It was the 21st. May 21st. Day one of the end of the world. My bags were already packed to go fishing, unaware that this could be the last day. What a day to spend fishing though, right? Onward to the high country, 10,000’+ to be exact (yes, New Mexico has those too). All year my flabby x-mas muscles have been yelling at me to do some more extreme hiking than walking 50′ (or more than a mile) from my car. My newly arrived spare tire was also a big reminder that I needed to get up and go, taunting me with future fat jokes.
The time was 4:00 am. Just enough time to make it and hike down by sunrise. That would happen in a perfect world, thank goodness that things are never perfect. After a 3 hour drive over a road that should never be driven over in a car, I arrived at the “pitchfork”. From what I have heard, the section of water below “probably hasn’t been fished in 50 years”. I used the trail and hiked 1.5 miles into the canyon with so much excitement, I might as well have been skipping, I was already singing whatever song popped into my head. If a man is singing in the forest and no one is around to see him, does he make a sound? The wind was howling through the trees and I couldn’t hear if I was approaching the river. On a side note, this hurricane force wind stuff is really starting to get on my nerves. As the wind rang through my head, I repeated, “one more turn, it’s just around the corner”. There it was. Beaming in all of it’s glory. Showing granite floors through crystalline water. I sat down on a rock to catch my breath and peel the camelback, which seemed to take up a permanent residence, from my back.
This place was a utopia for me as well as the fish and as I began to flip rocks, it seemed to say oppositely for the fish. Rock after rock, the river was devoid of a food source. After a couple of seconds of having my hands in the water I realized the river had taken a very cold turn. There is only one way to fish cold water… That’s right, tiny zebra midges. When I caught the first fish of the day on my first cast I felt like I was in the know. I fished up the river for 3 more miles. Three miles from where the trail ended. 3 miles of nearly virgin river. 3 miles of no sign that a human had been there since the migration barriers were set in place. Maybe that guy was right about this river.
There is only one other place in the world that I have physically stepped on a fish, the San Juan. I didn’t do it on purpose, there are just so many fish there. Here was also the case. Too many fish. They were small, but very healthy for the most part and changed colors as did the river bottom. Usually, the color of a fish can tell you where it came from in NM. These fish had all sorts of oddities. Mostly they looked like they were wearing a black blindfold.
I was surprised with the amount of browns, not a Rainbow or cutthroat to be found. Then I saw a black back deep within a run. With a cast upstream the fly began drifting directly toward my hopeful goal. All of the sudden from nowhere fish began darting out to take my fly. It was hard not setting the hook, but I couldn’t afford to spook that fish lurking in the shadows. As the fly passed through the gauntlet of incoming fish taking and spitting the fly, the shadow took notice, turned left, and I set the hook. Sweet success. A rainbow trout. This fish was typical of the area. Deeply colored with an almost black underbelly and obviously washed down from the even higher sub-alpine.
At the apex of my hike, I remembered that today might be the end of the world. What if it happened and I was the only one left. I wouldn’t know. Alone in the mountains is not the place to be in the know about what is going on in society. The sound of the river was almost deafening and thoughts were allowed to seep in. Back to the car, back to a possibly empty city. When I made it back to the actual trail I remembered how steep the incline was to get down, now I had to travel back up. 1.5 miles, 1700 feet closer to the sun.
Going into the trip, I knew it was purely a scouting trip for early July. Just to fish the section of water I was going to miss on my way to my actual destination, 10 miles from where I hiked this day. A day to remember, the day the apocalypse never happened… again.
Lesson #8: When people make signs on a trail, ignore them. They fill your head with false hopes.