice dark walnut with a prominent grain. And shiny brass spittoons for the dippers and chewers.”

“Only slightly less disgusting than carrying a paper cup around to spit in like some of your buddies”, she said.

“ And who needs all those wimpy paintings of flowers and Parisian street scenes? “ I was rapidly warming to my subject. “At least one room in the place should have wildlife art on the walls…mallards or pintails coming in with their wings locked. Some mounted teal and wood ducks. And you know what would really set the whole thing off? A big old Canada goose hanging from the ceiling by a piece of monofiliment, right over the dining room table like he was coming in to join us for dinner.”

Carol cringed as she fished around in her purse for a pen. “Do you want me to take notes in case you actually have some input when your time comes?” she asked, only half facetiously.

“Maybe a deer head or two.” I was really getting into it now. “And a moose or elk if there was room.”

“Fish and big game would make it more inclusive”, said Carol, scribbling furiously to keep up with my rapid thought process.

 

As I drove toward home I kept thinking of more things I’d want in my customized retirement home.

“You know those rails they have along the walls for the inmates to hang on to?”

She shot me another glance. “I believe they’re called ‘residents’ or ‘patients’.

“Yeah, residents. Anyway, the rails in this place were obviously fake. Some sort of composition material or plastic. Why couldn’t they be made of nice burled walnut or cherry like a fine old gun stock?”

“That might work”, she replied. I got the impression she was humoring me.

“And speaking of wood”, I said, “A few old decoys sitting around would make me feel more at home. Maybe a pair of Mason snakey head mallards and a nice old Madison Mitchell canvasback…and a big wood burning fireplace for cold weather.” I was on a roll.

“Not one of those fake jobs like they had here, with phony ceramic logs and little blue flames.”

“Probably a risk management factor”, said Carol, always the practical one. I had to give her that one.

My hypothetical retirement home was getting better all the time but something was still missing. When I thought of it I was amazed it had taken me so long. “What would really make us old guys feel at home would be a few muddy dogs laying around on the floor. Say… a Lab in each of the three colors: black, yellow, and chocolate. And a big old yellow-eyed Chessie laying in front of the fireplace licking his…. well… licking himself, and growling at anyone who tried to pet him.”

We drove in silence for a while until Carol asked. “What would you call this place?” I was glad she was at least pretending to go along with me.

“I don’t know”, I said. “I haven’t gotten that far yet.”

“How about ‘Geezers Galore”?

“Now you’re making fun of me”, I said as we turned into our driveway. “Okay…. what about… say… Worn Out Waterfowlers?”

“Well”, I said, “it does lend itself to a catchy acronym. WOW”.

I opened the door and let her go inside ahead of me. I briefly thought of myself as the cautious buck allowing the doe to enter the danger zone first.

“I can see the promo material now” I said. “ A grizzled old duck hunter with a droopy white mustache sitting before the fireplace in a rocking chair…”

“Licking his…” interrupted Carol.

“No no”, I said. “That’s the Chessie. Anyway, he’s wearing a rumpled old brown Jones hat like they used to wear before camo, and a plaid wool shirt. He’s got a glass of bourbon in one hand …”

“With a mallard or a Lab’s head engraved on the side”, chimed in Carol.

“Now you’re getting it”, I said, delighted. “And he’s petting his old white- muzzled retriever whose head is resting on his knee. And there’s a wooden decoy, riddled with shot holes, sitting on the hearth.”

She had the big picture now. “And he has an ammo belt looped over his shoulder, only instead of shotgun shells, the loops are full of suppositories.”

“Come on”, I said. “Get serious.”

“Sorry”, she said. “I got carried away. Anyway, the headline could read, “When it’s time to case the old pump gun, Come to WOW and spend your golden years with guys like yourself, reminiscing about those hallowed days in field and marsh, surrounded by the things you’ve always loved.”

“WOW!” I said. “I think you’ve got it!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just One Of The Guys

This story from the September 2008 issue of Wildfowl Magazine was awarded 1st place in the 2009 Magazine Humor category of the  OWAA Excellence In Craft Contest. 

I first noticed a difference in Bob the day I rode with him in his pickup truck to a big sporting goods store to take advantage of a preseason sale. Bob had been an over-the-road trucker at one time and could handle anything from an eighteen-wheeler to the dinkiest subcompact, yet he seemed to be having trouble parallel parking. He backed and filled and backed and filled some more until finally he gave up and left the truck at a funny angle, quite a ways from the curb.

I didn’t think any more about it until one day, about a week into duck season, we were sitting in the blind, killing time and trying to decide whether to bail out or give it one more hour. It was one of those days when the ducks weren’t flying and about all there was to do was drink coffee, pet the dog, and shoot the breeze. I could tell something was on Bob’s mind.

“There’s something I have to tell you and the other guys”, he said.

I figured he was going to say he was changing jobs or maybe had a health problem.

“I’ve had an operation”, he said.

Naturally I’m thinking gall bladder, appendectomy, the usual stuff. I was totally unprepared for what came next.

“Oh?” I asked. “”You doing OK now?”

”Oh yeah,” he said, sipping his coffee. “I’m fine. But you don’t understand. I’ve had a…well… I’m not Bob any more. I’m Bobbi Sue.”

It didn’t hit me immediately, probably because I was in shock. “You mean….” I fumbled for the right words. “You’ve had one of those… those… whatchacallits?…”

“ You got it”, replied Bob. “ I’ve had a sex change operation. But I don’t want it to change anything as far as our duck hunting is concerned. I just want everybody to keep thinking of me as one of the guys. In fact, if you’d like, you can keep calling me Bob instead of Bobbi Sue.”

Well, let me tell you, it’s awfully hard to think of a guy who is 6’3”, weighs 240, and chews tobacco as Bobbi Sue.

“How is Alice taking this?” I asked. This had to be quite a shock to his wife.

“You mean Al?”

“Oh Lordy, no”, I muttered, with my head in my hands. I was starting to have trouble dealing with this.

“When I left the house she… I mean he, was lying on the couch drinking beer, belching, and watching NASCAR on TV”

Bob continued to hunt with our group all season and there were no major problems. He was a likeable guy and a good, safe hunter, which is about all we require in a hunting partner. But as the season wore on we began to notice a few subtle changes. Once, when we drove out-of-state for a guided duck hunt, we got lost and Bob cheerfully volunteered to go into a service station and ask directions.

Something else was different, too. The rest of us just sort of voluntarily started cleaning up our language when Bob was around. One morning when a flock of teal buzzed our decoys and I never even had time to get off a shot I found myself saying, “My goodness! Those little fellows are certainly fast, aren’t they.”

We noticed some other changes, too. When nature called, Bob started getting out of the blind and walking back to our trailer to use the bathroom. In fact he once drove all the way into town and back. And, when it was my turn, I started going as far away from the blind as possible and hiding behind a tree.

And later, after the hunt was over and the guns were put away, when the rest of us had a beer, Bob would sip a glass of white wine. Once he even asked for a Singapore Sling but nobody knew how to make one.

About once a month Bob got sort of cranky but we just overlooked it and tried to stay out of his way till he felt better. And you wouldn’t believe some of the things he started carrying in his blind bag.

So, aside from these minor changes, Bob is pretty much the same. He looks about like he always did, if you can ignore the occasional touch of lip-gloss and eye shadow. He still chews tobacco in the blind but he doesn’t spit the juice on the floor anymore, and I can’t remember him breaking wind once all season.

We’re already looking forward to September and teal season. It’ll probably be ninety degrees, sweat will be rolling off the rest of us, and the dogs’ tongues will be hanging out. Someone will look over at Bob and say, “Aren’t you sweating, Bob?” and he’ll say, “No, but I’m perspiring a little.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No River For Old Men

No river

This story was first published in the August 2009 issue of Wyoming Wildlife magazine. It was awarded the  Best Magazine Humor award  in the 2010 Magazine Humor contest of the Outdoor Writers Association of America Excellence In Craft Contests. 

My buddy Ned was ecstatic. “Can you believe it? There’s nobody here but us!”

Ned had parked my truck at a campground. I had let him drive because the grandkids had taken my car keys away. They said I was just an accident waiting to happen. We had walked about a half mile downstream to a popular “honey hole”. It was usually crowded but today we seemed to have it all to ourselves.

Ned tweezered a #18 elk hair caddis out of his fly box and handed it to me.

“Can you tie this on for me?”, he asked, “ I can hardly see it.”

“Sorry”, I said. “I forgot my bifocals”. I thought I was wearing them but obviously I was not. I started wondering what I had done with them but couldn’t remember.

“Then how are we going to fish if neither of us can see how to tie on a fly?”

“We’ll just have to use bigger flies”, I explained. “Like maybe #8 hoppers. But it’s a mootpoint because we can’t fish here anyway”.Ned stared at me, stunned. “What do you mean, we can’t fish here?”

“Look, Ned….” I sat down on a log. My back was already starting to ach from the hike in.

“Like you said, Ned, there’s nobody here but us. We’re both seventy years old. What if we fall down and can’t get back up out of the water? What if we slip on a slick, moss-covered rock and go tumbling downstream? There’s nobody here to help us.”

Ned is dumb enough to hang around with me but he’s not totally brain dead yet.

“I never thought of it that way”, he said, rubbing the gray stubble on his chin. “I gotta admit you may have a point”.

“The only reason I agreed to walk all the way in here was because I thought there would be other people fishing here”, I told him. I could see by the look on his face that I was going to have to explain my theory in detail to him. “At our age we can’t just wade into the water and start flinging flies around like we did when we were twenty-five or thirty. Or even forty or fifty. First we need to find what I call a geezer-friendly venue.”

Ned leaned against a tree and stared longingly at the river where a few trout were sipping emergers in the surface film while I continued to expound on my theory.

“What if there’s a mixture of young guys and old guys?” asked Ned.

“That probably means it’s okay. But we should study the water carefully before we wade in. The old guys we see fishing may just be too dumb to realize they’re in danger. Age is no guarantee of wisdom.”

“But if we do decide to give it a try, we should fish upstream from the young guys so they can fish us out if we lose our balance and go floating downstream”, said Ned, warming to my theory.

“You catch on quick”, I said.

“What?” said Ned.

“I SAID “YOU CATCH ON QUICK”, I yelled. “Sit down here on the log beside me so you can hear what I’m saying…. Now where was I?

“You were explaining your theory to me”, said Ned. “Something about fishing where there are young guys around.”

“Oh yeah”, it was starting to come back to me now. “But having young guys around is no guarantee, because if the fishing is really hot – say there’s a terrific hatch on – the young guys may just keep fishing as we go floating by, gurgling and screaming. In fact they may get mad at us for putting the fish down, like we used to do when old guys went floating past us.”

I pulled my collapsible wading staff – which I now called my “ geezer stick” – from its holster on my belt and leaned against it to help me stand up. We started walking back toward the truck, then remembered the truck was in the opposite direction, so we turned around and walked the other way while I filled Ned in on some of the finer points of my theory.

“Those little pockets in your vest… don’t fill them all up with flies, tippet material, leaders, and other fishing stuff. Save some for pills, salves, suppositories, and any other meds that might come in handy on the stream.”

Ned nodded  in agreement.

“And one other thing”, I added. “When you’re just smoking everybody else on the river and some young whipper-snapper asks you what you’re using, just say “Fifty years of experience, Sonny.”

When we got back to the truck I found my bifocals in the glove box, right where I had put them. I pulled out my river map and we started looking for a place on the river that would be suitably crowded for guys our age. In other words, a geezer-friendly venue. We’d head out right after our nap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How we found Lost Lake

Lost Lake

This story was published in Wyoming Wildlife magazine in March 2006.

It was 1970 and I was driving my new Bronco home from the dealership. My first four wheel drive! No longer would I be confined to the road, forced to fish where others fished. Now I could go ANYWHERE! Bear in mind this was before the SUV craze. Now, in the twenty-first century, it seems everyone has 4WD. But in 1970 if you wanted to fish any distance from a road you usually had to [gasp!] walk.

Our annual family vacation out west would be coming up soon. We always stayed for ten days at a “guest ranch” located on a state highway. Until now my father-in-law and I had done most of our fishing close to a black top road. In fact the highway paralleled the river for several miles. The roadside was public access but we had permission to fish the private water on the other side. But those little blue spots on the topo maps, high mountain lakes up where the elevation lines were close together, had always beckoned seductively to us. Small streams with names like Little Alder Creek, Lime Spring Branch, Dead Man Run … names that fairly screamed I AM FULL OF TROUT… all these places and more would now be accessible to us.

I began to subscribe to off-road magazines with cover photos of Jeeps, Broncos, and Land Cruisers high in the air, bouncing at high speeds off huge boulders. I could never get enough of those photos of off-road trucks with huge, aggressive tires, roll bars, and jerry cans of extra gasoline strapped to the rear.

I sent away to state game and fish departments for maps, brochures about National Forests, anything I could find that would enlarge our list of remote fishing spots. Doc and I studied them for hours, looking for exotic, hard-to-reach lakes and streams that would be ideal for day trips. We needed places where we could leave early in the morning, arrive at the chosen lake or stream, fish for several hours, then return in time for dinner. This was after all a family vacation. No sense unnecessarily antagonizing the women folk, who would be left all day to care for the children.

One of the many things I loved about my father-in-law was that he had somehow hung onto that boyish quality that most sixty-five year olds have long sense lost. I marveled at how a man thirty years my senior could get as excited as a small boy.

After much discussion we chose a small body of water with the enticing name of Lost Lake. The name reverberated through our fish brains like a number ten Royal Coachman being snapped off on a bad back cast. Lost Lake appeared to nestle snugly in a small meadow between two ten thousand foot peaks. The lake apparently covered about twenty acres and was just remote enough to make it interesting. Actually it wasn’t “off road” in the strictest sense. According to the legend on the Forest Service map we would leave the highway a few miles from our guest ranch and travel steeply up-hill about fifteen miles on a winding solid black line which indicated a gravel road. The solid black line would then become a dotted line indicating a Jeep trail. In other words there would be no one there who DIDN’T HAVE FOUR WHEEL DRIVE! Or maybe a horse.

Giddy with anticipation, we got up early the next morning, packed our tackle and lunch and headed for the high country. On the way we discussed our plan of attack. The trout in Lost Lake, probably native cutthroats or brookies, would be very shy, having never seen a human before. We would have to stop and rig up quite a ways from the water, then crawl on our bellies through the grass and, without getting too close, lob our flys onto the water, then wait for the unsuspecting trout to fight each other to see who could reach the tasty morsel first. We should also keep our eyes peeled for bears and the occasional mountain lion.

Our excitement grew as the road turned to gravel. We rolled the windows down so we could smell the cool mountain air. As we approached the fifteen-mile mark I checked to see if I knew how to engage 4WD as I had never actually done it before. Doc began to think aloud about which fly we should try first, a hopper pattern or a Rio Grand King.

Fifteen miles of gravel road came and went… and we were still on gravel. “So what?” I thought. The fifteen-mile distance was only an approximation. We’d be hitting that Jeep trail any minute. Probably just around the next hairpin curve.

I glanced at the odometer. “We’ve been on gravel for twenty-five miles now”, I said. Doc puzzled over the map in silence as we rounded one more curve and ascended higher and higher into the mountains, the smooth gravel road lined on both sides by tall pines and aspens. Something didn’t seem right.

The exact moment when you learn your plans have gone awry is not always apparent. Sometimes it creeps up on you. But not this time. A little girl, no more than ten years old, came roaring around the next curve toward us on a tiny motor scooter, her blond ponytail flying out behind her. She waved as she sped downhill past us and we rounded the curve and saw, for the first time, Lost Lake.

“Check the map again”, said Doc. “Maybe this isn’t it”.

I stopped the Bronco and grabbed the map off the console and stared at it.

“It’s gotta be”, I said. “But what happened to the Jeep trail? We could have driven up here in your Buick!”

A wooden Forest Service sign near the shore confirmed the bad news. This was, unfortunately, Lost Lake.

The lake was indeed nestled between two high peaks. And the scenery was beautiful. But the near side was lined with motor homes and camper trailers, some apparently pulled by low-slung family sedans. Fords, Chevvies, and Caddies. Someone had set up a net and two families were playing a heated game of badminton. The metallic clang of horseshoes hitting a post could be heard above the sound of several boom boxes in noisy competition with one another. Small children floated and splashed on inner tubes and colorful plastic rafts near the shore. Senior citizens rested in aluminum lawn chairs along the bank. Some of them dozed or read newspapers, their casting rods propped in forked sticks in front of them. Another child raced past us on a motor scooter and several boys zoomed about on bicycles. A toddler stood in a playpen as his mom sipped a can of beer and rigged up a heavy casting rod with prepared trout bait on a treble hook. I looked down at the nearby shore and saw one small dead rainbow trout, floating belly-up in the water, impaled on a large metal stringer secured to a tackle box.

The far shore of Lost Lake was steeper than this side but only slightly less congested. The newly graveled road completely encircled the lake and campgrounds full of happy campers were marked with neat wooden signs. One man appeared to be changing the oil in his Plymouth. A launching ramp at the far end was crowded with boats and trailers, some just now launching, others coming out. Several fishermen in boats appeared to be dozing on the water’s surface.

A green Fish and Game department pick-up rolled slowly toward us on the gravel road, stirring up a white cloud of caliche dust. The game warden was coming from the launching ramp where he had apparently been checking licenses and bag limits. He pulled his truck along side my Bronco.

“Why so glum, Fellas?” he asked, giving us a friendly smile. “It’s a great day to be out and about.”

I showed him our map and asked him about the Jeep trail.

“Oh, that”, he said, handing the map back to me. That’s the old 1963 map. He reached into the glove compartment and handed us a crisp, neatly folded new one.

“Take this one”, he offered. “This road was graveled clear to the lake two years ago. The county grades it and re-gravels it often because as you can see it gets a lot of traffic.” He opened the pick-up door, got out and leaned against the Bronco fender.

“If you plan to fish I’ll check your licenses if you don’t mind”.

Doc and I looked at one another. We had fished together long enough to read each other’s minds.

“Nope”, I said. “I think we’ll just try to get in on the badminton game.”

“Or maybe pitch some horse shoes”, added Doc.