I’ll admit it. I was spoiled. The first time in my life that I went trout fishing was the best place I have been fishing in the 27 years since.
In the summer of 1987, I was the beneficiary of a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend deal. Joe Samuel was my Wilkes County good buddy. Bill Booth was his college hall-mate. Bill had recently become my hunting and fishing mentor. Bill’s next door neighbor growing up in Rutherfordton, NC, was Billy Cunningham. Billy had a job working for a Las Vegas, NV, heavy construction equipment company. The company owned a ranch in southwest Utah with a lodge for entertaining customers. The lodge had some of the best spring creek trout fishing waters out west. Billy organized a group of eight North Carolina friends to join him for a week. Thanks to Bill, I was the recipient of the tail end of that invitation chain.
We flew into Las Vegas and sampled some of the delights of Sin City. That first night I was blushingly watching the show at the Palomino Club, the first (and only…) topless and bottomless bar I have attended. The show girls were so young and shy that I was embarrassed for them. And the entrance fee was a rip off – $20, plus a two drink minimum, for $5 each glasses of ice water with a smell of liquor in them. The next day we drove to the ranch in the heart of Utah’s Dixie National Forest. Along the way we stopped to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument and Zion National Park.
We were at such high altitude that despite the mid-July time it was frosty a couple of mornings. The weather was nearly perfect – sunny blue sky and warm the rest of the day.
At the ranch, things were a little primitive, even for a backpacker like me. The lodge was not completed, so we had to stumble around in the dark after dusk and before dawn. The rooms had no doors, so everybody got to enjoy hearing everyone else’s snoring. And there were a couple of stentorian snorers. The food was simple but plentiful. We had to cook our own, and with no chefs in our midst, we had lots of scrambled eggs, bacon, beer, steaks, baked potatoes, beer, baloney and cheese sandwiches and beer. Did I mention we had lots of beer? What more could a guy want?
The ranch is one of those lucky places that surround a blue hole – a huge spring that gushes out hundreds of gallons of water per minute from a hole in the earth. The spring was the beginning of several miles of creeks that wound around the ranch before exiting the property. Inhabiting those creeks were bunches of native cutthroat trout. Not that they were crowded, though. The trout were spaced out enough that you had to hunt them down to catch them.
Bill is not the most patient fisherman. But he knows a hell of a lot about everything outdoors, and he is a wonderful guy to be around, so he is a great teacher. This trip he taught me all I know about trout fishing.
We mostly used worms and spinners on ultra light spinning rods and reels. The water was gin clear, and the trout were skittish, so we had to stay completely out of sight. To catch a trout meant sneaking up on a likely section of water, often on our knees, or hiding behind willow bushes. Then we would flip our bait below the hoped for watery hidey hole and slowly, carefully, reel in, trying quietly to bump the trout in the nose with the worm. If we felt a tug, we pulled the rod to set the hook. Too slowly gave the trout a chance to steal the bait unscathed. Too quickly meant the hook would be jerked out of the fish’s mouth before it caught.
Most of our fishing was on the ranch. But for a day or two in the middle of the trip, we drove to nearby Lake Panguitch and rented two small motor boats. Fishing in a lake took less sneaking and delicate technique than stream fishing. But with the camaraderie it was still as much fun. Occasionally we would have four fish on the lines at one time in each boat, with guys jumping all over the place to keep the criss-crossing lines from getting tangled. What a blast! As Bill says, we slaughtered them.
One time, Bill got to display his medical technique. We had dined on fresh caught and fried fish the night before. Billy got a tiny bone stuck in the side of his throat. It was not large enough to choke on; just enough to make him keep coughing. The next morning at the lake, Billy was tired of gagging and begged Bill to do something about it. Bill got out his fishing forceps, used to dislodge hooks caught in a fish’s throat. Billy opened his mouth wide, straightened his throat, Bill peered deeply within, reached way down with his forceps, grasped a white speck and pulled out the tiny bone!
After our time on the ranch, we drove back to Las Vegas for another layover before our flight home. One of the acts we saw was Siegfried and Roy’s animal show with elephants and white tigers. Several times we went to upscale casinos. I was too much of a tightwad, so I did not bring any money to gamble. Billy and Bill played blackjack well enough that they got ahead several hundred dollars. For some perverse reason, they refused my advice to quit while they were ahead. The casinos don’t pay for all those lights by stacking the odds in favor of the customers. Of course, Billy and Bill lost most of the money back.
Another time, I found an upscale section of retail stores, like a mini-mall, in Caesar’s Palace. One of the stores was a men’s clothing store with shoes from Italy, suits from England and shirts from France. Every item cost thousands of dollars. I was still wearing my fishing clothes, which had not yet been washed. Even though there were no other customers in the store, the several snotty clerks decided I was bad for business. The politely but forcefully told me to leave. They kicked me out!
On the way through the airport to catch our flight back to North Carolina, being still in Las Vegas, we passed several slot machines. Just to spite me, Bill took out his last dollar allocated for gambling, put it in a slot machine, and laughingly lost it. A good time was had by all!