It’s the first cold morning of the season. The pines that line the long, dirt road sulk beneath a heavy blanket of October snow. We park at the rim of the canyon and rig up. Our bags are packed for a full day of fishing: canned soup, jetboil, smoked salmon, bourbon, and extra layers—lots and lots of extra layers. A handful of mule deer give us a curious stare as we begin following faint game trails that serpentine their way into the canyon and toward the river. Once inside, the steep, granite walls greet us like old friends and the cold, flowing water feels just like home.
Fishing is a little slow today, but it doesn’t matter much to us. Cast after cast, we swing streamers across the deep runs, always anticipating a grab but very few bites ever materialize. Giant snowflakes fall from the sky and cover the banks of the river. Mother nature is transforming our summertime playground into a winter wonderland right before our eyes. We’re lucky to be here.
We begin to feel the pressure of not landing any fish and collectively decide to head to a new spot a little deeper into the canyon. On the way, we pass a hawk perched on a riverside boulder. His feathers are so soaked from the rain and snow that he can’t fly. We sit for a while with the hawk, his icy gaze locked in on us as we tie on darker streamers.
Hoping for the best, we each take turns fishing the deep tailout behind the hawk’s perch. A few beautiful fish find their way into our nets. It’s cold, it’s wet and we’re growing increasingly uncomfortable, but no one wants to stop.
Finally, we succumb to our fatigue and break from the river. We build a small fire beneath a stand of bare aspens that rattle in the cool, autumn breeze. I welcome the sting of the warm smoke as we stand close to the glowing coals, revitalizing our cold bones. We share bourbon and smoked salmon while we talk. Our conversations slowly drift into silence, though, the way fireside exchanges tend to do, and before too long, the sound of the river is the only thing we hear. I take another sip of bourbon from the flask and pass it along without saying a word. All around us, the snowflakes continue to fall.