Dud, meanwhile, took advantage of the opportunity to put on another fly-fishing exhibition. Virtually the entire time I was fast to tree roots, he was fast to trout. In one swift run of 50 yards he caught 15 rainbows in 30 minutes, keeping five so similar in size and markings they were impossible to tell apart. They were strong, chunky, full-bodied fish, about a foot long and brilliantly colored. These are real wild trout—the area hasn't been planted in 30 years. The first one I took on the spinning rig gave me a hands-full time for two or three minutes, tail dancing across the water 11 times by count. And yet he measured less than a foot in length. I had creeled only six trout when, to Dud's immense relief, I smashed the tip of the spin rod trying to manhandle one particularly muscular specimen clear of a mare's nest of fir roots. Thereafter I stuck with the flies.
Our three days at Simpson fled with outrageous speed. We broke no rainbow records—Dud's biggest fish went just over a pound, mine just under that—but we caught all the trout any reasonable man could want or ask for. I took fish on Black Gnats, Mosquitoes, Red Ants, McGinties, Royal Coachmen and an unnamed green monstrosity of uncertain origin. We caught fish at dawn, at high noon and in the evening; like the kind of fly, the time of day seemed to make a difference only between good fishing and great fishing.
As usual, Dud left the evening fishing on our final day to me. Just after sunset I was working my way lazily around a bend a couple of hundred yards above camp, debating whether to fight the mosquitoes after the up-canyon breeze died, or call it a day—and a trip. To my left the roots of a fallen fir diverted a small flow of water around a gravel island. I had hardly given the little fork a glance on previous occasions; but now, beyond the roots, I heard the heavy "ker-chunk" of a sizable feeding fish.
If I approached from either side, the trout would be certain to see me; his pool was small and shallow, and there was no cover on the adjoining gravel bars. The fir roots towered several feet above my head so it was obviously impossible to cast over them. There was a single chance: if I could float a fly through that maze, it should drift right over the feeding rainbow. I snipped off the dropper, flipped the Coachman onto the water about a foot in front of the roots and held my breath as the current swiftly sucked it out of sight. Almost instantly there was a splash, and the electric shock of a heavy strike ran down the rod. It was an impossible situation from the first: I couldn't even see the fish, and he was only one quick surge from the roots. But I gave it the old college try anyhow. And suddenly I realized that, for some unfathomable reason, the rainbow had come through that tangle on his own, that my line and leader were not fouled and that he was about to arrow past me on his way upstream into the main river.
When I freed him at the edge of a gravel bar a few minutes later and watched him head groggily back for his lair, I thought somehow of a phrase from the 23rd Psalm: "my cup runneth over." So I left the river and made my way back to where Dud's campfire danced cheerily beneath the cottonwoods.