Fishing John's river

A day on Geirach's St. Vrain
st. vrain river
The St. Vrain (photo: Spencer Durrant).

I think it’s the abrupt honesty of his writing that’s made me such a fan of John Gierach’s stories and essays. He’s plugged away since the 80s, churning out story after story from his home in Colorado. You’d think he’d have told all the fish stories he could but apparently John’s not quite done.

I’m glad he’s not. John’s stories have such a reality to them that it feels like you’re alongside him when he’s gets dumped on in Labrador or finally feels the tug of a steelhead in Washington State. For most anglers, the opportunity to read one of his essays and disappear to the river – without ever leaving the office – is likely why he’s sustained his level of success for so long.

I’ve never met John – not even emailed or called the man – but, through his writing, he’s been so remarkably open with his regular fishing haunts that I feel almost confident enough to comment on what sections of the Big Thompson or Cache la Poudre rivers might fish well.

The water John’s talked about the most, though, is the St. Vrain. It’s his home water, and ever since I read Trout Bum I knew I’d fish the St. Vrain at some point, if only to say that I’d done it.

In No Shortage of Good Days, John writes that, “Your home water eventually gets under your skin and begins to define you as a fisherman. If nothing else, the skills it takes to fish it are the ones you use the most.”

That quote ran through my mind while I stood in the St. Vrain, up above the Wild Basin Ranger Station where the creek runs through Rocky Mountain National Park. It looked exactly as I’d expected, and all the tiny pockets, deep pools, and decent runs and riffles evoked memories of one or another of John’s stories. Seeing the St. Vrain and knowing what John’s shared of himself as angler, the connection between the two was without question.

I half-expected to turn the corner and bump into a tall old guy with a white beard, but my best friend Lander and I didn’t run into anyone else fishing the river that day. It was the day after Thanksgiving, it was cold, and the fish weren’t very active.

I couldn’t think of better conditions under which to visit John’s river. The fishing would be just good enough to give me a taste of why John loves the St. Vrain so much, but not good enough that I’d plan a trip revolving around time spent there.

The sun poked through the clouds for a half-hour in the afternoon, and the warmth brought small brook trout to the surface. I spent a half-hour casting to a pod of risers, and another twenty minutes throwing small clouser minnows at fish that just wouldn’t budge. I kept wondering how John would fish it, and thinking that if he saw me making such a mess of his river he’d likely never hand out pointers.

That’s one feeling that stuck with me through the day – the feeling that I was fishing John’s river. The St. Vrain has served as home water for a number of anglers, I’d imagine, but John’s taken stewardship of it.

Fishing John’s river was a day on the water I won’t forget, and not because the fishing was all that good. But rather because fishing John’s river felt like fishing with an old friend. In a way I guess I did. Fishing John’s river felt like cracking open my favorite, dog-eared book and shaking hands with the characters before another reading of their adventures.

Unlike my favorite book, though, John’s river isn’t a work of fiction.


Well written and, having read most all of JG's books, well understood. I'm sure it was special.