Mackenzie River in the Long Ago | Blaine Hallock (From Early Northwest Fly Fishing)

It is nearly thirty-five years since my first trip to the MacKenzie, yet so vividly etched in memory are the recollections of that far away weekend that I can tell the story as though it happened only yesterday.

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It was July. Henry Isaacs, Bill Umbdenstock, and I were smoking our pipes on the spacious porch of Trotter's cozy home, watching the lovely river ship along the pebbled shores and gather speed for the leaping rapids below.

Back of the house were green woods, quiet and cool. No irritating noises, stifling heat, or crowds marred the peace and simplicity of our sylvan retreat.

A little garden patch of corn, pumpkin, and some kitchen stuff spanned the narrow stretch between the house and the silent firs. A stalwart company of tall sunflowers flanked the garden as if holding the threatening woods at bay. At the front of the house, mid-way between the porch and the split rail fence, a bed of dainty poppies, red, pink, and white, caught the last afterglow of sunset, their heavy heads nodding on fuzzy, slender stems. Here was Arcadia.

The shadows gathered as we sat talking little but thinking much of the day coming so peacefully to a close, a day which I think none of us will ever quite forget.

Memory will keep it green long after those that followed, and perhaps those yet to come, fade away and are forgotten.

A day on the South Fork!

Even now my pulse quickens at the recollection. First the brisk pull across the hurrying river. We could see the clean pebbles at the bottom despite the depth and the current. Then the walk through the woods, I won’t pretend to say how far we walked for it was not measurable in miles There, in the morning, with the dew on the grass, distance wasn’t a factor, nor was time. I don’t even know for how long we walked. I know only what we saw and felt on that journey of impressions, not of minutes Or miles. Hans Christian Anderson must have known just such woods as those that lie between the majestic MacKenzie and its sparkling tributary to the south.

He filled them with fairies and giants and strange shifting shadows which children fear yet love. We too knew as we walked beneath the quiet trees that these woods were enchanted. The birds sang it. The flowers proclaimed it. The needles of the great firs whispered it among themselves. And we felt it and were children again.

The trail wound among big moss-covered rocks and under the reaching branches of hoary trees. Into the deep shadows it led us, then out again where the sun had sucked the dew from the white and blue anemones. Here a log lay full across the uncertain path and we vaulted the mossy hurdle with Bill, who was somewhat broad of girth, the last man over.

Pushing through a fragrant hedge we came unexpectedly upon a tiny sunlit meadow dotted with flowers. Pausing there to admire its loveliness, we heard the tinkle of a bell and looking back saw coming up the trail a forest ranger mounted on a sturdy pinto, leading a string of pack mules.

When he overtook us as we loitered in the flowery glade, the caravan stopped. As the animals nibbled the lush green grass, the ranger, long, lean, and sunburned, threw a leg over the pommel of his saddle and displaying a set of magnificent shiny white teeth addressed us in a quiet drawl. ‘’How’s the fishin’, boys?”

“We really haven’t started yet,” responded Bill. “We just came across the river from Trotters and are headed for the South Fork. The country is so green and refreshing, we’re just loafing along, admiring its beauty.”

“Yes, it’s fine now,” said the ranger, “But if you had been here last week I would have had to muster you in as fire fighters. We had an awful burn about two miles up the creek which took out a lot of fine timber.”

“What started the fire?” I asked. 

“Fishermen. If you build a fire, be mighty careful, and be sure that it’s out when you leave. I’m heading for a camp well up the fork where we are building access trails to the big stands of timber so important to this country. A forest fire in the big trees where there are no roads or trails can be really tragic. So do watch your fire.”

With that he got his foot in the stirrup, gave the pack string rope a yank and started up the trail, calling back, ‘’Good luck.” We had almost forgotten the purpose of our expedition, so fascinated were we with the scene, when a sudden turn brought us full upon the river.

I have fished a lot of streams and have splashed along the margins or stemmed the springtime force of many a rushing river and many a babbling brook, but there is only one South Fork.

We came upon it there curving in friendly fashion about the little point of hill where we stood. It was just the right size, neither too big nor too small, exactly deep enough and precisely the right width. Here and there clumps of sword fern and brake overhung clear pools. Each riffle was just where it belonged, and the logs and half-submerged rocks lay as though placed by an all-wise Providence at the special request of some ardent angler...

Read the rest of this chapter and many more like it in the book: 

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