Food Growing – At an Impasse
A Vignette of Life
(In Three Acts)
Some quick thoughts:
Honestly I’m at an impasse here. I’ve started at least a dozen different lead ins for this article, everything from some of what I’m doing right now for this years garden, to subsistence subjects beyond gardening, to my thoughts on a variety of topics about self sufficiency such as making butter and cheese to fabricating solutions to problems but it just isn’t coming together.
No, it’s not writers block, I have tons of content, a lot of it already written, but I feel I have strayed from the original scope of these articles, which were basically centered around growing garden foods. So instead of continuing to somewhat randomly pick things out of thin air to write about I’m asking you for suggestions on what has you stumped or you don’t completely understand or what you are curious about regarding a subsistence lifestyle. This way I can deliver content that matches your interests instead of more or less force feeding you whatever comes off the top of my head. Let me know which way you want it, random content from me, that may extend beyond the garden, or content directed by you.
An apology, I was going back through the articles to refresh my memory of what I had written about and in some of the posts there were comments made after I had pretty much moved on from that article. It was not my intent to slight anyone nor to ignore anyone’s questions or statements. If I’ve left you hanging from something I’ve previously shared just hit me up again with your question(s).
Something I have always found unpleasant in a lot of “How To” or “You Should” or “You Need” types of advice/comments/articles, especially on various freefor sites, is the apparent condescension on the part of the one offering said advice or instruction. It really irritates me to no end to have someone look down their nose at me and tell me how I’m not up to the task at hand, or that I don’t measure up to their standards or I’m running the wrong gear, or that I should get out of the way of the professionals and so on. I have really tried to avoid doing that in these articles and hopefully I don’t come across that way and if I have, know it wasn’t my intent.
In the movie ‘The Edge’ Anthony Hopkins plays a character that apparently possesses a photographic memory. His friends claim he “knows everything” He on the other hand refers to his gift as “a freak” and states “I seem to retain all these facts but putting them to use is another matter”. In spite of all the knowledge he has, his small group sustains great hardship and death, in a survival situation, because none of them actually know how things work in the real world.
You need to put the knowledge you gain into practice for it to be of any use to you. If all you are doing is reading about doing something, you don’t really know how to do it. Reality has a way of throwing a kink into the real world application of whatever knowledge you acquire. I can guarantee, from bitter experience, what you think you know will come around and bite you in the ass the first few times you try something new. Get out there and do it, don’t just read about it.
On to at least a token treatise on food growing.
Well, the seed storage counts are finally done and my seed germination spreadsheet is updated with the new counts. Somehow we missed a tray of pumpkin seeds last fall and more than half of our giant pumpkin seed is covered in mold so bad the seed is no longer viable, stupid mistake. The main greenhouse has been cleaned out and the benches have been sterilized. Several lettuce pots have fresh sprouts showing and some chili pepper seeds are in the germination trays. The boss has placed her seed orders and we’ll be experimenting with a few new heirloom tomato plants this year.
The caneberries are getting thinned and trellised. I suppose this is a good spot to lightly discuss caneberry cultural practices. Regardless the variety of caneberry you are growing they’ll have either erect, semi erect or trailing canes. Erect cane plants will stand on their own without requiring a trellis system. Semi erect plants will benefit from (read need) a trellis system and trailing cane plants require a trellis system. There are several lines of thought on trellis design each having its strengths and weaknesses. Our thoughts always revolve around the simplest to build and maintain.
Raspberries should be thinned to a maximum cane density of eight to twelve canes per lineal foot of row. You should have already pruned out last years floricanes. This years floricanes need to be pruned back to around six feet of height (you can prune them shorter based on personal preference). For those that don’t know, floricanes are the second year growth of first year canes (primocanes). The floricanes (flowering cane) produces four to eight inch long fruiting laterals that carry the blossoms and fruit. The floricanes need to be pruned out each fall as the most they will do after fruiting is produce vegetative growth, usually they just die. Additional negatives, they increase the confusion of the foliage canopy, can represent a source point for disease and pests and make it harder than hell to harvest the new crop. Our raspberries have erect canes but we still use a trellis. We used to use a more complex trellis system but anymore we just run a single wire around both sides of the canes at about five feet off the ground. This is sufficient to keep the canes from tipping over in a wind or under a heavy fruit load. Our rows are fifty feet long and we have a wooden post (railroad tie) at each end with a metal post in the middle of the row to help stabilize the wires. About every eight feet of row length we put in a short cross wire, about a foot long, to keep the trellis wires from spreading. We use turnbuckles to tension the trellis wires.
Marionberries have trailing canes and we use a different trellis system for them. They can throw canes to nearly twenty feet in length and keeping the canes managed is troublesome. Just like with the raspberries we prune out the floricanes each year after they fruit. This years tasks will be to prune out any damaged or dead canes and then trellis the canes. We use a three wire trellis system for these. The top two wires suspend the canes and the bottom wire suspends a drip irrigation supply line. The top two wires are single strand, one above the other about twenty inches apart with the top wire five feet off the ground. The canes are simply wrapped around the top two wires in a loose open weave.
Cane berries are heavy feeders and will benefit from a spring application of fertilizer. We use Alaska Fish Fertilizer (5,1,1) for this feeding and apply it just as the plants are starting to pop leaf buds. You’ll also want to fertilize after harvest to help develop strong canes for the next season. We use a home made liquid fertilizer for this feeding. This fertilizer is made by perking water through a compost and chicken manure mix. The resulting manure tea is then cut with fresh water, about a pint of tea to two gallons of water and applied by hand. This application is usually made about two to three weeks after harvest is over. A caution here, if you fertilize too late in the season you run the risk of driving new growth that can continue past when the plants should be going dormant and suffer extensive frost damage as a result.
This could almost be mistaken as a caution against procrastination and though it certainly overlaps on the dangers of procrastination it’s actually entirely different. There are natural patterns to life we can not circumvent and subsistence food growing is full of them. Some are a direct consequence of natures timing and seasons. Others are induced by what we choose to incorporate in our pursuit of sustainability. You really have only two choices in this matter, fighting and resisting these patterns or recognizing them and learning to live within them.
Having a milk cow is a great example of introduced patterns. Beyond the basics of caring for a large animal every day, when you choose to include a milk cow in your plans several other tasks follow as surely as night follows day. These other tasks will develop along patterns you ignore to your detriment. I can’t tell you exactly what patterns will develop in regards to you and your efforts because the facts of your situation are (or will be) unknown to me so all I can do is offer my situation as an example.
I milk every day, rain or shine, seven days a week. I was raised that you milk twice a day without fail and there’s a few (very few) instances where we milked three times a day. Anymore I milk once a day, it’s easier on me and as near as I can tell, the cows. So there’s a pattern right there, daily milking. I can guarantee you don’t want to develop a habit of breaking this pattern for very long. Mammary involution starts at somewhere around seventy two hours.
Once I’m done milking there’s the need to filter the milk and get it bottled. Then every day the milk from the previous day is skimmed for cream. So what happens if we don’t skim the cream every day? Obviously cream that not skimmed every day doesn’t spoil but if we wait an extra day or more to skim the cream it’s a little stiffer and makes just a little more work for us which translates to time. We’ve actually kept track and it takes on average an additional seven minutes to skim cream that’s set for more than one day (this will vary depending on how much milk we are skimming cream from, in this case four gallons). Extrapolating that extra seven minutes a day to skim cream represents nearly two more days of work over the course of a year. It becomes pretty significant when looked at this way. I can tell you from personal experience, once you are trying to make a go if it at a subsistence level, you will never have enough days to get everything done.
Right now we’ll pull a little over sixty ounces of cream off three gallons of milk (the amount of cream you get from your milk will vary wildly depending on your cow and a lot of other factors). That sixty ounces of cream will roughly translate into around a pound and a quarter of butter. We make butter every three days. It takes right at twenty minutes to make the butter and probably about ten minutes to properly wash and salt it, so we’ll call it half an hour for each batch of butter. If we don’t make butter every few days, one we run out of butter, two we start spending more of one particular day making butter and this gets in the way of getting something else done, like making cheese. So there’s a couple more patterns, skim cream every day and make butter every three days. If I skip these tasks in the pattern that has become established it costs us extra time.
We end up with a lot of extra milk. Rather than pour the remainder down the drain, or feed it to the hogs we make cheese. Currently we make cheese every four days. If I don’t make cheese every four days I’ll run out of internal storage, both jars and space, and then I am forced to make cheese or do something else with the milk. Waiting to finish processing the milk of a morning because I have to set up to make cheese before I can clean the milk jars costs me time. I maintain the rhythm of cheese making or I lose some more time.
I think you can see where I’m going with this, just like tossing a pebble in a pond the ripples of disturbance just keep getting bigger. If we break the rhythms or patterns of the tasks, not just regarding a milk cow, it manifests as a direct cost of time. Remember several articles ago when I wrote about time, this is some what I was writing about.
When I step back from the minutia of my day to day tasks virtually every one of them occurs on an easily recognized rhythm. Every time something comes along to interrupt that rhythm it costs me time. Look for the patterns in your life and start working to exploit the rhythms of them. You’ll end up with more time if you do. Actually you won’t have more time but you’ll make more efficient use of your time.
Before I move on I would like to explore butter making a little more. I don’t know if the following will be of value to anyone and I kind of feel like I’m just repeating information widely disseminated across the web by other folks, but a lot of those folks only make butter now and again. We’re making butter all the time and have some fairly grounded thoughts about the subject.
A very brief technical explanation of what happens when you make butter is the churning process breaks down or ruptures the membrane surrounding the fat molecules in the cream. Once the membrane is ruptured the fat molecules start clumping together and eventually you end up with our familiar sweet cream butter.
There are a lot of different ways to churn butter and probably one of the simplest (notice I didn’t express easiest) is to shake it in a jar or what we call impact churning. If you are churning your butter in a jar you need to avoid over filling it, two thirds full seems about right to us. If the jar is too full of cream it will take a lot longer to churn because it’s harder to create the impact that breaks down the fat molecule membrane. Impact churning is how we make our butter.
There are many different types of butter churns out there, plunger, paddle and barrel are the most common and due to the time and effort involved in churning butter, everyone is on the look out for a faster and easier method. One such method to see recent popularity is to use a food processor. A common complaint I hear out of people using a food processor is their butter doesn’t store for long. I’ll come back to this complaint in a moment.
If you plan on making butter you need to let the cream warm up from refrigerator temperatures. Cold cream does not churn well as well and we let our cream set out for only a few hours until it reaches about 65 to 70 degrees. If you let your cream set out for longer periods of time what happens is you will move into the arena of making cultured butter. There’s nothing wrong with this except you will end up with butter having a different taste and character than fresh sweet cream butter. Some folks even add cultures to the cream when making cultured butter to afford an even greater range of tastes and textures.
Back to the sweet cream butter making. You’ve warmed your cream and you have it in your churn. We put sixty ounces of cream in a one hundred ounce jar. We also add nine popcorn kernels. Don’t ask me why we standardized on nine kernels because I don’t know, since being a kid we’ve just always used nine. The kernels create more impact points in the churn. Just remember to count out all nine kernels when you are washing the butter or someone will be unhappy when they break a tooth on the one you missed. The jar gets dropped in our rocker (I made a foot rocker patterned on a treadle sewing machine mechanism) and go to work. It sure beats shaking the jar by hand.
Once the butter has formed in your churn you need to wash the butter. This is where I come back to the complaint that fresh butter churned in a food processor doesn’t store for very long. The simple fact is without adding preservatives, like you have in your store bought butter, any hand made, fresh churned butter just doesn’t store for long, even at refrigerator temperatures.
There are too many variables for me to even attempt to give you a storage estimate for butter you make. We generally figure on getting around five days to a week of shelf life on our fresh butter (one of the reasons for making fresh butter every few days, the other is we eat a lot of butter). Frozen, our butter holds for up to three or four months. The reason the butter goes rancid in the short term isn’t really about the butter, but the buttermilk that didn’t get washed out of the butter.
It is my belief that a food processor actually whips the buttermilk back into the butter to the point it is difficult to effectively remove it by washing. This is one of the reasons I like to impact churn butter. Impact churning forms a butter that initially has a loose clumped form that is easier to rinse the buttermilk from. Once I’ve rinsed the butter a few times I remove it from the churn jar, put it in a stainless steel bowl and wash it. This involves working the butter under cold water to remove all the buttermilk. I wash the butter until I stop seeing any clouding of the fresh water. Something to note, the longer you work the butter under cold water the stiffer (or harder) your final butter will be. Once I feel the butter is clean I work on expressing all the water from the butter. What I do is work the butter with my fingers from the bottom center of the bowl up on the sides allowing the water to collect in the bottom of the bowl before being poured off. The final step in washing the butter is to put it on a butter board and use a wooden, flat bottomed spatula to work the butter getting the final bit of water out of it. If you can, avoid using chlorinated water to wash your butter. We always get better results using well or spring water.
After the butter is washed we salt it. You basically salt to taste and we put a quarter teaspoon in our batch of butter (right at a pound and a quarter). Another little side note here, in some old cooking recipes you’ll find instructions for washing the salt out of the butter before you use it. I’ve seen people question this instruction. Back in the day, over salting butter was a preservation method. The salt trapped more of the water and buttermilk and this helped the butter to last longer before going rancid. Because the butter was heavily salted, the butter needed to be washed to get the excess salt out. So there you have it, a hint on how to store butter longer when there’s no electricity to run your fridge.
Seeing as how I’ve blown away a bunch of your reading time with discussing making butter and considering as how I mentioned making cheese I guess I’ll go ahead and toss out some thoughts on making cheese.
Cheese making is as much dark art as it is forgotten alchemy. The very first thing you have to do, under the dark of blood moon, is to sacrifice a young, milk fed calf. Then chanting the proper incantations, take a section of the lining of the fourth stomach and …
Seriously, though a section of the lining of the fourth stomach was traditionally used (and still is) in making cheese, these days we have rennet in both liquid and tablet form as well as vegetable rennet available so you don’t have to deal with the issue of securing rennet from a calf stomach. You might find it worth your while to research this method against a time when we no longer have alternative sources for it though. It’s how we did it when I was a kid.
Contrary to what you might think cheese making is really quite easy, it’s so easy even foodgrower can do it. A very quick run down of cheese (cheddar cheese) making is warm your milk to 85 to 88 degrees, stir in culture and let set for a period of time (around 45 minutes for ours) while holding the temperature, stir in the rennet and let set until the curd breaks cleanly (again around 45 minutes to an hour) while holding the temperature. Cut and then stir the curds while slowly raising the temperature to 100 to 105 degrees over about half an hour. Let the curds set under the whey for another period of time (about 20 minutes), then pour off the whey and then (with cheddar), turn the curds every 15 minutes for an hour, maintaining a 90~95 degree temperature. Then cut and stack the curds (cheddaring phase), turning them every 15 minutes or so for another hour, holding them at the same temperature. At this point you cut and salt the curds, approximately two percent of curd weight in salt, added in two steps over a twenty minute period. After this break the curds into peanut sized chunks, put the curds in a cheesecloth lined cheese press and press with increasing amounts of weight for intervals from 15 minutes to 48 hours, turning the round over every time you increase the weight. If anyone wants the exact pressing schedule we use ask and I’ll share it with you.
Once the cheese round comes out of the press it’s air dried for about a day and then we either wax it or bandage it. Once it’s waxed it’s aged for at least two months in our cool room. We turn the rounds every day for the first two weeks and then turn them every other day after that until they are used. Here’s a little tidbit for you, one pound of cheese wax will wax between four and five, two pound rounds of cheese. The wax we use is reusable with minimal loss so after you get a store of it on hand you’ll be good to go for quite awhile. You’ll also note there was no mention of adding annatto to the cheese. This is used strictly for coloring and as such we don’t use it.
Foodgrower’s inexpensive, home made cheese press:
Purchase an eight inch length of six to eight inch diameter pvc pipe, this will become the body of your press. The smaller the diameter of your press body the taller it needs to be. (Note: the previously described piece of pipe will make a body large enough to process the curds from six gallons of milk). Purchase a six inch length of pvc pipe one diameter smaller than the piece above (you want it to fit inside the body piece), this will become the top plate spacer. (just to let you know, for us three gallons of milk will yield around two pounds of cheese. This will fill an eight inch diameter press about three to four inches deep with unpressed curds, so you can adjust your press dimensions accordingly.)
Take a hack saw blade and make a series of light cuts about a sixteenth of an inch deep every two inches around one end of the larger diameter pipe (the body piece). In use, the body will be placed with these cuts on the bottom and facilitate the draining of the whey.
Find the glass tray from an old microwave oven (or similar glass tray). This will become the bottom plate of your press. If you use something like window glass you will need to find something to support the glass so it doesn’t break. I really recommend something far stronger.
Cut a circle, slightly smaller than the diameter of your pipe (body piece) from a salvaged plastic cutting board (around ½ inch thick). This will become the top plate of your cheese press.
Watch the second hand advertisements or garage sales and pick up a set of weights from a barbell weight set. The thin metal weights work better than the sand filled plastic ones. You don’t need all the weights, just enough to make the following weights, 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs, 50 lbs and 100 lbs. You will most likely never use the 100lb weight amount, we’ve only used a few times when we knew we had overly dry curds and needed this much weight to get consolidation of the curds. Keep in mind, within reason, you can stack the smaller weights to achieve the larger weights.
Total cost of the above, when we made our last one, was under twenty bucks, less than the cost of just the small cheese mold as listed on Amazon minus the bottom plate and the press clamps or weights. Full presses are running 140~180 bucks. There I just saved you at least 120 bucks, I’ll expect my commission check in the mail.
If you’re going to make aged cheddar cheese (is there any other kind) you can either age your cheese in a cheesecloth bandage or wax it. We wax our cheese because it’s faster for us right now. After a collapse we’ll go back to bandaging it. We age our cheddar for at least two months. Initially the cheese needs to be turned every day while aging. Pass/fail question, what’s the main difference between mild, medium and sharp cheddar cheese? Answer – how long it’s been aged.
There’s many more things we make but I’ll wait until I know if there’s interest before I waste your time discussing them.
A Vignette of Life
In Three Acts
The following are some snippets of my life that you may, or may not, find as an interesting interlude to the foodgrowing articles.
It’s just after first light and the thermometer indicates it’s twenty three degrees out. The feed truck growls it’s way through the ice and mud of the gate opening and without the chains on the drivers we would be stuck. I hear and feel the front bumper connect with the feed bunk and then we stop and I start pushing the large rectangles of hay off the side of the truck into the bunk. God I hate these 4′ X 4′ X 8′ fourteen hundred pound bales.
Cows are crowding the truck in their impatience to get at the hay and I holler at the driver to move up a few feet. We have to be careful because the calves will crowd in front of the tires and it’s all too easy to run one over. Eventually a touch over half a ton of hay is dumped in the bunk and we’re on our way to the next bunk.
As the truck turns I notice an odd lump in a wallowed out space in the manure and straw near a straw bunk. Whistling at the driver I jump off and walk over to check it out. It’s a new born calf and he is loose as wet dishcloth and cold to the touch. There is just a hint of life left in his eyes. While the driver runs to get the quad and sled I wander through the cows trying to find which one of the cows the calf belongs to.
The quad pulls up and I toss the calf on the sled and we race to the barn. We enclosed and keep one stall heated just for cases like this. Grabbing a towel we give the calf a brisk rubdown and dry it off as best as we can. While we are working over it the last bit of life just seems to seep out of its eyes. Damn, I hate to lose a calf. Flopping it down on its side I deliver several pretty solid blows to the rib cage with my hand and getting no response, more out of desperation than hope, lean down and wipe the worst of the mucus, afterbirth and muddy shit from its nostrils and begin to perform mouth to nose resuscitation. Just about the time I’m ready to give up the calf lets out a weak bawl and tries to pull its head away.
We stand it up on its feet and then with both of us holding it up rub it down with the towel some more. It’s showing signs it just might live and suddenly my helper starts laughing. “What’s so funny?” I want to know. “You’ve got a cow shit mustache and it continues all around your mouth” is the response. I wipe my face off with a rag and go out to find the mother and herd her to the barn. We get her locked in a stanchion and it takes tying both of her back legs down but we get some colostrum milk in a bottle for the calf.
It takes a lot of coaxing, and in reality we are just squirting it down the calf’s throat, but we eventually get some of the critical colostrum in the calf and then it’s time for another brisk rubdown. After a bit we move the cow into the stall with the calf and leave to finish chores and get on with the rest of the day.
That night going to the barn to check on them I’m rewarded with the sight of the calf head-butting the cow to get some dinner. I ruefully remember getting manure smeared on my face saving his life and vow I’ll get my revenge when I turn him into steaks and burgers.
It has been tough travel working through dense timber and understory and I’m several hours from where I dropped my pack and set up a spike camp. A non stop drizzle for most of a fortnight has thoroughly soaked the litter and duff of the forest floor. Tiny rivulets virtually dry a month ago have swollen to raging freshets.
Here, far from the milling crowds clogging back country mountain roads with jacked up 4WD pickups and the squabbles over the last spot in the campground, the sights, sounds and smells of hordes of hunters are nothing more than a faint memory.
I mentally laugh at the recollection of the last conversation I endured more than three days past. “There’s no reason to keep hunting” I was told “all the animals are clean gone from this area. Nobody’s seen nuthin, they’ve been hunted out of this area. We’re breaking camp in the morning and heading out.”
It’s an oft repeated mantra every year of there is no more game, maybe if they got off their asses and walked more than a quarter mile from the road they might see something. Oh well, their laziness and loss is my gain, I habitually have about eighty percent success hunting elk in this area.
Stillness lays on the forest like a heavy blanket and the slight drag of a limb brushing against a woolen trouser leg renders a sound jarringly obscene against the deep silence of the woods. Some tiny alert brings my careful and painstaking slow advance to an abrupt stop. I’ve been following a scent trail for the last mile and half and my nose warns me they are close.
I search every inch of the terrain in front of me, at first by only moving my eyes. Then, slowly turning my head, every slice of the hillside is examined in finite detail. A move of scant inches brings totally new vistas to sight. Finally a faint glint of light off an antler tip draws my attention and I spot a spike bull, only half his face visible between two trees, staring in my direction. He’s not more than thirty five yards away and slightly above me on the hillside.
Nondescript clothing, colored dull gray, olive and brown, blends my silhouette with the brush around me. A full beard hides the red of my cheeks and an old felt hat breaks up the outline of my head. Only my immobility and the very slight downhill drift of the late afternoon air has saved me. The bull looks away after a moment and following the turn of his head with my eyes I spot a couple of cow elk. They are paying me no mind at all, instead looking towards the bull.
For some reason that escapes me I take the time to get out my camera and record the tableau for posterity.
The next time he looks away I drop the camera in my coat pocket and in one fluid motion my trusty old ’06 is brought to bear, my thumb flicking off the safety as the gun settles into place. The motion has caught the attention of the bull and through my scope I can see his muscles bunch as my finger tightens on the trigger but his instincts are no match for the speed of my bullet.
As the sound of the shot dies away, so too does the sound of his last breath. I have always mourned the kill and pause in a moment of homage and maybe regret at the kill. If I ever get to the point that harvesting an animal becomes blasé I know it will be time for me to hang up my rifle.
But, now the hunt is over and the work begins…
I like to tell my companions that where we are going the water is only five minutes from the road, but the road is forty five minutes from the water. My friend laughs when he hear this. His grin fades however, as we get out of the van to hear the muted growl of the river as its sound reverberates through the trees that line the canyon. In response to his questioning look, I tell him this is indeed serious fun and caution will be the byword of the day.
Every time I come here I vacillate over the decision to wear my waders down to the water, chancing mayhem and carnage, or exhibit caution by packing them down and changing at waters edge. As usual my desire to be on the water faster, outweighs common sense and I opt for getting into my waders now. Besides it’ll mean a few less pounds to need to be carried back up the trail.
One rule I never break here though, is waiting until I’m at waters edge to string up my rod. It’s better to be safe than break a rod. In the always tough decision of which rod to bring, one of my 490LL’s gets the nod even though a shorter rod would probably complement the tight quarters better. Of course for trout, this is the rod that usually wins because it’s my favorite.
As we travel down to the water, the clean scent of the trees washes the last lingering stench of civilization from my nostrils. My senses are assaulted by the odors of this world, the myriad smells almost causing a sensory overload. The smell of hot trees loaded with pitch, the fresh scent of crushed pine needles where some animal has passed, the rich smell of decaying duff, the soft fragrance of Trillium that blanket the hill side. I detect a faint whiff of something on the air and point it out to my friend while explaining it is from the elk herd on the other side of the river.
We burst through the trees at waters edges and leave the dark of the wood for a world filled with contrasting shadows and the white brightness of shattered water flung skyward. Each object is painted bas-relief by the intensity of an unmasked sun. If you’ve ever spent much time in a desert you will understand what I mean when I say you can literally smell the sun.
The primary source of the pervasive growl is exposed to our view in the form of a 40 ft. waterfall. I express that fishing downstream of it is another days adventure. We will be fishing only about one mile of water this day bracketed by the waterfall below and an area upstream where the entire river flows hidden through crack in a solid rock buttress beneath an overhanging beetle brow of rock. In the course of this mile, I have only found three points of access of which this is the easiest.
Here, everything about the river is compressed by the nature of the canyon, runs are short, plunge pools abrupt and to even look for a tailout is an exercise in futility. The river dodges and twists on its tortuous journey, impeded and redirected by enormous rocks. In some places it loses itself beneath massive log jams. The canyon transitions abruptly from being river bed to gorge wall. You learn to treasure the sporadically placed gravel bars that let you rest your feet on something other than a sloping rock surface.
I tie on a Royal Coachman and shortly I’ve tailed several trout, most here will go eight to fourteen inches, but if you’ve paid your dues in the past, you know where some big boys lie. My partner is not doing well, most of his time is spent retrieving flies from stream side brush rather than casting to trout.
I whistle him up to where I am and point out one of my favorite spots. An immense boulder thrusts itself into the side of a pool. From its top the detail of the river bottom becomes exposed providing the watcher a view of the action. I have him tie on a Royal Wulff and direct him to cast across the head of the pool, leading the fly on the swing with the rod tip causing it to wake a little. He watches in amazement as a purple torpedo immediately shoots up from the depths and follows his fly. As soon as we spot the fish I have him stop his rod tip, in effect pausing his fly. It’s too much for the fish and it smashes his offering with enough force that its form clears the water.
In an instant everything is transformed. All the frustrations that have beleaguered my friends day vanish and he is grinning from ear to ear. I climb down to the little gravel that has been formed by the swirling waters downstream of the boulder and release his fish. After the fish is gone he looks at me and I indicate for him to go ahead with his fishing. In the past this pool has always provided several fish and today will be no different.
I watch as he continues to work the pool and then move off a ways downstream and place a few casts on top of a slick boil under a fallen tree next to a giant rock. It is a difficult spot to place a fly, too high and you hook the tree, too far to the left and the impenetrable mass of the log jam traps your offering, on the right the unyielding mass of stone. Three out of five casts miss the mark, but when I get everything just right I am rewarded almost instantly with a splashy rise as the fish attacks my fly before it can get away.
By the time my friend has exhausted the pool it is time for us to begin the trek, fishing as we go, back to our rig and the drive home
Well what did you expect? foodgrower can’t live by gardening alone.
’til next time