Blood, Guts, Glory: A Fish Story

This past weekend my family took full advantage of living in Colorful Colorado and traveled to the tiny town of Almont in Gunnison County, where the East and Taylor Rivers join to form the mighty Gunnison. For decades, various groups of us have visited the same string of cabins on the Gunnison, but this year my husband’s birth family and all the spouses and offspring gathered to celebrate my in-laws’ birthdays (80 and 75). We reveled in fishing, boating, horseback riding, hiking, grilling, and savoring more than a couple local craft brews.   

Today my skin is a crazy patchwork of tan lines. My feet are a mess of mosquito bites, fly bites, scratches, and a certain amount of ground-in silt that can’t be scrubbed off. I can’t remember when I’ve ever managed to get so filthy, even as a kid. I can’t wait to do it again.   

The snowpack in parts of Colorado was about 300% of average this winter, so many rivers and reservoirs are still at the high-water mark. Fishing in September and October should be epic. July was pretty good too—I’ve never caught fish this big.   

Not a bad way to start the day (well, for me, not the fish).


Captain Papa is at the helm.


We always fish Taylor Park Reservoir, Spring Creek and its reservoir, and the Gunnison (right outside the cabins). The menfolk fish the Taylor from pontoon boats every fall, and this time the kids and wives finally got to see what the big deal was. We couldn’t have wished for a better morning: clear blue skies, warm weather, calm waters, and Papa at the helm of the “Party Barge.” Is life good or what?   

My sister-in-law Karen caught the first two lunkers of the weekend, which got the excitement going early. I caught one and my sister-in-law Judy almost landed another. My brother-in-law and husband sacrificed their own fishing opps to help the rest of us with lines, worms, tackle, and whatnot. Thanks, Marty and Joe! Back at the boathouse we relaxed in the sun, ate lunch, and watched the dogs splash around in the water.   

For some reason I had a serious fishing bug this weekend and couldn’t wait to hit a couple favorite fishing holes. Maybe because creek fishing requires a meditative mode and I wanted to Zen out. The banks are narrow; overshoot your cast and you can snag your hook on any number of branches, shrubs, and logs. You have to study all the obstacles, aim carefully, and drop your line in just the right spot for the current to take it to the calm areas where, if you’re lucky, it’ll swirl gently, tempting some fat trout who can’t resist. The key is patience.   

Patience is not my forte. But persistence is. Yesterday I was pretty much a nuisance until I had persuaded several others to try a spot we’d spied earlier. Loaded with gear, I slid down a small but steep slope, sloshed through a swampy area, and slopped through bugs and weeds to a square foot of mud that didn’t sink. (Only then did I think about snakes and leeches.) When my first cast landed on a branch of a log, I realized I should have done more “fishing yoga” before casting–that little stretch I did on the dusty road wasn’t intentional enough, evidently.   

Most people would have snapped the line and left the gear. But me? I had created this mess, and I could see how to fix it. So I crawled out across the creek on the log on all fours until I could bend the branch closer (not easy) and free my lucky red hook. The whole time I was out there I was thinking “This could be really stupid”—the same thought I had right before I cut my finger last month.   

Then I thought about poetry and how you have to “go on out on a limb” if you want it to be any good—no one ever surprised a reader without taking a risk. Most often I take my biggest risks in the revision process—when I can see how to fix any mess I may have made. And yes, cutting—deep editorial slashes to rid the poem of lines and images that aren’t working or aren’t necessary—is often the key to success.   

Revision is also about knowing when to give it a rest. Backing up and letting time and your subconscious work out the bugs. So after freeing the hook, I carefully reversed my silly trajectory that I hoped no one witnessed (Karen did but had the sense not to distract me by asking me what the hell I was up to) and packed it in.   

We traveled on to what I now consider my lucky spot on Spring Creek Reservoir. I once caught a fish there from the car, in the rain, while my husband packed up the gear. (That day had been so awesome I couldn’t stop.) We had just fished there the day before, where I caught two decent trout for that night’s buffet.   

14-1/2" rainbow


Yesterday it was my sister-in-law Mia’s turn; after several bites, she landed the fish she’d been taunting all afternoon. I caught a couple and on our “last cast of the day,” our daughter landed a 14½” beast. It was a good day, indeed.   

It was also a good meditation on writing and revision. As I crouched by the lake to wash the fish blood and worm guts off the bandage protecting my healing knife wound, I realized the blood and guts and cutting that are part of fishing—and the glory that the lucky fisherwoman sometimes gets to enjoy—are really no different from the risks and editing the poet endures, and glory she sometimes is blessed with when a line hits the sweet spot.

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7 Responses to Blood, Guts, Glory: A Fish Story

  1. Hi, Mark, I just saw your comment. WordPress is not sending to my current email, even though I registered it. So i have to remember to go over to old email and check for comments until I work out that bug. I approved it, so you should see it now. Thanks for the comment! Saw your website, nice job! Seems like you are really enjoying teaching.

  2. mark jabbour says:

    Nice story. Great detail on the “snag.” Takes me back to when I fished a lot, and wrote not.

  3. Karen says:

    Great article Sandy. Thanks so much, it was a great time. Til we meet again….

  4. Sue Baron says:

    Wonderful trip! Blood, guts and patience! What a wonderful time it was for me when I used to fish with my dad as a child. Mother sat with a book and we never camped. But those times with just daddy were precious and I’m recalling them with much love. Thank you for sharing and stirring the memories.

  5. Diane Kelly says:

    Thanks for sharing Sandy ! That was awesome … are such a talented writer!
    What an great picture of Dad and your fish!
    Diane. : )

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