In the canyon the trout's range of travel is bounded by falls, sudden declivities or change of altitude in the slab rock: the blue river turns green-white in a right-angle downward turn, a long ribbon of falling water, roaring and blowing away. The trout live above or below such a place; these are separate civilizations.
We cast our big, visible dries on the glossy rush and quickly trout soar into focus and vanish with our flies. Rods bow and lines shear through the water. Handsome cutthroat trout are beached and released in the gravel, wriggling back into deep water and flickering invisibly into the pale water curtain.
A mile below the trail's end, we found a feeder creek that dropped almost vertically from pool to minute pool. And each pool held handsome cutthroats that took flies readily and leaped, dropping down the plateaus, until they were in the river itself. It seemed unfathomable to hook fish at eye level, watch their descent, then finish the fight under your feet. Many of these fish were in their spawning colors and shimmered in the current as brilliant as macaws.
We ended the afternoon's fishing in time to save an increment of energy for the climb out. A great blue lid of shadow had started down one wall, and the boulders and escarpments bore eccentrically long panels of shade. Above us, a few impressive birds of prey sorted the last thermals. In two hours they were below us, turning grave circles in polite single file.
At Tower Falls we stumbled tiredly out of the woods. It was getting dark and someone fumbled for the car keys.
Mirage on the road-crowns as I spring along under sage-covered ledges; pools of water on macadam hills. Blackbirds scatter before my truck.
All the grass that seemed to indicate something about possibility, that turned up in mountain edges full of yellow-blossomed clover, was sun-dried like hard wire, annealed and napped in one direction or in whorls like cowlicks but distinctly dun-colored on the hard hills.
Now when the sheep yarded up in the orchard, their fetor hung slowly downwind with an edge that was less organic than chemical. In the heat of broad day I saw a coyote on a yellow grassy bench digging along the length of a pocket gopher's workings, throwing up an industrious stream of dirt behind himself like a beagle.
In midsummer big streams like the Missouri headwaters can come to seem slumberous and unproductive. The great sweeps of river are warm and exposed; and the fishing can be perfectly lousy.
Then, evening fishing on the spring creeks—streams that jump full-grown, quite mythically, from under ledges or out of swamp ground, and flow for miles before joining a river, often at some secretive or wooded confluence. The stub ends of such streams are seen by passing fishermen who seldom suspect the trout network lying beyond.