"there's a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot." -steven wright

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Beaver Lessons (Gene)

A few years ago I went fishing in a small stream near Keystone, Colorado. It was a bountiful little stream with a good population of fourteen to eighteen inch rainbows. I might add that they weren’t particularly smart rainbows because I caught a lot of them.

Besides the good fishing, the thing that made this stream interesting was the fact that there were beavers everywhere. During my week on the stream, I learned three lessons about sharing a river with beavers.

First, they can mess up a good fishing hole, usually at prime evening time. Several beavers lived under the cut bank of one of my favorite pools. It was not unusual to see two or three at a time swim into the pool from upstream, tail-splash when they saw me and then dive under the cut bank. The tail splash not only alarmed me but also frightened the trout, which would scurry away downstream and not return for a long time. Lesson one – beavers can be scary (especially the first time you see one).

Second, the dens the beavers build under a cut bank create conditions for sinkholes. I frequently fished from a bank above a large slow pool where I caught several good trout. After being hooked, these rainbows employed one of two escape strategies. They either ran hard downstream toward a beaver-felled tree that lay across the end of the pool or tried to dart under the cut bank, making it difficult for me to get the rod leverage needed to haul them out. One of the biggest trout I hooked was determined to get entangled in the tree at the end of the pool and break free. I knew this rainbow was strong enough to break my 6X tippet if I tried too hard to brake his run so I walked along the bank to get a better angle on him. My strategy seemed to be working against his strategy and, eyes focused on the trout, I took another step downstream. It was a big step. I mean a really big step. I fell into a sinkhole up to my chest. Miraculously, I landed on my feet and was uninjured. Even more miraculously, I held my rod high, brought the trout to the edge of the pool and, reaching out over the edge of the bank from my position in the sinkhole, brought him to net. All the while, I was hoping a beaver wouldn’t start gnawing on my leg. The scene was a little like Brad Pitt landing the huge trout in A River Runs through It. Well, not exactly. Lesson two - beaver holes can be dangerous.

Third, like many fishermen, I bite the ends off leaders when I tie on flies or tippets. It’s faster than using nippers to cut them off. On my trip to this stream, I learned a painful lesson - don’t do that! Some streams are infested with parasites that, if ingested, can play havoc with the digestive system. This disease, known medically as giardia, can last for several weeks and cause great misery unless properly treated. Lesson three – infected beavers can spread diseases.

Summary of lessons learned: beavers can be scary; beaver holes can be dangerous; and infected beavers can spread diseases.

Streams with significant beaver populations are likely to be infested with the giardia parasite. Beavers, which aren’t really particular about where they go to the bathroom, are frequently the cause of the infestation. Because of this, giardia is also known as beaver fever.

I learned that beaver fever not only affects the digestive system but can also affect one’s intelligence. On a recent fly fishing trip to the Verde River in Arizona I told this story to one of my best fly fishing buddies, who is now an elder in his church. Some of his stories lead me to believe that he might have been somewhat wild in his younger days. His immediate response when I mentioned beaver fever was, “May the good Lord forgive me for these memories, but I had a real bad case of beaver fever during my sophomore year in college.” So what’s the evidence that beaver fever affects intelligence? His GPA for his sophomore year was 1.297.

My friends and I are planning a fishing trip this spring to a small but productive stream in the Coconino National Forest in Arizona. Its name? Wet Beaver Creek.

As Beavis would say to Butthead (or was it vice versa) “Heh, heh. He said wet beaver.”


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