On Big Creek Time

Photo: Casey Jones; Location: Not Big Creek, but the sentiment is the same.

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10:05 AM – My raft scrapes into the small landing upstream of the creek. The two guests in the bow of my boat are motionless, bamboo fly rods gripped in hand. 

“This is it. This is Big Creek.”
“Well, it doesn’t look very big.”
“Maybe the name is for the trout, not the water.”

This gets them moving. As they clamber up the creek-side trail, I eye my own fly rod. I have an hour. The sky is a brilliant, early July Idaho blue. It’s day five of a six-day trip. I could easily lie down on the deck of my boat and sleep. I could do my guide duties and follow the bobbing bamboo rods up the path. I grab a puck of flies left at the put-in by the man I’ve been chasing all summer. “Flyagra these betches” says the label. I grab a foam fly dubbed with red UV, half-hazardly tie it onto my kinked leader and sprint my ass up the trail.

10:17 – Idaho can be ugly sometimes. It can be snowy and gray, it can be covered in wildfire smoke, it can be damp or blisteringly hot. This day in Idaho, however, is not ugly. The stream-side alder and willows are fluorescent green, the water is clear and the granite rocks radiate the summer heat. I pick my way down a steep bank to the creek. It looks too fast here, like no self-respecting trout would hold. I cast out my fly anyway, make sure it’ll float right side up.

10:17 and 15 seconds – SLAM. A sixteen inch cutthroat rises to the foam. SLAM, SLAM. It rises again, missing.

I nearly fall in the water I’m so surprised.

10:21 – I’ve forgotten the guests. I’ve forgotten the boats, I’ve forgotten the pancakes I made this morning and the steaks I’ll prepare tonight. I let my legs become water and my brain become fins and gills. I don’t think about taking photographs or what I might write later. I let my Idaho body go back to the landscape I was born from. This is the twenty-eight minutes I need to be a good guide for the next 24 hours of this trip. The next cutthroat runs me downstream and I bring it back up the granite cliff, release it back into the creek and cast again. 

10:45 – Cutthroat count: six.
10:52 – Cutthroat count: nine. Lost fly count: two.
11:01 – I sprint back down the trail toward the boats, fly rod clanging behind me.
11:05 – “How was the fishing?”
“I caught a few,” I say.
There are trout swimming behind my eyes as I coil the bowline and take the oars.

The smile could be anywhere, but the shot is from Fish Creek, not Big Creek.