Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fiction: Yellowstone Taper

I've been writing a bit of fiction lately. Two pieces have been accepted for publication. Trying to stuff a good story into something less than three thousand words has been an interesting challenge. I look forward to seeing them in print. I'll let you know when they're out.

I'm not sure what inspired the following piece. On short notice, I was asked for 700 words that ultimately hit the editor's floor. This may be the beginning of a longer piece. Or it may just languish. Regardless, unsatisfactory for publication I'm free to inflict it upon you.

Camp Benign?

"TA-DAA-A-A, says the clown!" and I show two thumbs-up delivering the punch line with gusto.

The groans of two fellow revelers signal the joke's off-color nature. The other two fall off their perches laughing hard. It's a good joke. I tell it better sober. Not tonight.

Sharing a fire with strangers is part of solo camping. I've met some assholes this way but they're the exception. These four, college-aged guys pulled in late in a rust bucket of a pick-up truck and took the camp at the corner. Coming back from the john I chatted with them for a bit. They have a guitar, beer and fire-cooked meat. I return later with scotch and am offered a place.

With chuckles still coming from two knuckleheads, I slink off into the woods for a piss and then stagger back to the fire. Frankie is out. The blonde dude and goatee are talking low. Dylan has disappeared.

"I think I'm going to turn in", I say to no one in particular and turn stumbling vaguely in the direction of camp. At the next campsite, vacant on this post-season night, I sit at the picnic table to take a breather. Hours later an icepick of sunlight stabs into my brain. I raise my head from the table sticky with accumulated drool and dew. A glass of water before bed usually staves off a hangover. My swollen tongue and the spinning forest are but two of the symptoms that tell me I neglected this prophylactic treatment. I shiver. Late summer nights at 8,000 feet are more like early winter elsewhere. Coffee will restore some of me. A bottle of Gatorade will probably do more. Advil too.

Back at the truck I see that I've left the back open all night. Fortunately no creature has ransacked the interior. To a lay person's eyes its disordered state probably looks like the result of feral rummaging but I've got a system -- fishing gear to the right, camp gear to the left, valuables stashed elsewhere. Except that there seems to be less of a pile where the fishing gear normally sits.

As I explain to the officer, it appears that three rods - two in tubes, one strung, a gear bag containing reels and such and a waist pack are missing. My camp gear was left untouched including a fairly expensive stove. I suspect another angler. The officer is impressed with my sleuthing. I gain a piece of official yellow paper "for insurance purposes".

It's a crap place to be two days into a five day trip without a rod. A four-hour round trip into town seems certain when my gaze lands on my rear view mirror. Hanging there is my lanyard -- nippers, tippet, a dozen flies, floatant, a bottle opener. All the makings of a day on the water. With a bit of enthusiasm tinged with adventure I throw a beer and lunch into my pack and head upstream.

A thick, flexible willow branch hacked and whittled bankside and an improvised leader constructed with what will henceforth be known as a Yellowstone taper get me going Tenkara style. This stream, ten feet wide at its broadest, has plenty of fishy spots and soon pan-sized Rainbows and Browns are at hand.

In the early afternoon a hefty Rainbow smacks my Stimi drifting along the recesses of a dark undercut bank. I race up and down the stream splashing and stumbling trying to prevent my leader or rod from parting. As I beach the rainbow on the gravel his shovel tail makes a fine slap in the shallow water. The sound is immediately followed by a huff sound that raises the hair on the back of my neck. My bowels lurch.

I turn slowly to see a bear, large enough by any measure, standing on the gravel fifteen yards distant. I drop my rod and slowly back away, avoiding eye contact, speaking nonsense in a soothing voice and reaching for the bear spray that was burgled last night. Wading back across the stream I bump up against the far bank and stop facing the menace.

The bear approaches the limply flopping 'bow, huffs one last time and picks up the fish. It, the rod, and the Yellowstone taper disappear into the willows. Maybe it’s a sign.

Jetboil. Civilized Coffee. Anywhere.


  1. Whittling is highly underrated these days.

    1. I cut my thumb two Thanksgivings ago whittling the turkey. Frightfully dangerous pastime.