Drinking and Scavenging in Trout Country
Power lines tower high above a pool of shallow green water. Some of us wade into the stream; the rest meander on racks of shale cut aslant, steep and diagonal. The rock is smooth and cool from an overcast and misty morning, but the sun is now playing games and peeking out from behind a current of cottony clouds. The tumbling of water-onwater creates a soothing, low hiss.
All around, rising pines stretch out with evergreen fur high above hardwoods boasting leaves recently turned vermillion and gold. From a distance, they appear as brush smudges on an endless canvas.
On a smooth slab, with cutaways revealing what looks like rough quartz, I choose to relax and sunbathe, stilling my mind from last night’s fireside whiskey. It is a windless day, rare in Oklahoma, but the clouds are gliding overhead at a dizzying speed. To the south, a tangle of large black birds swirl in unison for several minutes before gradually dissipating, somewhat like my hangover. I close my eyes, imagining the clouds and naming them after people I once knew.
A call comes from upstream and I arise. Scuttling carefully over the embankment, I round the bend and see Aaron with his face buried into a camera pointed at the water. Josh is knee-deep in his waders, smiling at his catch. A large trout is tied to a branch with a green nylon line. Silver-speckled and limp, it slowly flaps its fins with a resigned determination, eyes unblinking and bright, gills fluttering and fleshy pink. A few more like this, and we will eat well tonight.
Southeastern Oklahoma is regionally famous for its natural beauty. The trees stand tall on hillsides and valleys, and the land gently curves and dips. Even from the roadside, the seductiveness of the area is apparent. But to get out and explore it on foot is to truly appreciate its wonder.
Beaver’s Bend State Park, located in the Ouachita National Forest, provides an incredible opportunity to experience the area. It’s also quite the find for fly fishing, as it holds a shallow portion of the Lower Mountain Fork River that is flush with trout.
In the 1960s, the US Army Corp of Engineers dammed a section of the river, creating Broken Bow Lake. Downstream of the lake’s spillway is considered the park’s designated trout fishing area. As a result of the peaceful surroundings and desirable conditions for fly fishing, Beaver’s Bend is a destination for people all around the region. Depending on the weekend, you may notice more Texas than Oklahoma license plates on the dually trucks parked in front of the tackle shop.
Hickory Campsite is our specific destination. I ride with Jason and Josh, our guides. While not professionals, they have spent enough time in the area casting flies to know the honey holes, the secret spots where trout hide.
After flying through wild highways and winding around the tight roads of the park, our comfortable Toyota halts in the small clearing where we will camp with our fellow fishermen, Aaron, Chris, and John. A tall doe pauses, half-hidden in the bush and scrub a few yards ahead, curiously inspecting the shiny black car that has invaded her space.
The doe skips away, and we climb out of the automobile, stretching our limbs and groaning after the four hour car ride. After drinking a beer each from the ice chest, Jason and Josh start assembling their fly rods and changing into waders.
“Here, you can use this one,” Josh tells me. “It’s my grandfather’s old rod.” The handle is cork and the pole is long and fern green. I’ve never handled one of these before, and the device is nearly as tall as me. In the clearing where our campfire will later be, I practice my cast. Is it like a whip? Is it all in the wrist? What is the end-goal here?
“It’s kinda like flicking paint off a paint brush,” Jason advises, a simple piece of information that I try to process into my future attempts at casting my line.
Easier said than done. It’s more like flicking paint from a five-foot brush, using the very tip to bend and propel it several feet forward. After a few minutes of practice, we set off towards the stream, where we will meet the rest of the rest of the guys.
The fire fumes grey and black smoke, smoldering upwards and beyond in the night-blackened sky. In the morning, Chris will be using this same flame to fry bacon and duck eggs, and then after our day on the water, to grill mushrooms and fresh-caught trout. For now, we will huddle around it in the darkness, watching mist trickle down like a pixelated blanket, hued blue from the moon.
Sipping cans of beer in between pours of shaken Old Fashioneds from John’s cocktail kit, we laugh and tell stories, feeling light from the booze and the acrid haze that emanates from the stony firepit. We laugh and tell stories, we eat and we drink. We haven’t caught a fish yet, but it doesn’t really matter. The fish will come, and for now, we have the fellowship. We sit by our fire and exhale vapor underneath a carbon sky.