Adventures with Outlaw


Once I went a fishin’…

            May 29, 2002
            Katka Springs, Idaho

That morning I awoke with a sniff of grouse feathers up my nose and handful of barbed fishhooks lodged deep in my palm.  Not a typical day, but better than most because today was the opening weekend for mountain lake fly-fishing.
            Being the first planned fishing trip of the year, my supplies were scattered about in disarray.  I eagerly searched every nook and cranny of my room, wrangling only the most essential gear: hooks, bobbers, sinkers, tied flies, dead flies with hooks tied to them, something the cat barfed up with a hook tied to it, rubber worms, real worms, more bobbers, colorful lures, spinners, rooster tails, swivels, 10-pound line, 50-pound line (doubles as emergency boot lace) lucky squirrel tail, Duct tape, bug spray. Bug Spray?  Nah, probably not this early in the season.  I tossed the spray can to the floor and continued gathering supplies.
Power bait, Stink bait, Super Stink bait, a 25 foot tape measure (used to determine how high up in the tree a bobber was; my record is 23 feet) fish hook remover, pocketknife, hatchet, emergency fire-starter kit, three rolls of toilet paper, and a dusty fish counter clocked at three. The same number it had been jinxed on for years.  But today, I was feeling lucky. Today that counter would be clicked past four.
I stuffed my gear into an undersized backpack, secured my fishing pole to the side with 50-pound emergency bootlace and scampered out the door. 
Waiting impatiently on the porch was my faithful fishing partner Calico Jo – Callie for short.  A Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Blue Heeler, Greyhound, crossed with some mangy mongrel whose dominant trait had been an uncontrollable slobber gland.  She was a loyal friend who had hidden from me through thick, out ran me through thin and always managed to find her way back to the vehicle first during a thunderstorm.   
Traditionally our first fishing excursion of the year was to Dover Lake, but the night before I had unfolded an ancient Forest Service map from my father’s bait box and discovered a lonely blue dot nestled in the depths of the Rocky Mountains.  It had no name.  There was no marked trail to get to it. But I remembered what old Rocky McWillis once told me; he grumbled, “Pay attention Cletus (my name’s not Cletus…) cuz this conspiracy goes all the way to the top. The Forest Service always leaves the best mountain fishing lakes unnamed.”
Loading Callie into the back of my bargain Blazer we managed ten feet before the engine stalled and sputtered to death.  Callie sighed as I commenced my verbal assault. 
The following vocal outburst could not be printed.
Another three cranks and the engine roared to life, coughed, choked, gagged and then found a rhythmic idle.

* * * * *

 Sweating and grunting I pushed my wretched bargain Blazer up the final half-mile of visible road.  She had this unpredictable habit of killing her engine at the most inopportune times. Back in ’01 I tried to outmaneuver a stampeding logging truck which was barreling right for us. I wanted to tap the breaks and pull gently to the shoulder of the road, but she had other plans. My bargain Blazer coughed to death, locked her steering wheel then her doors and cascaded off the road into a ditch of thistles. Her dying, me cursing, it was a game we played.  Not a very fun one, but a game none-the-less.
Skidding to a stop, I jammed her in park and then mopped the sweatband of my fedora. After unloading Callie, I scoured the road for a striped rock.  Spitting on a striped rock and throwing it into a pool of water was an old time trick to bring good fishing luck and today I found a three-striped rock. I laid down a slathering coat of saliva and pitched the rock over the hillside into a murky swamp. Good luck was sure to follow. 
Scooping up my backpack, I checked the map one last time guessing at my unknown coordinates then began stomping a trail through the underbrush.  In roughly two hours I would be at the lake, my lake.

* * * * *

Three hours into my trek the mosquitoes continued to attack with the fury of a thousand starving wolverines.  I swatted, slapped and murdered thousands only to have their brethren seek revenge on my exposed skin.  Tugging the flannel over my head, I sprinted through the underbrush screaming like a banshee with its sheet on fire.  My arms swung wildly in the air, swatting at the aggressive mosquitoes stabbing their bloodsuckers though my shirt and jeans.  Smaller, more agile mosquitoes pursued me like fighter planes in various attack formations, swooping in, stabbing me, then jetting back to their protective cloud.
There was no escape; I was going to be sucked to death in a matter of seconds if I couldn’t find a way to extinguish their fiery rage. Fire! My emergency fire starter kit, of course!  Shucking my backpack I burrowed deep inside and recovered my fire kit.  I ripped it open and spread the contents on the forest floor. 
Candles. 
No. 
Flint stick. 
No time. 
Dried matches.
You bet. 
Custom vile of gasoline.
Oh ya! 
I doused a wilting scrub bush with gasoline, lit a match and dove for cover.  The bush exploded! The orange ball of flames incinerated a cloud of mosquitoes.  The survivors scattered into the depths of the forest, disoriented and mystified by this pale, yet tasty skinned fellow’s power to conjure up fire.
Quickly I stoked the fire with twigs and dried brush and then bathed my face in smoke.  I tossed my hat aside, stripped down to my sleeveless undershirt and fanned the smoke with my flannel.  The mosquitoes soon lost interest and as one giant cloud hummed off to the south.
 Callie yawned and curled up for a nap under a dormant huckleberry bush.  Not a bad idea, so I selected a tree, spread out my flannel and reached for my fedora to shade the midday sun from my face.  My outstretched fingers fell on soggy soil, then a mossy rock, but no hat.  A quick scan of the terrain came back negative.  I glanced at Callie.  Her dark, uninterested eyes met mine then rolled slightly west to my fedora scooting up a rotten cedar tree. 
“What the –“ I yelped and rushed to the base of the tree.
I shook the cedar trunk violently. My fedora skidded down a branch and then continued to climb.  I jabbed my assembled fishing pole at the retreating hat, which scurried into a squirrel hole, twenty feet up.  Irritated, I returned to my backpack. 
Five whacks into the rotten trunk with my hatchet brought the cedar crashing to its’ knees, right into the fire, showering the forest with glowing embers. 
Rising from the settling embers, an angry mountain squirrel, wearing my charred fedora like a kilt, charged down the fallen cedar and leapt for face, rotten teeth and jagged claws poised for attack.  I defensively swung my fishing pole and smacked the sailing heathen to the ground.  Quick to retaliate, the squirrel lodged its’ crooked teeth into my fishing pole, snapped the tip off and ran for the bushes.
“Why you little – ” I yelled and lowered my pole to the ground. I released the drag and line zinged into the underbrush.  Patiently, I watched the spool unwind.  Waiting for that thieving weasel cousin to think he’d gotten away with the tip of my pole and my favorite rooster tail.
Just a little more slack…
Times up!
I jerked the pole hard to set the barbed hooks, hopefully right through the side of that vermin’s pelt. I engaged the drag and reeled in, gave a little slack then madly reeled again. The line violently jerked me to the dirt.  A fighter huh?  Bracing my feet against a stump, I yanked the pole back, reeled a bit, and then yanked again.  He did not look it, but he was a heavy bugger.
Abruptly, my line slackened and slumped to the ground.  He had given up; succumb to the mighty fisherman’s power.  A thunderous crash and heated snort brought me back to reality. Callie curled deeper under her huckleberry bush as a series of tremors shook the soil. Pinecones snapped loose from their branches and rocks trembled all around my boots.    
He didn’t look that big when I hooked him.
Suddenly a bull moose exploded through brush. Eyes ablaze with anger! My fishing line was tangled around his velvet antlers and my rooster tail was pierced neatly under his right nostril. 
I shared a friendly wave, “It looks nice on you.”
His lips curled with hatred and he belched swamp gas.
This was definitely not the proper time or place, but for some reason it bubbled into my brain.  As I stood there, hyperventilating, my mind drifted to that age-old question every fisherman faces at least once a season.  Fish or cut bait?  A catch this size was worth at least three if not four clicks on my fish counter.
The Bull Moose snorted again, lowered his antlers and charged!
I screamed, dropped my pole and darted to the south with Callie hot on my heels and the moose not two beats behind.  We had both been in this predicament before, not with a beast this large or hostile, but similar, and we both knew that in this race it was survival of the fastest.  So, like any survival motivated animal on the run, Callie nipped my calf to slow me down and sprinted forward.
“Owww!  You coward!” I hollered, “Keep running, but I’ve got the keys!”

* * * * * * *

Rrrr… clunk.
Vrrr… clunk.
“Son of a— c’mon!  You rusted pile of –”
I twisted the key harder and it snapped off in the ignition slot.  After a brief Tourettes moment, I dove for the rubber-made of tools near the spare tire in the back of my Blazer. 
Jumper cables. 
No. 
Oily rag.
Negative. 
Tire iron. 
Tempting, but no. 
Ah ha! Screwdriver!
I scrambled back to the driver’s seat, jammed the screwdriver into the ignition and frantically cranked.  Callie whimpered and glanced at the passenger side mirror and the looming figure of a charging bull moose.
“I know, I know!” I screamed.
Slamming the pedal to the floor I cranked on the screwdriver one final time.  The engine roared to life. I slammed her into reverse. 
Whack!  Didn’t see that tree. 
Feverishly, I grabbed another gear and stomped the pedal to the floor.  A thunderous backfire followed by a billowing smoke cloud signaled liftoff, then the engine choked on vapors and died. 
The following vocal outburst could not be printed. Again.
I screamed like a horror movie actress as I turned to see those deep, angry, brown eyes of the bull moose outside my driver’s side window. His swamp-gas breath fog dotted my window as he pressed his nose against the glass, my rooster-tail dangling from his right nostril.  Callie jumped out the passenger side window and scampered off into the nearby underbrush.
“Coward!” I screeched.   
The bull moose lowered his antlers, dug his hooves into the gravel and heaved.  I think I rolled twice maybe three times down the hill and landed upside down in the murky swamp.  Infested water rushed in from the passenger window.
Still dazed, I scrambled to the back.  Three solid kicks later the rear hatch window swung open then slammed shut and locked! I kicked and kicked and kicked again.  Nothing.  Frantically I fumbled through the water, found the tire iron and proceeded to swing like Sosa. 
Wading to shore, I dusted shattered glass from my shoulders and plopped down upon a mossy rock to watch six hundred dollars slowly sink into oblivion. Callie emerged from the underbrush and nuzzled my elbow so I scratched her ear.
“Yeah, I’m glad you’re okay too,” I said. “Do you think moose attack is covered under my comprehensive insurance plan?”

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