big horm river 2Guest Blogger:  Jim Murphy, Neenah, WI

Or perhaps more accurately stated a Users Guide To Becoming A Local Legend While Fly Fishing. If it happened to me it can happen to you. The following is a narrative which has been embellished by others as time has passed. There he goes, they say as I walk amongst the members of our Trout Unlimited Chapter. And now the story has actually made it into the regional arena and my name is whispered reverently among other chapters.

It all began about 8 years ago on a cool and windy day in July while fishing the Big Horn River near Fort Smith, Montana. Bob, Dave and I had beached our kayaks at the upper end of a small island about half way downstream between the Yellowtail Dam and the Mallard Take Landing. Dave remained at the upper end of the island, Bob chose to fish from the middle and I walked down to where the stream came together at the base of the island.

I started fishing on the beach and gradually moved out into the river, swinging a streamer first from one side into the seams where the waters met and then the other. The bottom consisted of pea-sized gravel and seemed to provide fairly good footing. After about 20 minutes, without so much as a bump, I had waded out to about knee depth. Beginning to feel the current, I decided to work my way back onto the beach.

As I began backing up toward the beach the gravel started to give way under my heels. After several attempts to move sideways and backward the current began tugging both feet out from under me. I realized that there was no going back and a thought flashed through my mind about an article I had read somewhere which advised to just sit down and immediately raise your feet. The theory suggested that wading boots and wader legs would trap air and you would float like a cork.

Thankfully, the theory proved to be true. As I sat back and raised my feet, the boots and legs did indeed fill with air. and not a second to soon, because by that time the current had grabbed me and was carrying me down the stream and over deep water. We later determined the water along that stretch was between 8 – 10 feet deep. Now of course at 5’10” it was definitely well over my head.

About that time Bob had spotted me and, based on what he shared later, stood open mouthed, fearing the very worst as he watched me bobbing along rod held high in one hand and a fly box in the other, my hat firmly affixed upon my head. He realized that I was traveling over water well over my head and that I would be floating over deep water for quite some time. In his mind, the outcome of this unintended float trip was certainly in doubt. I, on the other hand, felt that as long as I kept my wits, my newly contrived life preserver would serve me well. I also had noted that the current I was riding would eventually sweep me very close to shore some 100-150 yards down stream and this might provide an escape route.

As luck would have it, not only did the current carry me in toward the bank but also swept me over a narrow flat right next to shore. As I moved over the shallows, I initially tried to stand up but those same air filled waders and boots that carried me faithfully to this point would not go down. I instinctively turned over onto my stomach, and my waders filled with water. I was able to get my feet down to the bottom and scrambled up and onto the bank with my fly rod in one hand, fly box in the other and hat firmly affixed atop my head.

I could go on and on about stripping down and hiding behind some shoreline bushes till my gear dried, out of the view of passing fishermen. I could also report on the number of good natured ribs I took from Bob, Dave and others, but there you have it. If the current sweeps your feet out from under you and you want to become a Local Legend, simply sit back put your feet up and enjoy the ride. You too may become a Local Legend – the “Human Cork”.

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