Yearly Trip to Frying Pan, a Great Autumn Ritual
By ED Engle

BOULDER, Colo. - The annual trip is one of the great traditions of an outdoorsman's life. Unlike mountain bike riders, hikers and backpackers who can "go" when it suits them or when the weather is most suitable, an outdoorsman's trips are most often governed by the cycles of the nature world.

There's no use in showing up for the Blue-winged Olive hatch on the Frying Pan River in July. If you want to fish the "olives," you show up on the Pan in September. That's why a group of us have rendezvoused at Roy Palm's place around the middle of September for more than a decade.

Roy lets us camp under the canopy of about a dozen cottonwoods at the far end of his place. Every year we drive back to the trees, get out of our trucks, look up to check for any new "widow makers," and then set up our tents. After that we tie the tarp up to the same three trees we've tied it up to every year.

John Gierach and A. K. Best then knot their camp kitchens to two of the trees with heavy hemp rope. Once secured, the camp kitchens, which look like big wood boxes, can be opened on one side to create a work area where the stove is placed. The camp kitchens are replete with pots, pans, matches, spices, plates, silverware, cans of Dinty Moore stew, a lantern and dish soap. When the camp table is finally located under the tarp we are in business.

There is a fire ring out in the open away from the cottonwoods. It's the same fire ring we use every year and there is usually some stacked firewood left from the year before. It's the fire ring where we warm up after fishing and where Mike Clark sets up his folding grill and cooks rib-eye steaks for all of us. That's been the deal for the past 10 years.

This year the fire ring is still there and the wood is stacked up as usual, but open fires are not permitted because of fire danger. We end up circling our lawn chairs around a Coleman lantern that's sitting in the middle of the camp table.

Once camp is made we walk to the river just to watch. We're looking for the telltale rings of trout rising to the diminutive olives whose abdomens tend to be more on the brown side than the olive side in the autumn. As luck would have it the river is running at 150 cubic feet per second (cfs), which is down from the 300 cfs that the river had been running at for the past several weeks. The reduced flows will make it easier to get around.

All of us know where to look for rises. There is a pool with a seam two-thirds of the way across it. The trout like to rise in the seam, along the opposite bank, in the quiet water below the seam and at tail of the pool where the water bulges up in standing waves against some large rocks.

The first rise disrupts the seam with a petite splash. We all regard it as the mark of a "little fish," but the discussion quickly turns to how even if it is a little fish, trout that make this kind of rise are often very difficult to catch. There is not a fisher among our group who will not try to catch whatever it is that has made this rise form because all of us are intrigued by difficult fish.

Along the opposite bank a rising trout makes a subtle dimple on the water's surface. We exclaim in unison, "Did you see that?" and everyone nods in agreement. A dimple like this one might very well be the signature of a large fish.

A moment later several perfectly circular rises spread serenely over the flat, glassy surface of the pool. We look at each other and nod. None of us has to talk about how difficult catching these trout on a fly will be. There isn't room for even the thought of angling errors on them.

A. K. is always the first to get itchy. He turns back toward the trucks and says, "That's it!" We all turn and follow him like ducks in a row. In the whirlwind of activity that follows we suit up in waders, assemble fly rods, attach reels, thread fly lines through guides, grab our vests and examine the Blue-winged Olive imitations in our fly boxes, pick one and tie it to the tippet.

We are here on the river just like we were last year and the year before that and all of the other years. We are here like the trout, and the olives and the season.

It's then that we spread ourselves out up and down the river. Each of us looking for rising fish like so many hungry kingfishers.







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