I’ve always had a lake in my backyard. Obviously, not literally in my backyard, but just about. Flaming Gorge Reservoir is less than 5 minutes from my house, and I used to spend just about every night there as a child. 

My mom used to work at the restaurant most nights when I was a kid – long before I had a little sibling – and, like a good father, my dad took me bass and crawdad fishing every evening that my mom worked. That being said, my mom was still there to enjoy every adventure with the messes my family got in. 

One of these times, when I was a young girl – eight, maybe – our family went fishing with our uncle on the lake. A beach was nearby, and naturally, we stopped at it. Being a child with an active imagination, I was resistant to getting back on the boat when the time came, and I wanted to stay on the beach just a little bit longer.

I had made a new friend, a lizard I named Lizzy, and I wasn’t ready to end our new friendship so soon. So, like the “strict parents,” they are, my mom and dad left me to play on the beach by myself and drifted a meter or two out into the water to fish from my uncle’s Pontoon boat. This may seem like a story about me, but it’s not. It’s about my little brother and my mother.

While I don’t have a first-hand account of the story because I was on the beach in my own world, I have heard this story many times. My uncle and dad crushed small bass with a popper dropper rig as I played in the mud, ruling my kingdom of sand and water. A large foam Cicada trailed by a small micro streamer had the fish sipin’. Well, thinking it was a good idea, fun old Uncle Gene had given my three-year-old baby brother one of the fish he had caught. When he was little, my brother loved binkies for a long time, and he commonly mistook the everyday lake bass for one of his binkies when Uncle Gene gave the fish to him. After a few seconds of my brother enjoying a bass-flavored pacifier, my mom noticed something was fishy. Quite literally. 

“Mason, what’s in your mouth?” she had asked to my brother’s turned back. In response, he turned around to face my mom, the still-alive bass’s head in his mouth, spines up, and tail wiggling. She screamed so loudly, even I heard her on the beach. “GET THAT OUT OF YOUR MOUTH! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!” She screeched. The sound echoed in the mountains. My uncle and dad laughed about it forever until they came to pick me up, and they were still laughing.

We still talk about it occasionally, even with Uncle Gene gone. Another time, a little over five years ago, my dad found “The Maze” – an obscure hike in the mountains. We named it “The Maze” because of the twisting, adventurous path needed to get in, through, and back out. This is an unusual hike and not for the faint of heart. It takes climbing, communication, fitness, and a sense of adventure to get through. Not to mention a good guide who can guide the vast rocky mountain trail. Such a person as skilled and experienced as my dad.

While I can’t tell just one story, I can speak of the various mishaps and funny moments on our adventures in “The Maze.” I remember one of the times we adventured through the mountainous maze; there was a rock where we had to ascend a large boulder to go through a small trench in the rocks. There were some bat droppings in the little nooks of one of the rocks. We all steered clear of our hands. Well, almost all of us. My cousin, already in a bad mood, planted her hand into the bat waste as she climbed over the rocks. She was in a double evil mood after that. Though our laughing didn’t help at the time, we’ve always joked about it ever since. 

At a different time, in the same spot, I had a bloody nose (Maybe that place is just unlucky). Blood makes me dizzy, and I could feel myself passing out. That was also when I achieved my greatest fear: having a bloody nose in a place I couldn’t take care of. My dad taught me the incredible trick of clotting a bloody nose, and I’ve used it every time, even if I’m in an area I don’t need to clot it. Fortunately, I didn’t pass out from the blood, but my hoodie had blood on it for the rest of the adventure. The last time we traversed the labyrinth, half our squad was accidentally left behind, and, again, we realized they weren’t catching up in the same spot as the other two spots, so I went and retrieved them… Even though I got a little lost trying to find them. I was also following too closely behind my dad during that same adventure and was stricken by a pine’s protruding twig-filled branch after my dad only held it long enough for himself to get past. Overall, “The Maze” has always been a great outlet and adventure for friends and family. 

I took a large breath as I finished telling my stories to my good friend, Bylen. “Wow, Mij, that sounds like quite an adventurous life. I wish I had that growing up.” We heard a sip, and Bylen’s rod shot up, hooking a violet, iridescent-striped Rainbow. Bylen had a longing, dream-like gaze in her eyes as she reeled the fish up. I cocked my head in a curious, friendly manner. “Oh, yeah? What did you have growing up?” I asked. 

Bylen sighed as she released the fish back into the water through a sea of evening midges and waterlogged crippled Blue Wings from earlier in the day. The dreamy look in her eyes faded away as the memories came back to her. 

“Trouble. I had trouble growing up,” she said, half-joking. Bylen wasn’t sad remembering her past, as she still carried an upbeat tone, but there was regret. “I got into gangs on the streets, and we just got into,” Bylen took a breath before she finished, “a lot of trouble. Mostly because we were bored. I didn’t find hiking and fishing until I was, I don’t know, around eighteen and twenty-one, I think.” She chuckled regretfully as she remembered her decisions. I nodded, smiling at the fading blue sky, preparing to set the stage for the stars. 

“Hard to see the sky from the city, yeah?” I asked, watching as the sun faded behind the mountain guardians. In my peripheral vision, I saw Bylen nod. “Yes, it is,” she answered softly. I felt something tug on my rod and shot it up, hooking a medium-sized brown trout with spots an artist would envy. Reeling quickly as I thought it was best to start walking home, I smiled sympathetically at her. 

“You’ve come a long way from where you were, Bylen. Be proud of your journey.” As I said this, I looked at her now, bending down to unhook the fish and meeting her dull brown eyes. She smiled gratefully and nodded, looking at the sky as the stars started coming onto their big black stage. 

“I am proud. Proud to have friends like you,” she answered, turning to traverse back. 

“Oh yeah?” I asked, copying the same action. “What’s that mean?” “Kind and sincere. In gangs, people are tough and shady. With you, and friends like you, I can relax, let down my guard, and really be myself,” Bylen explained, the brightening stars reflecting in her eyes. I nodded, turning my attention to the stars’ show as well.

“Is that why you’re working so hard to help the foster kids get outside?” I asked, putting my wet hands in my pockets to keep them warm. Air blew out of her nose in a quiet laugh. “Yeah, I just want to give them a chance I didn’t have growing up,” she said, her face scrunching up in frustration as a new train of thought entered her brain. “All the money needed to get them there and out is so hard, though! People don’t understand the importance or don’t care, and it’s so infuriating. Ugh!” Bylen buried her hands in her face, and I patted her on the back. “Well, there are a few people who care enough to help you out,” I said, returning my hands to my pockets. 

Bylen’s face emerged as her hands fell down to her sides. The car was close. I could see the dark blue in the moonlight. 

“Yes, and believe me, I’m grateful for you and your family, but I just wish more people in the city who are away from nature – places where I would have grown up – would understand just how destructive their situation can be,” Bylen explained, shoving her own hands in her pocket. 

“We’ll keep trying everything we can until they do understand. Have hope, Bylen. It’s only a matter of time,” I said, opening the car door for her, “it’s like fly fishing; there’s hope in every cast.”

She slid in, and I walked around to the driver’s side. Bylen’s eyes were closed when I closed the door, her face uncertain about the future. “It’s only a matter of time,” she repeated, “just a matter of time.”

Article written by Mij Feathersby, courtesy of Ryan Kelley @greenriverflyfisher. Journaling daily walks around the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. Faith, Family, and getting kids outside.

Check out the articles below:

Adventures With Dad: An Angler Story

Dry Fly or Die: A Youth Mental Health Story


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.