Its three minutes into our fishing day and I already can’t stop grinning. I just watched my friend, Jess, shove all of her fly fishing necessities in around the diapers and baby paraphernalia in her diaper bag/back pack– as if it were a last minute thought. The symbolism makes me giggle- fly gunk, rolls of tippet, strike indicators and a box of flies cuddling with butt paste and pacifiers- these things can co-exist.
With baby Bailey riding comfortably in her first pack ride, we lace up our wader boots and start to wade through the river, which glides easily through this stretch. I take my eyes from the river and glance down at what I have in my hands: a bouncy saucer, fly rod, baby blanket, and a bottle of wine in a fly pack….I desperately hope someone drives by to see this.
I look back at the goat, Doc, who Jess brought because he is the “smartest” in her crew of pack goats (who follow her around like she is their beloved-life-preserving mother). If Jess gets more than 100 ft. away from the goats, they will all frantically run to catch up with her. We both desperately miss our favorite fly fishing dogs, whom have either passed away or are retired from the river.
So instead, we brought a goat… It made a lot of sense in our minds eye.
I had pictured Doc trailing behind us on the river, bringing us water and carrying baby gear in stride- but his journey was short lived as he only made it about 200 ft.. We approached a side channel that is about 1 ft. deep and 2 ft. wide. Doc stops and stares at it- he can’t muster the strength to walk through it. Apparently goats are afraid of water (minor over-looked detail). So there he stands, pretending to eat, while contemplating his love for Jess and his fear of water simultaneously. Jess says we probably should have brought the dumbest goat instead.
But can goats even swim? I just pictured the dumbest goat floating down stream, terrified and yelping loudly, while trying to hoof its way through the rapids. Note to self: next time bring the dumbest goat and design a goat life jacket with a rope attached to it. Or hire an assistant/babysitter that is a human. These are the things I think about.
We make it across the river and find a rocky spot near a bend that will surly hold some nice fish. With a pleasant view of the goat (or what we re-named ‘Wolf-Bait’), and Jess nursing Bailey on a log, I decide to set up my fly rod with a hopper dropper scenario, and then have a glass of wine in the coffee cups I snagged at the gas station previously- (just because we are celebrating our strangeness and friendship).
Only moments after the nursing and wine sipping ceased, I start to unhook my hopper dropper to cast, and look up to see a storm cloud rising up from behind the mountains like a wicked peek-a-boo master (?those are bad by the way?). Normally, without a baby and a terrified goat, we would have just fished anyways or hidden under a tree until the storm passed; but passing a storm with a baby and a weak-willed goat is never a good idea, even we know that (our ideas haven’t been the best today).
North Idaho as experienced severe thunderstorms lately, with tornado-like tendencies to break off trees or produce unexpected hail storms and lightning strikes. It was only last week that Jess was driving and had to run for cover at her neighbor’s house to watch the trees in her driveway be mauled by an angry storm. So needless to say, we freaked out, slightly over-reacted, grabbed our baby gear and waded back towards Doc.
Doc thought we were coming back to him because we were worried about the stress he was going through with all of his life decisions- we let him think that and took a few pictures with him. The river is right next to me, my fly rod is rigged up, but we are walking back to the truck. Its like telling a kid in a toy store not to touch a single thing!
The storm cloud comes closer and we try to figure out where we will ride it out- sizing up the trees that could fall and the possibilities of immanent danger. Bailey is cooing and the goat is 1 ft. from his master at every moment. Jess busts out her camp chair to nurse again and I decide to fish while we wait for “the storm to hit”.
From the river, I look up at Jess- she is nursing a baby constantly, her fly rod is not even set up, her dense goat is sitting inches from her face- and yet she is just smiling. She loves being outside and doing something weird, something brave, anything but constantly being at home wrangling kids and cleaning- I get it. I’m glad to have someone weird like me around.
A truck rolls by slowly and we wave-
Ya, it’s a goat, a pile of baby gear, a nursing mom, a fly fishing woman, and a thunderstorm on the horizon. We are like one of those bizarre post cards you buy because they are so random, but you don’t have the guts to send it to anyone because they most likely won’t get the irony and will know for certain now that you are weird.
I catch a wild rainbow on a dry fly and hold it high over my head so ‘mama goat master’ can see it. She yells down,
“I just want to see them- even just watching someone cast is making me so happy”.
I yell back,
“I love the smell of fish slime!”. (Freaks)
The weather report, which we are not even sure is for our area, says: “chance of dangerous storms” so we pack up quickly and head in the opposite direction of the storm- running to find another river to be weird at. We make it to a small town and pretend to yell to the civilians that the storm is coming!!! But then just keep driving (no I only had one glass of wine, this is how I normally act- get your head out of the gutter).
We check the weather Doppler online and the storm has passed us with minimal rain and no wind- so we laugh about how we just wasted an hour of fishing and decide to head to another river that we are curious about. The sky is blue and beautiful (could be the calm before the storm?! We are storm-paranoid). The river reminds us of a stretch in Alaska on the Nushgak river, called ‘The Landing’. It is quiet, like Alaska in the fall and we both smile again, thankful for this quick reminder of some of our glory days in AK.
Jess nurses again…I’m not kidding. Someone give this woman a medal or a wet nurse.
I throw out a fly that was sent to me- it is an elk hair caddis with a tinge of dark and purple sparkle underneath it. I notice some pilings in the water with a steep decline behind it, and slower water above it; I cast up to hit the end of the slow water and then let it drift through the riffle and bob around the pilings and downstream. On only my third cast, I get a hit and set the hook to play it in. It fights the line for a bit and I bring it in carefully without a net. I think it’s a rainbow, but after further examination with Jess, we decide it’s a Cutt-Bow (Do you agree?). Its thick and beefy so I hold it in my hands for a couple of pictures and lower it down into the water to watch it swim away…I love watching them swim away- there is something beautiful about it.
I try to take a turn with Bailey, but she is getting sleepy. Jess casts about five times and then comes over to re-assess Bailey’s needs. We take the bouncer out to an island of sorts that rests above some slack water. A jet boat comes in and all of the men are looking over at us throughout their whole process of loading their boat on the trailer and pulling away. Yes, we have a baby on an island…Take a picture, it will last longer. One of those things I always wished I could remember to say in the moment! I guess I really do enjoy confusing people though- I just smiled and waved. I’ll probably talk to a counselor about this desire to weird people out.
I cast a few times and finally get my fly to float correctly through the mash up of river-meeting-slack water-meeting confluence water…and wamo- I get another one on. It’s bigger this time. I move upstream a bit to try to get the fish to stay in the slower water, versus headed down stream and it shakes off of my fly. I’m grinning incessantly- there are some big fish feeding here this early evening!
Jess has just put Bailey in the bouncy saucer that I hauled over, and I look past her to see ominous dark clouds hovering to the North of us. I point to it and start to reel in to go discuss our storm-fleeing plans. Another trout goes for my fly and I catch it on accident. Man this is hard to walk away from.
We decide to fish closer to the truck in case “the big storm” approaches; the second we get to it, winds start to gust and the baby blanket rolls down the rocks. I grab it and we secure everything in the back. The goat is gloating in terror in its doggy kennel and the baby falls right asleep after we tie her in her car seat.
“Maybe we should stay here? If the winds come, we don’t want to be trapped driving out of this canyon”. I suggest, like I saw on an episode of Storm Chasers.
We sit there for a minute and Jess puts the truck in drive like a boss and flies up the mountain. A tourist couple is slowly making their way down the hill in their little Subaru. We laugh at them- just wait till this storm hits, they will wish they wouldn’t of gone down there.
We get to the top and the wind isn’t even blowing, the clouds are hardly noticeable, and rain is pattering ever so lightly on our windows. Come on storm- we left a killer fishing spot, the least you could do is blow a few trees down behind us?
We end up at a Bar and Grill in Bonners Ferry, famished from all of the storm running. The waitress asks if we want to sit outside and I say,
“Ya, until the storm comes, then we will move inside”.
The waitress looked at me oddly and seated us outside. We spend a solid three hours laughing, chatting, nursing, and making fishing plans…and the storm did not come.
You can call us ‘Extreme Strange Storm Runners’ versus ‘Fly fisher women’ today- we’ve earned that title by outrunning the storms while lugging around our adorable thirsty baby and her gear, our wolf-bait & water terrified goat, and enjoying a fishing trip that didn’t have much fishing.
It was a good time I tell you, a good time!
If this is not an awkward adventure, I don’t know what is. If we can do it- you can too!