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From the Mouth of the River

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From the Mouth of the River

Camaraderie, and why paybacks are hell

“Camaraderie,” a word used to explain the enjoyment that occurs when old friends get together on fishing trips or in hunting camps and remembering the good times of past trips together while sitting around camp fires. When the sizzling of fresh caught trout, onions and potatoes ignite over an open fire blackening every thing in the pans, you’ll hear in unison, “That’s just the way we like ‘em.” That’s camaraderie for you, knowing dang well the first one to complain will have to do the cooking for the rest of the trip. 

These friends I hang out with are long in the tooth. That is to say, some are balding and some are gray but most are just old. They have many stories to tell from past experiences and are hard to prove wrong unless their story involves a large fish or a giant buck. Then it’s an obvious lie, but they insist on telling them anyway.

All of our hunting trips as young men started out the same way, whether it was for elk or deer. Get up early before daylight, hike up to the top of the nearest mountain, sit for twenty or maybe thirty seconds, and then hike up the next mountain and so on until dark and then drag back to camp. Next day start all over again until you shoot something, and the distance between where you downed your game and camp is measured in miles not minutes. But you were young back then and time and distance meant nothing. Besides, the next day 2 of your closest friends would go help you pack it out.

These days it’s a different story. When some young hunter comes into camp bragging about shooting the biggest bull elk you ever saw and he’s just over that second ridge it creates a whole different set of reactions.

“Funny you should call those ridges,” I said. “The last time I climbed them they were mountains.”

Then, about this time, my old and well-seasoned friend, Pat McManus, starts complaining about his chest pains and asks if anyone has seen his nitroglycerin tablets. Dave Lisaius (the nationally known outdoorsman), on the other hand just waves an arm towards the cooking fire and declares he’s doing the cookin’ and ain’t got time to be wandering off looking for no dead elk. Even though Dave, according to Pat, is a legendary tracker of some Indian decent and claims to be the only one left in his tribe. Dave was chosen to be the camp cook because he owns and operates “Dave’s House of Fry,” where everything is fried and his platter-size chicken fried steak covered in milk gravy is guaranteed to plug your arteries before you get to your car. In fact, his chicken fried steaks are so looked forward to, that most patrons don’t even notice his waitress is topless!

“You should either get a younger waitress or make that old woman put on a shirt. Did you see what she just drug through my gravy?” Cliff asked. Cliff Dare, another one of our group of retreads, has been a fishing guide on the Kootenai River for over forty years and his family before him were fishing guides and helped in the development of the McKenzie River drift boat over in Oregon. He knows so many funny stories about his clientele you wouldn’t believe half of ‘em. McManus said he doesn’t believe half of them anyway. He claims Cliff makes them up because he never tells the same story twice. Not at all like Winston. Wind, as we call him, tells the same story over and over again. Before he’s through with his first cup of camp coffee in the morning he starts in. 

“Did I ever tell you about the time I worked for the Forest Service? Why, when I was a young man I could run up those Forest Service trails with a chain saw in each hand, carrying a barrel of water on my back, cut down a tree and use it to whip out a mile of forest fire before them smoke jumpers could even get off the ground. Damn, I was good. Did I ever tell you about the time I worked for the Forest Service? Why, when I was a young... ”

It doesn’t matter if someone is right in the middle of telling a story or not, Wind is deaf as a post and just starts talking. After seeing the movie “UP,” we all stood up around the camp fire and in unison pointed out towards the brush and yelled, “Squirrel!” Wind stopped talking, for a change, and started looking towards the woods, just like the dog in the movie! 

He walked right into a heard of elk one time while hunting and said he had to shoot his way out. He emptied his gun and never touched a hair on one of ‘em. “But I saved myself,” Wind exclaimed, “and that was the important thing.” 

Back in his younger days Wind was a trained opera singer and a pretty good one as I understand it, but just like losing his hearing, his hair, and his memory, his voice is changing as well. We talked him into standing out on a ridge away from camp and singing one of his favorite operas. Dave shot a cougar that was sneaking up on Wind and Cliff said he could’a swore he saw Big Foot swooning not far away. Pat thinks Wind’s new CD will make a great varmint call and is looking forward to giving them to his hunting buddies for Christmas. 

We let our new Canadian neighbor, Woody Debris, and his son Chip join us on several of our excursions now. Whether it’s a hunting or fishing trip and especially if it’s an overnighter we invite Woody and Chip. Chip looks up to us older guys as mentors and is real eager to please and we are all very eager to be appreciated. All we gotta do is mention we’re a little low on firewood or water and Chip jumps right on it, which really makes it easy on us old farts. His dad wanted to be part of the entourage so bad that after whining and begging to go along we finally let him buy the groceries and use his new camo-covered motor home to drive us out to camp. We hid it in the brush so other hunters would think we hiked in. 

Tim Johnson is another one of our comrades who is old enough to think on his feet, but it’s usually after the fact. Tim was a law officer in Oregon. He even worked for Fish and Game until he got to watching how much money those river guides were making and decided to shuck it all and get rich guiding steelhead and salmon fishermen. 

“You wouldn’t believe how much it costs to outfit a proper guide boat,” Tim said. “It took all my retirement. I sold everything I had and refinanced my home twice just to buy a heavy duty aluminum jet boat with all the proper gear, trolling motor, rods, reels, a duelly 2-seater, gas-guzzling pick up and another open top boat and motors for a back up. My wife finally had to take 2 jobs just so I could fish in the manner I had become accustomed to. And you wouldn’t believe how arrogant and demanding my clientele gets when I insist on them letting me fish with ‘em.” We always introduce Tim as our in-house game warden when we don’t want people to ask too many questions, like how many fish we have in our cooler, or did anyone tag that camp meat hidden in that tree over there? And no one would ask to see our license if we were with a game warden. Who would be crazy enough to be out with a game warden without a license? 

I remember the only time a warden actually checked us. Can’t recall what state we were fishing in but our licenses were 2 years old, which the warden pointed out. “Not a problem, sir.” I pointed at the regulations and explained. “It says right here, we’re allowed six rainbow and no one here has caught more than four so we still got 2 to go on these licenses.” The young warden looked at us with a blank stare and walked away mumbling something about old farts. Let’s face it, you don’t get to be our age without picking up a few traits that are on the ornery side. 

Like fishing with Cliff the other day. We were fly fishing on the Clark Fork and I had caught the first fish which I quickly brought to Cliff’s attention. “That’s okay,” says Cliff. “The day’s still young,” he exclaimed as he reached over and released my fish. Being a river guide for over forty years this is a habit he has acquired, one of releasing fish for his clients so they don’t get smelly hands. No one wants to eat a bologna sandwich that smells like fish slime. Cliff, on the other hand, is used to it. Everything he eats smells like fish. Cliff caught a couple of fish and I missed a couple. 

“I’m up one on ya,” bragged Cliff. 

“Yeah, but I missed 2,” I said.

“That doesn’t count even if we do release them. They gotta be brought to the boat.” I missed two more while he released two.

“What am I doing wrong?” I asked.

“I think you’re lifting your rod too quick,” he said. “Give ‘em time to start down with your fly before you set the hook.”

“You may be right,” I said. “I may just be a little anxious.” three more hits, no fish.

“You’re waiting too long before you set the hook,” he says. 

 All of a sudden I had this real dumb feeling come over me. I quickly checked my fly. Instead of mashing my barb down so I would be fishing with a barbless hook, Cliff had snipped the hook off the fly completely. I turned to see a big smirk on his face. This is the kind of camaraderie you have to put up with when you are out with this bunch, and you know paybacks are hell.

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Boots Reynolds Boots Reynolds The "internationally-renowned cowboy artist" Boots Reynolds has moved his comedic interpretation of life into the writing field with his regular column in the River Journal - From the Mouth of the River.

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