A Flow Through The Bob

posted on: July 27, 2021

The Original story was featured in issue 11.1 of the

The Flyfish Journal

featuring words, photo, and video by Ian Provo, Sean Kerrick Sullivan, and Neil Provo

“Where y’all headed, your packs are humungous,” the fella said, taking his hat off and leaning against his rig. He wore a massive .45 Magnum revolver on his chest, its black steel glinting in the sunlight. “We’re headed down to the Thirsty Pony” said the eldest brother with a friendly smile. The fella scratched his chin as he repeated the words, like it was the name of a foreign country. “Wait! Thirsty Pony? … you mean, way up north past the China Wall?” "Yessir” the younger brother said with a grin. “NO SHIT!” exclaimed the fella. “That’s clear on the other side of The Burt! No shit! Lotta bear up there. How far is that? 200 miles? Y’all bringing a gun?” “No guns” the older brother said as he shouldered his load, “Our packs are too heavy to be carrying around a piece of iron like that.” “No shit.” Said the fella.


High in the sky, a burning August sun filtered through ash and smoke from wildfires burning far across the western territory. The boys set off down a well beaten path, logging miles as fine dust rose from each footstep. The purple walls of a massive canyon extended indefinitely, guiding them like a hallway. By the time their pack straps were drenched with sweat and the afternoon sky took the color of evening, they’d covered a respectable distance. Rucksacks were finally unloaded upon a large gravel bar when they stumbled into an old spike camp. The boys settled into a bagged meal, the first of many. They crashed just as soon as their beds were unrolled. Though they didn’t get much sleep that night as they relinquished their minds to the wilderness. Visions of bruins lurking through the understory. Thoughts of the unknown. A shifty little deer causing a racket.


They tested the waters around camp before setting off for a punishing day. “Upstream a ways is that waterfall, where Ol’ Whitey said he seen some 30 pounders back in the day” Neil said as he took off through the turquoise waters. They scrambled over giant striped boulders of jade and red ocher, investigating the impossibly clear water. A day can disappear in a flash with a fly rod in hand, so the boys wouldn’t dawdle for long. Their packs were painfully hoisted. A dry fork coming down out of the north would lead them in. What should have been a lively creek was instead a boneyard. Dry as sandpaper. After miles of cobblestone, a cold spring emerged on the far side of the river, creating a deep pool below a giant fire scarred ponderosa. An Oasis. Enough water was contained before disappearing into the porous bedrock to house a few large, educated cutthroat. The boys were tempted but did not linger. They splashed water on their brows and guzzled as much as they could. Like a worn-out pack train, they clambered on.

They moved up the dusty trail with a newfound hardiness, ignoring the blisters that began to bubble up on their sorry feet. The eldest brother was the first to notice. The trail crossed a small meadow and began to descend. A creek was born. On a pine tree hung an old sign that read ‘Burt Wolfrumm Wilderness.’ “We made it! It’s all downhill from here, boys!!” hooted his younger brother. The imaginary boarder was no cause for celebration. The hunt for floatable water was on, but it would be another day on the trail before they found it.

The tree line hugged the mountains on both sides, and the trail meandered between the margins of forest and swamp. Any thoughts of deploying the rafts were crushed when the boys emerged from the trees to an infinite view. A fortification of willows 12 feet high grew wall to wall, and downstream for as far as the eye could see. To cut across the mire prematurely, in search of a current to carry them through, would have been a sandbagged attempt. Somewhere down in that labyrinth, a creek was growing with the input of every little trickle and spring they crossed.

Hip straps digging sores into the skin were unclipped and the packs dropped to the forest floor. The sun was low and heavy in the sky behind a blanket of fiery haze, and a camp was struck where the forest and swamp relaxed a little to form a dry meadow. On the edge of a glade, some logs formed a crude site for cooking next to a hot fire. After fixing a meal, the three sprawled out and savored a generous swallow of whisky. Hand rolled smokes with notes of tangerine and pine were passed around until the fire died off.


A grizzly could have licked their boots that night. They would’ve never known. Too tired to care. There was an excitement at camp as they readied their kits, for they knew that by days end they’d have boats in the water. They would let the course of a swift river guide them. They were approaching the heart of it all. Where streams came together to form a great river surrounded by millions of acres of virgin land. As far from the mechanized world as they hoped to be.

“This little creek will lead us all the way through The Burt!” shouted Neil as they rounded a bend to find a healthy stream moving at a good clip. Spirits surged high. The endless meadows were choked off and the channel became well defined where the mountains grew close together. Packs still heavy with supplies for seven days were unmounted for the final time. A gravel bar sitting high and dry in the middle of an oxbow bend would make a fine campsite. The boys bathed for the first time, washing off hard-earned grime from the slog. The water boiled around them as it hit burning hot muscles.

A fly-rod was strung at once. Next to camp, a riffle poured into a deep pool turning ninety degrees against a log jam. It was home to little juvenile cutthroat trout. The boys enjoyed great sport that evening fooling the fingerlings with their parachute adams and lightweight rod. when they finally crawled into their bags the new moon sky revealed a jet-black canopy, perforated by a billion stars. They drifted to sleep while Persoid Meteors streaked overhead, and the creek babbled endlessly over smooth stones.


No more trail. The dusty path which they knew well and followed endlessly was now a distant memory. The river pushed hard against the mountain, gouging out a deep pool. Over countless eons a series of ledges appeared in the bedrock and suddenly the river changed character. At last, the boys assembled their inflatable rafts. With their flotilla ready to push off, a small dry fly was cast into a seam where two channels filled the pool. From the depths rose a dandy westslope cutthroat to envelop the small offering. The powerful and wise fish was returned after a moment of admiration from the three travelers who came a great distance to see him. They slipped their packrafts into the creek and forged ahead.


The boatmen traveled down the small creek in a state of ecstasy. They were no longer burdened by heavy loads. Dozens of rivulets and springs and creeks spilled in from all sides and a river was born. They Travelled faster now. Mile after mile the scenery changed. Around each bend the terrain stretched out in new ways, awesome amounts or raw land that seemed endless in all directions.

The river’s drift carried them into a massive burn where there stood the charred remains of ancient conifers, waving back and forth from a powerful afternoon wind. The forest screeched and cried and whistled as the furious wind blew through twisted limbs. In the distance a great crash could be heard. And then another. The old relics were falling. Toppled by a fresh summer gale. Three large creeks came together and gravel bar was procured for the nights camp.


A morning hike up one of the tributaries produced the kind of fishing one can only find far from the road. The boys caught what must have seemed like a thousand trout that morning. Every cast produced a fish. Many were small, some were above average. They all were wily and determined. Above, was a striking cobalt sky bursting with cumulus. Below passed vibrant earth tone cobblestones that fluctuated and shimmered with the wobbling current.

On the hillside above, a grizzly sow camped on a carcass could have been deadly, but the river whisked the boys safely past without any trouble. In fact, the boys couldn’t be bothered with any of the world’s troubles that afternoon. They could care less. The mechanized societies lay far over the horizons. A full workweek had passed. The memories and problems of that world had faded, and they enjoyed a more primal existence. This was the domain of everything wild. A hundred feet away a cinnamon bear dashed through the water in a hurry.


Around another bend in the river a sight was revealed that startled them. “Heave to!!” was shouted, and the packrafts pulled ashore. Looming above, a mountain top was engulfed in a raging fire storm. Plumes of dark smoke shot up a thousand feet high as whole trees exploded like firecrackers. In The Burt, fires burn wild and free. The wind was favorable, so they pitched a camp with the river as a buffer and watched fire and ash spew from the mountain like a volcano.


A few days pass by. They floated along like cottonwood seeds drifting on a riffle of wind. A family of fox popped out for a romp on a sand bar.


The river seemed infinite. Billions of cobblestones travelling downstream. Three rafters followed the same course. One perfect mile after the other. Little cutthroat dodged strikes from vicious bull trout while eagles and osprey attacked from above.

The boats dropped into a long riffle that pushed up against a cliff where a series of deep emerald pools had formed in the bedrock. A serrated reef with channels and drop-offs peppered by megalithic boulders created the choicest trout habitat the boys had seen yet. “We’ve been on the move. Tomorrow morning let’s stay awhile.” commented Ian, and the others agreed. “We ought to spend 2 nights here because this is what we came to find.” They didn’t want to move too quickly through such splendid, untrampled country. For they knew that it would soon run out.


At dusk, a figure materialized upstream on the far side of a long run. It was a man. One of the boys went to greet him. He wore jean shorts and a shirt with the sleeves cut off. “Burt Wolfrumm’s the name!” He’d traveled many days by horseback with his wife and children. “Those are my kids up there. All the fish come up this riffle to feed when the sun goes down.” His lordship over the big riffle run was unquestionable. In his fly-box he had something that was no more than a wad of brown hair tied to a hook. “What is that?” Sully asked. He got excited. “It’s a dead baby mouse! The river gets deep downstream. I’ll put a dozen split shot on there and send it out like a laser! PZ¬¬¬¬ZZZEW! Straight to the bottom!”


The boys were eager to get back on their feet. Jamming gear and bodies into tiny boats. Navigating the river day after day. The eternal flow of water was all they knew. After the usual breakfast of oatmeal with nuts and dried fruit, they set off. Just downstream a tributary met the river with a generous flow of cold, crystalline water. A trail followed its course through a quite forest where bears ate late season huckleberries and fireweed blossomed. Every pool they encountered sheltered one or two large trout, who always took a parachute adams on the first cast.

Back at camp they sat around in a daze. The wilderness had cleaned their conscience. They thought of nothing more than camping. Carried only the clothes on their back. A pack full of supplies. Some food. Moved when they wanted. Fished when conditions were perfect. Liberated humans set free in a vast land to explore and discover and survive.

Burt appeared again on the far bank of the river just before dusk and gave a nod. The brothers lazily worked some caddis flies through the tail-out of the big riffle run. No fish were caught that evening.


The fishermen staggered from their cobblestone beds. A great big noise in the woods that night had the boys wide eyed thinking back to that old fella at the trailhead with the firepower. Their chintzy cans of bear spray offered little comfort. One retrieved a bag of food hanging in a nearby tree. Another boiled some water. The other readied the boats. Before they pushed off, the map was studied, and progress charted. The river was bringing them back to civilization. They pulled back and resisted as much as they could, but their maps also confirmed the inevitable. The pull of convenience was as strong as the current. Their supplies lasted 10 days and could last only a few days more. They were running out of river. Every great wilderness ends with a road.


Before they reached that road, a gorge would have to be navigated. Perched high on a cliff was a red sign that warned boaters of dangerous rapids below. The boys advanced.

The walls closed in like a cage. They portaged around razor sharp limestone daggers that grew from the rapids and hydraulics that would swallow a boat. A flume just wide enough for a paddle carried them fast until it tightened up and dropped off. They pulled up in an eddy and hauled their gear. The last few miles of the journey would have to be made on foot.


An hour later, a road. The backpacks were dumped in the back of a stashed pickup, and soon they were on their way to a human settlement. Reintroduction would test their replenished spirits. Huge trucks pouring black smoke raced up the highway in front of the diner where the boys ate. Small shops peddled useless trinkets to bored people looking for excitement indoors. A bench full of kids browsing social media. Lonely people competing for the attention of strangers. The boys were unbothered by the circus around them, their minds still at the mercy of the wilderness.


"Each mile on a river will take you further from home than a hundred miles on a road."

"For me and for thousands with similar inclinations, the most important passion of life is the overpowering desire to escape periodically from the clutches of a mechanistic civilization. To us the enjoyment of solitude, complete independence, and the beauty of undefined panoramas is absolutely essential to happiness."

- Bob Marshall


  • No Comments
Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In