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Taming Cody's Monster

11/20/2002

On clear days Monster Lake appears as a patch of blue among the sagebrush of a high-plain a few miles out of Cody. To the east are some buttes with walls that resemble the faces of old men. To the north you can see the Rockies, and when the wind sweeps down from the snow fields in the fall they deliver the sharp essence of winter. To the south lay the first oil fields discovered in Wyoming: the pumps are still working, lifting and folding like the arms of young men slipping on overcoats.

It's early October, and I'm smoking a Dunhill and watching some whitetails browse down by the lake. The fireplace is crackling pleasantly, Trevor is humming something familiar as he ties flies at the kitchen table behind me and from the adjoining apartment I can hear the camera crew trading war stories while they clean their equipment. Words, laughter, more words, then more laughter. So it has gone for more than three decades in this strange, wonderful business of making outdoor shows.

Soon we'll pile into the rented Suburban and head into Cody to eat at Irma's — a hotel named for Bill Cody's main squeeze. We'll sit and talk of what we accomplished today, and make a tentative plan for tomorrow. The story keeps changing, as each day, each hour presents a new opportunity or obstacle. But if we are on our game we will change with it, keeping the experience simple and true because we know the audience likes it that way.

We certainly hadn't planned what happened this morning. After a soft fall night, the wind was up with first light, kicking the 150-acre lake into a froth. The temperature was down, gray clouds swirled overhead and my old hands felt like they did after a snowball fight on the way home from school in my native Cheyenne. Feeling out of place, body and time, I wondered why I wasn't sitting with my dog on the terrace of my backyard in Palm Beach. A father's love for his son only goes so far, and freezing to death on a treeless lake in northwest Wyoming was way beyond my sense of duty.

"Trevor," I said. "I'm thinking early lunch somewhere warm."

"Let's give it a chance, Pop."

I shot a cast downwind and watched my #14 parachute Adams ride the waves like an Eskimo's kayak in the Bering Sea. Then, to my astonishment, a flash of pink and silver rolled on my fly. I lifted my rod and felt living weight. Then I watched a big rainbow light up the morning like neon. After a strong fight, the trout checked in at 23 inches and over four pounds.

That morning I caught a fish on just about every cast — rainbows, browns and even a few brookies. It was a heartwarming experience, made all the more so because I outfished Trevor — 3 to 1. My son is a world-class angler. But on this morning, in the cold and the wind, I beat him.

Must be the mountain man in me. Distant memories well up.

Mountains and streams and lakes as clear and clean as the Wyoming air. Trout everywhere. When once the limit was 20 per day, now it is two. Remember the Buffalo warns my father, and I, a kid who wants to catch every fish in the world, wonders what buffalo have to do with trout. An old-time melody is playing, with lyrics that say, "You'll only miss me when I'm gone." Colors rage against the dark behind my eyelids — like all the sunsets and all the dawns of my days, merging.

But here in this place, at this moment, the light is almost gone, and the deer are almost invisible against the hills. I hear someone start the engine of the Suburban, then comes Trevor's voice, gentle, with his hand warm on my shoulder:

"Pop? Ready for some dinner?"

"Ready?" I growl. "I've been waiting for over an hour."

"You had a nap," he says.

"I was wide awake."

"You were snoring."

I stand up, stretch and re-light my cigar. It had gone out in the ashtray. As I pull on my parka, I smile at my son and say, "Who's the king?"

"You are," he says.

"That's right," I say. "And does a king ever pick up a check?"

"Since you're the only king I know, I would have to say, Never!"

My son is seldom at a loss for words. I've often wondered where he got that trait. On the way into Cody the temperature outside registers 31. But the heater's working just fine and we are already talking about tomorrow.

Tight lines, folks.