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Mulhall column: Garfield Avenue reverie

Mitch Mulhall
Mitch Mulhall

There comes an age when you can look back at your time on this planet with a fair amount of perspective. If you’re lucky, maybe you see a time when you hit your stride, or at least came close.

Apparently I’ve reached that age, for it occurred to me the other day that there were a few years in the early ’90s that fit the bill, due at least in part to fly fishing.

It was during that time I guided for Roy Palm.

Guiding didn’t exactly jibe with my mostly quiet demeanor, which is to say I wasn’t nearly as good at guiding as I was at angling, and it’s fair to say in retrospect that my reputation as a decent fly fisherman was more a reflection of how much time I spent fishing than anything else.

I knew a lot of guides, most no more than acquaintances, until one night while tying flies in the front room of my Garfield Avenue rental I heard a knock at my back door. It was about 10:30 p.m. I flipped on the porch light and there he stood, still in wet waders, strung fly rod in hand.

A young guy with a slight southern accent I couldn’t place, he introduced himself and explained he was a Fryingpan guide and that he’d heard from a neighbor I liked fly fishing. Somewhere in the moments that followed we struck up a friendship that would last for years.

From him I learned more about fly tying and angling than I’d managed to accumulate in all my years of mostly self instruction, and while I don’t fish much anymore, my gratitude has never wavered.

I suppose if I’d befriended more guides, it would have upped my game even more, but most of the guides I knew operated at an energy level I could not match.

It wasn’t even clear to me that most guides did anything but guide. Even eating and sleeping were suspect from everything I could tell. This made wetting a fly just for the fun of it something truly far off, and I just couldn’t square that.

Some guides were legendary. Every outfitter had a history of at least one guide who by swagger if not by skill put clients into fish, regardless of client ability or experience.

Other guides developed unusual self-marketing strategies.

One such guide from a rival outfitter developed a reputation for eating the same aquatic insects trout ate. He’d find a blue wing olive, for example, floating along and pluck it off the water. As lore had it, he’d then study the hapless mayfly, perhaps eying the finer details of color and size. Then boom. Down the gullet it went.

He told clients this helped him think like a trout, and just as word of his dietary adventurism began to elicit trip requests, it all came to a screeching halt when giardia sidelined him with a scorching case of trots.

I never could match guides for energy or creative self-marketing, but it all worked out. Roy Palm seemed to understand how I was wired and usually paired me with experienced anglers who preferred a minimalist approach.

In fairness, my guiding days were numbered almost from the day they began. It’s almost axiomatic that guiding is a young man’s avocation, and while my 30s are nearly just that far behind me, there is a beacon in this valley that still brings memories of that time back to life.

On those rare occasions I’m traveling downvalley between Basalt and Carbondale at twilight, I’ll take old 82, particularly west of El Jebel, and turn on Catherine’s Store Road.

As I drive, window down, I’ll share my attention to the road with occasional glimpses of the antenna on Sunlight Peak.

A lot has changed since 1990, but the sight of the Sunlight Peak antenna on a summer evening remains the same.

Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.


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