Saturday, March 19, 2011

Same Water, Different River

Voluntary or enforced, retirement is a strenuous affair when properly managed - it requires vigilant maintenance and brooks no slacking. So after returning from two weeks recreating in Texas, I drove down to the Arkansas River in my camper for a few days of fishing. 

The Arkansas is a schizophrenic flow of water running from Leadville, Colorado and emptying somewhere in the Missouri River (which is mostly in Montana and somewhere other than Missouri). The personality of the Arkansas is split between the western stretch, known as the Arkansas and properly pronounced AR-kan-saw, and the eastern stretch, known as the Arkansas and mispronounced locally as Ar-KAN-sas. They are two distinct rivers.

The upper portion of the river, between its source and the dam in Pueblo, is a classic freestone trout stream, clear enough that one can read a Chinese prenuptial agreement in six feet of water, and home to brown trout like the one shown here in the death grip of an amateur's disembodied hand. (I surmise that this is the hand of an amateur because 1) this is no way to treat a lady or an obliging trout, and 2) in his excitement he's thrown his rod on the ground, left his reel marinating in a puddle, and posted a photograph of the fiasco. Not to mention the clean fingernails.)


The lower (Ar-KAN-san) portion of the river is a lazy, muddy meander through sandbars, downed cottonwoods, the hulks of '59 Edsels, derelict washing machines and hot water heaters, harboring catfish of a stupendous size and appetite, as this specimen landed near Quangdong, Kansas amply illustrates (and "amply" is, I think, the mot juste):

1964 Nash Rambler retrieved from Arkansas River

The Upper Arkansas is the precinct of flyfishing with tiny flies, light tackle, stream waders - the usual aristocratic paraphernalia of any tradition-bound endeavor. The Lower Arkansas is the world of "noodling," the pursuit of large catfish by submersion in chocolately-brown water and trying to put your hand securely into the maw of something that, if it doesn't succeed in dragging you into eternity, can seriously abrade your arm. (Baptizing is just "noodling for Baptists.")

"First we dance, then you can buy me a drink."

In any case, I found myself camped along the river, communing with the geese, who float by in pairs and threes. Geese are the RV-ers of the natural world: they park anywhere they like, defecate everywhere, and seem to the innocent mind like a real wildlife sighting.
 "Hey, let's just camp here tonight. Bathroom's over there."

I will not discuss my successes or failures in those three days, except to say that by the end of the first day I was feeling pretty frustrated. So when at day's end I did finally land a decent trout in the 14-inch class, I decided that it would be supper. Since it was about to become a piece of history, this fish was clearly of the variety trutta simplistica, which are the only ones ever hooked and landed (generally the ones who think they're still living in a hatchery).  The other common varieties are trutta ascetica (the ones who never eat anything); trutta vegetariana (the ones who never like whatever fly you're offering); trutta bulemica (the ones who promptly spit out whatever goes into their mouths).

Supper that evening demanded some culinary genius, as I was bereft of the usual complement of ingredients that makes a trout on the table what it is - for example, I had brought along on this trip no butter, cooking oil, herbs, eggs, bacon fat, corn meal, and so on. Nothing in fact, except one (nonalcoholic) beer. I decided to make a court bouillon in which to poach the fish. So I diced up the carrot and celery sticks in my larder (intended for lunch the next day), simmered them in the beer, added a packet of Gulden's Brown Mustard for some frisson, and poached the trout.

I won't say I dined like a king, but what with the magnum of Roederer Cristal '85 to start, a complex little Batard-Montrachet '97 with the trout, a half-bottle of Dow's late bottled '64 port and a few rounds of chemin-de-fer at the Indian casino, I did better than the geese in the parking lot. And so (as Samuel Pepys used to say), to bed.

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