Thursday, January 24, 2013

Swimming in the Pan! Frying Pan that is...

One of my fishing buddies wanted to share an incident that happened to him while fishing the Frying Pan River last year to drive home the importance of wading safety. This is non-fiction. The following is the recap of his incident. I was going to post excerpts of the incident, but I think you will agree that Dave is a great writer. 

Dave wrote...

This is a story I wrote for a contest on the William Joseph web site last year.  I thought it apropos as a follow-up to your wading blog, as a reminder that dangers lurk not only in the water, but above and around it as well.

Frying Pan Mishap

In was a perfect evening to be on the river.  As the mid-September sun slipped behind the mountains, the canyon walls changed from hue to hue, finally deciding on a stark crimson that seemed to turn the very air I was breathing into a golden haze.  That color was matched by the aspen leaves as they mournfully dropped from their perches, fluttered through the beams, and gently twisted into the eddies of the Frying Pan River of western Colorado.  Beneath the fleeing leaves, the fast-moving waters gradually darkened, in a way that warns a trout to feed more fervently before the coming nightfall. 

This last golden hour of fishing is a fine experience to share with a friend.  Being alone however, as I was that night, the river had a very different feel.  As its tumbling rush made the only noise, aside from the whine of my line being stripped and the rhythm of my breathing, the river seemed to be alive.  It seemed to challenge me; willing to give up her trout only if my skill was perceived worthy of them.

I was working my way up the south riverbank, drifting my embarrassingly large and ugly Green Drake through pockets, with surprising success.  Uncountable generations of Frying Pan trout had obviously decided that, if the water temperature and aspen leaves were both dropping, large and ugly Green Drakes were the unquestionable meal of choice.  My light was failing fast, but, at present, the pace of the rocky current denied my crossing back to the highway side of the river.  As I glanced upstream, that familiar anticipation of a deep and dark honey-hole full of wise and elusive lunkers awoke in my mind.  I saw an ancient pine tree straddling the river upstream of the run I was currently fishing.  Its thick branches protruded both up into the air, and down, into the slower water, about twenty feet above the tumbling, rocky run.  The resultant slowing of the water formed a natural pool, deep and cold, protected above by its fallen creator, protected below by the falling waters; just the sort of hole the scariest trout would defend as his home.

I moved along the river bank, then approached this trout haven on my knees, ducking under another pine seemingly placed there as a sentry to prevent any notion of a conventional cast.  I knew the hole’s primary resident would be tucked up close to the fallen pine.  Using a low roll cast, I tried to slide the Drake up to his domain without contacting either the fallen pine above him, or the still-standing sentry above me.  Several attempts fell short, but still managed to yield a pair of fine apprentice trout.  But I knew the master awaited.  Risking discovery, I crawled a few more feet to close the distance, then rolled my Drake right up underneath the fallen bridge.  A shadow immediately arose from the deep and the Drake disappeared into a frothing splash of river water and red Brown Trout spots.  As I landed what was undoubtedly the master Brownie for that stretch of river, I felt the thrill of success at having been found worthy to do so.

            The fishing day was over and I knew my companion would be waiting for me at the car.  The only evident way across the river was now that fallen pine, as it separated the too-deep water above from the too-strong rapids below.  It appeared easy enough; just a few thick branches to maneuver around or over and I could easily traverse the waterway.  As I started across, I noted that falling off and into the river on the upstream side of the tree would be an exceedingly bad idea.  The water was not only deep, but as it gathered itself for the plunge down the rapids below, the strength of the powerful current was evident.  Many of the tree’s limbs were also submerged deep into the flow.  Any unfortunate soul unlucky enough to become a swimmer and approach that barrier from upstream would undoubtedly be sucked under the massive tree trunk and pinned by the water’s force to the deadly wooden prison bars below.  I moved forward with care.

            I was concentrating on the branches.  I didn't want to get tangled in one of them and loose my footing.  It never occurred to me that a half-inch-tall tree knot could be just as deadly.  As I took a full step to clear a large limb in my path, my toe caught on just such a knot that I hadn't even noticed.   My forward momentum threw me into the branch I had been trying to maneuver past, snapping it off at about eighteen inches length from the tree trunk.  The suddenly-added momentum as the branch broke threw me further forward, but also caused my right foot to slip off of the log and down towards the deadly water below.  Sprawling forward, there was nothing to grab; nothing to save me.  I began to fall in….upstream of the log.

            In a circumstance that I can attribute to nothing other than God’s intervention, I was saved by the very branch that nearly took my life.  That eighteen-inch stub now had a sharpened, pointed end.  I felt it dig through my chest waders just above my left knee.  But then, as I heard my waders ripping, I still felt I was going to die.  Divine providence, however, put a seam at just the right spot to stop the tear.  And thus I hung, nearly upside-down, looking down at my own death.  I felt blood running up my leg and knew that, if I lived, I would at the very least forever have a reminder of my foolish choice and of my clumsiness.  I reached, and I grabbed branches on the opposite side of the tree and pulled myself back on top.  I then extricated my shredded waders from the life-saving broken branch.  My Orvis T3 rod, forgotten in my moment of crisis, I found patiently waiting for me in the tangle of branches where I had dropped it.   Retrieving it, I gingerly completed my traverse of the river before falling to my knees on the far bank to regain my breath and to stop my shaking. 

            A lesson was learned.  The river, though inviting and often cooperative, can be a fickle fishing companion.  She may give up her trout, when earned, but she never surrenders her sovereignty.  Be careful out there. 

Moral of that story...we always need to remember that wading safety can not be taken for granted and when we are on the river awareness and our mindset while wading are important. 

Thanks Dave for sharing!

 Ill pass on comments to him.


  1. Thanks to you and to Dave for sharing that story. Typically, the first question I had was, how big was the brown? Before the question fully sunk in, I was saying holy crow!

    1. Yeah and Dave is six foot plus so definitely a brown to remember!

    2. I was there that day, and was thankful he was not swept away. Especially since he had the car keys, and I would have had to walk all the way back to Sowmass.

  2. I agree with you, Dave is a fine writer. As I mentioned on the other post, I will wade, but, due to my age I am very cautious. Thank God, Dave, made it through this terrifying evening. Sometimes the fish win!


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