They say when it rains it pours. If it happens to be pouring on you, you may well think you’re jinxed. And that’s exactly how I felt for a two-month span during the summer of 1996. During eight previous years of guiding, operations had gone relatively smoothly. But a bad moon was rising and all hell was about to break loose. It all began on the Green River…
We weren’t twenty minutes into the float when my client, Kent Petersen, latches into a fine 20” brown trout. Not wanting to miss any good water while Kent wrestled with his fish, I drop anchor. Or so I thought. In fact, I had completely missed the anchor cleat with the rope causing it to silently pay out through the pulley system and promptly sink. Anchors are like that. That is, they sink real well.
Unwilling to spend the rest of the day anchorless I pull ashore and dive into the 52° water in a futile attempt to recover my lost anchor. The bone chilling temperature quickly convinces me to abandon my mission. Nonetheless, I’m practically hypothermic and don’t feel right for several hours. Fashioning an anchor out of rock, spare rope and duct tape we complete a great day on the river without further incident.
Our two-boat trip ends as dusk begins to settle on the river. By the time fellow guide Wayne Dewall and I finish with the shuttle our clients have left and darkness has fallen. The Green River lacks proper boat ramps at most locations so Wayne and I are forced to winch our driftboats up a steep bank. With my boat hanging in a near vertical position, the clip on my winch strap fails. In an instant the boat is jettisoned to mid-stream and begins a not-so-leisurely, unguided voyage downstream.
Watching your livelihood drift away is rather unsettling. Without a second thought I leap, fully clothed, into the river to rescue my stray vessel. Dripping wet I climb aboard and manage to row back to the boat trailer. Fortunately I have a change of clothes. Arriving home with dry clothes my roommate wonders why my hair is all wet.
Friend, fellow guide and frequent fishing companion Charlie Cornell is a great oarsman, regularly going the extra mile to give his angling companions the best possible shot at hooking up with a trout. But this day on the Salt River is somewhat different. I ask Charlie if he’s aware of the approaching submerged log. He is. Now, I know I’m not supposed to be standing in his low-sided pram, but hey, I’m an experienced western fishing guide who has been engaging in such aberrant behavior for years.
No matter. As we approach the log, located just upstream of a highway bridge, a car crosses. Charlie barely grazes the log, but that’s all it takes. A swan dive that would have made Greg Louganis proud finds me with a very good view of the trout I was just trying to catch. Charlie and I giggle wondering what the passing motorist must have thought. But the fact remains, after a lifetime of managing to stay dry while fishing, I’ve now been over my head in three rivers in the last seventeen days.
After a long day on the South Fork my clients and I arrive at the takeout only to discover the leaf spring on my boat trailer has been snapped in two during the shuttle, disabling my trailers ability to haul my driftboat. A Rube Goldberg-esque miracle of modern engineering allows me to tow my boat from the notoriously rutted Cottonwood Road back to Jackson, a 2 ½ hour drive. Nylon webbing, duct tape and just the right size rock...quite a combination. By the way, just what would we do without duct tape? Would it lead to the collapse of civilization as we know it?
Two days later, while guiding the same clients, my shuttle driver careens into a parked Suburban on the same Cottonwood Road causing $4200 worth of damage to my truck alone. My clients are beginning to wonder just who in the world has been moving my truck while we’re floating the river.
The shuttle driver, all of 17 years old and by all accounts, immature for his age, disappears without an explanation. His multi-millionaire employer/outfitter, who also happens to be an attorney, refuses to accept responsibility. Instead he chooses to lecture me on my responsibility to maintain comprehensive insurance on my truck. I have insurance (it’s just not comprehensive)…doesn’t he? It’s just another classic case of, “When you can’t dazzle ‘em with brilliance, baffle ‘em with bullshit.”
So I spend the remainder of the guiding season and the entire winter driving a pickup with a non-functioning drivers-side door and a nonexistent window covered with Visqueen (a heavy clear plastic), before the offending parties finally fess up and pay up. By the way, you’ll never guess what I used to adhere the Visqueen to my busted door. Why, duct tape, of course!
The one day of the season I take a client who needs to catch a flight immediately after the trip (“Don’t worry, I’ll have you off the river in plenty of time”), we arrive at the take-out with time to spare. But wait, where’s my truck? The shuttle hasn’t been done. My client and I are stranded as time inexorably ticks away. I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh, but my client, a doctor, decides to rub some salt in the wound by regaling me with sob stories of how much he misses his family and what a disappointment it will be to miss his flight. Unwilling to allow this tragedy to occur, I run 3 miles to the nearest phone and incredibly find my at-the-time girlfriend at home and willing to drop what she’s doing and cart the good doctor 25 miles to the airport. He offers her $5 for her troubles but she refuses to accept his generous offer. Nonetheless, he makes his flight and all is well.
Shuttles on the Salt River can be hard to come by so my client agrees to drive his own vehicle to help with the shuttle. We finish a great day on the river only to find that someone has let the air out of one of his tires. After changing his tire we complete the shuttle but are a little miffed at this senseless act of vandalism.
Finishing our float on the upper Green River, Charlie’s Bronco refuses to start (probably because he left the lights on!). It’s already after dark and there we are, over ten miles via dirt road to the nearest highway with no tent, sleeping bags, or pads, and little food. Unbeknownst to us, Charlie’s at-the-time girlfriend has eaten all but a small stick of pepperoni and a bagel during the float. We divvy it up and dine in fine style. After all, we did have plenty of water and two Heinekens. But we find ourselves wishing we had more beer. Lots more beer. Worse yet, a stark realization dawns on me. Duct tape isn’t going to get us out of this one.
Grabbing a wrench, we pull the back seat out of Charlie’s Bronco. Charlie and his at-the-time girlfriend spend the night in the Bronco while I put on all the clothes I have and slip into my waders for a night under the stars on the back seat. We all survive the calm, clear night, but Charlie, who makes a box of toothpicks look like a forest of redwoods, gets a cold he’s not able to shake for two weeks.
In the morning my at-the-time girlfriend comes looking for us (always tell someone where you are headed) saving us the long walk to the highway and providing a jump for Charlie’s Bronco. Driving back to Jackson following our forced bivouac, a stone flies off a passing dump truck and turns my windshield into so many spider webs. I’m now driving a truck with a caved in drivers-side door, a Visqueen window held on by duct tape and a windshield that looks like it ran into a Jack Nicholson 5-iron (you may recall the Hollywood icon’s infamous smashing-the-Mercedes-windshield incident from 1994). Subsequent guide clients are suitably impressed with the (alarming) condition of my truck. Not!
The dump truck’s insurance company (USF&G) decides to play hardball and I’m forced to go to small claims court to attain a semblance of justice. Judge Kuvinka rules in my favor…I win!
Who says I’m jinxed?