“Wait! I want to slide off on the boat!” I called as my dad readied to tip the old boulder boat off the trailer and into the icy waters of the River. “Okay, hurry and hop in!” My dad called back. I climbed into the boat and waved good-bye to my mom as she watched us spill into the water.
Honestly, sliding in a boat from off the back of a trailer is a little more scary than it looks, but a lot of fun. I hate to compare the wonderful world of nature to a ride at an amusement park, but falling off the back of a trailer riding a drift boat is kind of like a mini jolt of when the roller coaster starts to take off. My dad chuckled at me as I shook off my surprise and settled into the seat. I rotated my seat to slightly face my dad.
“Don’t mock me.” I playfully scorned. My dad’s chuckle died off and he gestured to the oars. “I’ve been thinking, Mij. You’re old enough to have the strength to start rowing me down. What do ya say? Ya wanna row your old man down the River?” he offered, releasing the oars from his hold.
I’d actually tried rowing before but it had been on the lake. I couldn’t coordinate my strength very well when I tried it, but the experience wasn’t horrible. By the end I was able to make a smooth, straight power stroke. I figured I’d give it another shot.
“Sure. Why not? But you’ll take over if we get in any trouble, right?” I asked. My dad nodded. “Of course. I’ll guide you through it all, don’t worry,” he assured me. I nodded and we switched seats. I gripped the long oar handles in my palms and took a deep breath. At first, I was having some trouble, but it actually didn’t take long for me to coordinate my right and left arms. I was doing it! I was rowing! I was pretty confident in myself…until we approached a more technical rapid. “Do you wanna take over?” I asked my dad, but he shook his head.
“You can do it,” he assured me, “I’ll even walk you through it.” I nodded shakily, and re-positioned my grip on the oars.
“Okay, first, you’re gonna point the boat left,” my dad instructed. I swung the boat to point left and looked to him for further direction.
“Okay good, now just wait a moment,” he directed. I tensed, mentally preparing myself. The rapid was known as “Mother-in-Law” for its infamous need for perfect precision… Like a mother in law… Or so I’ve heard. The rapid was a series of moderate waves leading into a hallway between a large rock that was known for eating rafts (including the seat tube that was currently attached to it) and a flat rock wall that exited through a few more larger waves. The rapid was nerve-racking enough with someone as experienced as my dad – who rows better than he walks.
Seriously, he never touches a rock, but can’t go a week without stubbing his toes – thank you Simms for the closed-toed sandals, I salute you for keeping him out of a wheelchair. The thought of me, a first-timer, doing this was absolutely terrifying.
I took a breath and held it as I progressed the first wave. I huffed as I steered the boat into the watery hallway of rock and mountain. I stood up to urge the left oar forward in order to avoid the rock wall, but felt my feet slip out from under me as I did so. I quickly pushed my right oar forward so that the boat faced straight before my rump slammed into the foot pedal for the anchor. I yelped as my head whipped back, colliding lightly against my cushioned seat. I scrambled back up to grab the oars but quickly realized I had made the perfect stroke to ride through the waves. Breathing heavily, I turned to my dad for a response. We both burst out laughing both at my fall and in excitement that I had just nailed one of the hardest rapids on the River’s first section.
“Hey!” An older voice called from another boat to the side of us. My dad and I turned to see an old man in fishing gear and a fishing rod in his hand give me a thumbs up. “You can have any boy you want now. That was awesome.” My dad and I looked at each other and burst out in laughter again. I turned back to the man and gave him a thumbs up. “Thanks man!” I called. He winked at me as I got a hold of the oars again.
My dad decided I was good enough at rowing for him to flyfish while I commanded our miniature ship. “Hey, Dad, how old were you when you started rowing?” I asked as I turned the boat on an angle so I could see ahead of me better.
“Oh, I was probably about 12 when Grandpa started having me row him down,” he replied while making a cast. He chuckled a little like he had remembered a memory of when he was young… Which he had. “You know, when I was getting started, one of the oars hit a rock underneath the water and it swung the boat in a 180 and knocked Aunt Miranda off the boat.” He said, laughing as he told it.
“Wait, really? That’s super funny,” I commented, laughing myself.
“Oh, and this other time we had Aunt Ellie in the front of the boat, Grandpa rowing the boat – I was on the floor – and we went through Bridge Rapid when the water was super high and we hit a big wave that sent Aunt Ellie over my head and into Grandpa, and out the back of the boat he went,” Dad doubled over laughing as he finished, making me laugh too. He told me a few other fishing stories, including a time he and his Grandpa Harold caught a seagull by accident – a bird I didn’t even know lived around here – before he told me to pull over on the shore. I did so with a few powerful strokes and put the anchor down. “Let’s fish for a minute, yeah?” my dad said, drawing a wide smile from my face.
“Yes!” I gushed, jumping out of the boat and grabbing a fishing rod.
My dad and I walked far upstream, away from our boat before we picked a spot. I found a rock by the bank and cast the rod. Up. Pause. Forward. Wait. We watched the fly as it bobbed downstream, looking to catch a fish’s eye. It didn’t. I tried once more to no avail. Stripping up the fly so it wouldn’t hook any rocks, my dad and I walked upstream until we found a spot we thought might be good. I repeated the previous tactics as I settled on a rock by the flowing water. Sighing in disappointment as I was met with the same result as a few minutes ago, my dad set his hand on my shoulder. “Hey, don’t be discouraged, you’re doing everything just right. Let’s try again more upstream, and then we’ve probably got to go.” I nodded and smiled, letting him know I believed his words. We walked upstream a few more yards and stopped in a good spot where the fast water swirled with slow pockets.
I cast on the edge of the fast water and watched the fly as it quickly rode the seam. I nearly cast it again when the fly went under the water and I knew it had entered the trout’s mouth. I hoisted the rod upwards and laughed joyfully as my assumptions were correct. I had a big old fish on.
“Did you get one?” Dad asked, perking up.
“Yep! And he’s a big one too, holy cow!” I exclaimed, using my hips to steady the rod since my weak wrists couldn’t do it themselves. I stepped over the uneven rocks as I followed the big fish downstream. I was not gonna lose this big boy. I nearly tripped, but I kept the focus I wasn’t using on the fish on my feet placement. I fought him for the longest time, the big guy not wanting to give up. Jerking the rod right, I added side pressure, and led the fish towards the shore. Finally, we got him in a rock forest with micro pools weaving in and out of rocks for him to breathe in. He was a huge, thick lug of a fish, but a beautiful brown trout. The fish was a German/Lochleven mix, sort of a mutt. His true beauty was found in his imperfection. I tried to get my hand around his body to hold him up for a quick video and to release him properly, but the big brown was too thick for me to wrap my hand around. My hand didn’t fit around the fish! I chuckled frustratedly and waited as my dad showed me how to hold him: with a thumb and forefinger gripped tightly around the tail, and the other cupping its body like a cushioned porch swing in my grandma’s backyard. It took me a few tries to get it right, but when I did, the video turned out great and I’d say it was a successful release. My dad and I high-fived our wet hands and laughed joyously together.
“Awesome job, Mij, that was great!” he said excitedly.
I nodded vigorously, “Thanks! That was awesome, he was so big!” I exclaimed, horribly estimating the size of the fish with my hands.
My dad laughed at my feeble attempt and checked his phone. “Oh, we better go, Mom’ll be waiting for us if we stick around any longer.”
I nodded and we attentively raced back to the boat. We both jumped in, this time Dad taking over the oars performing his version of a rower’s power walk.
We were just a few minutes late to the ramp, but fortunately we were able to slide right in. I jumped out onto the ramp and pulled the boat so that it was secured against the concrete and greeted my mom halfway up the ramp.
“Hey,” she waved, “how was it?” I stopped a few feet away from her and nodded. “It was pretty good, I caught a huge fish and Dad had me row,” I said, holding my hands on my hips. Mom looked surprised.“Really? Wow, that’s awesome,” she congratulated.
Dad nodded, coming up behind me. “Yep. She did pretty well,” Dad said.“She even fell on her butt, huh?”
I elbowed him in the stomach and he shook my shoulder, chuckling and pulling me in close. “Yeah, but she did catch a big brown trout! Sucker was huge, wasn’t he?”
I nodded.“Heck yeah! He was so thick, I couldn’t even get my hand around him!” I exclaimed. Mom laughed and put her hands on her hips.“That sounds like fun. Why don’t you tell me on the way home?”
Article written by Mij Feathersby, courtesy of Ryan Kelley @greenriverflyfisher. Journaling daily walks around the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Faith, Family, and getting kids outside.