Story From The Road: The Cattle Drive

Fishing story: You don't know what's going to happen when you find yourself fishing in the middle of a cattle drive...

Cutthroat Trout, Logan River, Utah
Cutthroat Trout, Logan River, Utah

January 2022

One of the few bright spots from my time in graduate school was the opportunity to catch cutthroat trout within 30 minutes of my apartment. I'd high tail it up the canyon every chance I got. During the summers, that was almost daily. In a town with a limited bar scene and no night-life, it was one of the only ways to escape the university approved oppression. While it's true that spending that much time on a river helps you pick up local fishing secrets, what's never discussed are all the weird things you start to see along the way. At least on this river. I've had rocks thrown at me from unknown sources, seen headlamps on far off hills where no person would ever wander without intention, and heard a few rumors along the way. But the fishing was always so consistent, I'd find myself out in the thick of things time after time... except late at night.

One summer day I coaxed my girlfriend to tag along. We were heading to a meadow stretch where cutthroat had been consistently eating flies like red PMXs and pheasant tail nymphs. I convinced her the fishing would be worth it, and it didn't disappoint. We helped each other over the slippery large rocks and took turns casting at likely pockets. The water ran so clear and cool that you could see fish taking the droppers in between the roils of white water. I distinctly remember the weight and feel of my fiberglass rod as I dropped flies into any pocket I could reach. I felt like I was fishing back in time. Despite excellent success landing several beautiful fish, the river's weird side was about to show itself again.

Photo by Polina Portnaya / Unsplash

It started with a big shadowy backend, uncomfortably close to our position. It wasn't making noise, but when I heard the word "bear" uttered, I was hardly going to doubt it. After some quiet wading and tense repositioning, we spotted a harmless white face to go with that shadowy backend. But we were so distracted by that cow at first, we didn't pick up on the approaching herd. The rumble of more cows, motivated mooing, and a cattle drive that was heading directly towards us. A wall of leathery beasts confined along a canyon road and river bank barreling ahead, with us in the way. By the time we correctly identified the rumble, the herd was directly across the bank from us. They were a determined lot, hoofing it up stream, crashing branches, heading onto greener pastures. Followed by a true to form cowboy wrangling his herd, the illusion of being back in time didn't seem like a stretch any longer. Frankly it was a surreal experience, albeit slightly out of the ordinary.

Bonneville Cutthroat, Northern Utah's Logan River
Bonneville Cutthroat, Northern Utah

The cows eventually diverted, and generously preserved the water upstream from us, allowing us to refocus our attention on fishing. But I was still perplexed as to what I'd witnessed. I was reviewing the carnage of the hoof-stamped ground (my girlfriend was attentive to rising fish) when I noticed it. A terrified snake, likely evicted during the commotion, was swimming across the river for relief. The closest point of relief happened to be us standing in the middle of the river. It was heading directly towards us, there was nowhere else he could have been heading. I let him approach too closely before sounding the alarm, I figured he'd divert at any second. That was not the case, and my following words probably contributed to the ensuing chaos. I don't remember exactly what I said... What I do remember is my girlfriend losing her footing when she recognized the threat. I somehow managed to buoy her up with one arm, and just in time slashed at the snake with my rod. A damsel in distress, a serpent, and me with my sword... Sword is a stretch though, the fiberglass rod didn't pack much of a punch. Fortunately, my persistence was enough to divert our foe. The snake, approaching our legs, abruptly changed courses and headed off to parts unknown. It was at this point when we both reached our limits for weirdness and packed up for the day.