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Jim and I are afflicted from time to time with the need to stand next to a body of fast-moving fresh water and remove trout from the stream. When we're in fishing stores checking out hardware that might abet the removal, we have a shared and glaring weakness for any contraption that claims to drive fish crazy. Anything that says that drives us crazy: We rip it from the display rack, whoop it up and then race to the cash register to make it ours. Of course, nothing we've ever placed in any stream has driven a trout crazy. But anticipation is the siren song at the headwater of any decent pool or riffle, and we dream that one day we'll turn the tables and drive the fish crazy. With our track record, what else could keep us going?
In recent years we've fished 14 days together. It has rained or snowed on each of those days. First time, three years ago, I stepped off the plane in Albuquerque into a cloudburst. "Hasn't rained in weeks," Jim said. "But don't worry. I've never seen it rain more than a day at a time out here. This is big sky country."
He'd lived there three years, so I figured he knew the score. Next day he said he'd never seen it rain two days in a row. He also said that by the time we got to the Rio Grande gorge, the water would be good and high and the fish would be hungry. Just to be sure, I bought a lure that claimed it would drive fish crazy.
The switchback trail into the gorge was slippery because the big sky was still leaking on the third day. Below us the chocolate roil of the Rio Grande met the coffee-colored Red River and proceeded to do-si-do in a sort of pecan milkshake. "The thing about this rain," Jim said to me over his shoulder, "is that it'll wash the worms and bugs into the water—almost like chumming. We'll shank a crawler, weight it down with a few buck-shot and make a killing."
You've got to understand one thing about Jim and me: The thought of trout leaves us with a looser grip on life's Louisville Slugger. We just keep choking up in order to protect the plate. "Not only free chum," I shouted to Jim through the thickening rain, "but now we won't even have to fake it with the fly rods."
That's always an issue, fly rods. Not that we're purists, because we couldn't be. But as a matter of principle we always bring fly rods, thinking this is the year we'll tie something that doesn't shine or wiggle on the end of our line and catch a trout the "manly way." It's not that we don't think turning over clumps of grass with our hands, tug-o'-warring a worm out of the roots, skewering it on an eagle claw and later hauling a flopping trout out of the water is good sport. It's just that we haven't had great luck explaining the joys to those guys with graphite rods, creels, safari shirts and smug mugs. Our excuse never flies, so we always say the rain made us do it. I don't know what we'll do if we ever fish when it doesn't rain or snow.
That day on the switchback trail we were lugging in the essentials: three bottles of red wine, a pound of bacon, two dozen eggs, two loaves of dark rye, five pounds of Idaho potatoes, three six-packs of ale, four cans of tuna, a jar of mayonnaise, a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a sack of oranges, a quart of tequila (and two half gallons of grapefruit juice for trail margaritas), eight 12-ounce rib-eye steaks, sugar, instant coffee, a lump of Vermont cheddar and a can of fire-starter fluid. You can never be too smart in the woods. What's more, if the trout know you don't need them, they're more likely to get caught. That's a tenet of fishing psychology I can pass along.
On the fourth day of that first trip, the two of us were lying around in our sleeping bags, muttering about this and that, sighing a lot, watching the tent top take a beating. "It's never rained four days in a row in New Mexico," Jim said, looking straight up. "Next time we come out here," he said, "they're going to owe us."
"They won't stand a chance," I said.
"Yup," Jim said, staring straight up again, "we'll drive 'em crazy."