I'm already wearing board shorts under my jeans, which get stashed in the back seat of the wagon. My street shoes go on the back floorboard, changed out for wading shoes. My Nikon—my wife's Nikon, in point of fact—also stays in the car; if I need to take pictures, I have the camera on my flip-phone, which makes up for in durability what it may lack in resolution. My wallet goes in a waterproof (I hope) case in the pocket of my shorts, and my car keys get stashed at the base of a fencepost. I grab my sling pack and I'm off.
I walk from the car across a grassy field to the brow of a hill, from which I can look down on the creek. It's broad here, so much so that I almost mistake it for a pond. I see a great blue heron standing in the "pond" and hear the rattle of a belted kingfisher, which is encouraging. I also hear the lowing of nearby cattle, but the sound is superfluous, as the air is redolent with the aroma of the beasts. I make a mental note not to drink the water, and descend the hillside to wade in.
The decisions about my personal effects and health are good ones. When I get back to the dirt road after fishing, I find the car and the keys exactly where I left them. I've taken a fall in the water, so I'm glad the Nikon was in the car and my wallet in the case, which is in fact waterproof. And, of course, I stand by my resolution not to drink downstream from the cattle herd.
But all subsequent decisions related to fishing—choice of rod, choice of fly—are rendered irrelevant by my choice to fish the upper stretch of the creek. It is very slow, languid even, and silt-bottomed. Plenty of minnows, lots of invertebrates, but I don't catch any trout. I don't have any follows or refusals. I don't startle any trout. I don't see or in any way interact with any trout in an hour or more of slow, patient stalking—sometimes from within the creek, sometimes from the bank. And eventually I discover why.
Near the end of the WMA's upper stretch, the water disappears below a mat of duckweed, milfoil, and other vegetation: the boundary fence separating public from private land has formed a dam, below which the water runs quicker and clearer and out of reach. In that pellucid water, I believe, there must surely be trout. But I decide to stay on the right side of the fence, geographically and ethically, and follow the fenceline hoping that I will be able to reach the lower stretch, where the creek re-enters the public land of the WMA. But eventually I find the going too hard, the way blocked by a vast cattail marsh, and make an ignominious retreat through cattails and nettles and beggars' lice back to the dirt road. (Needless to say, my legs are not happy with me.)
I drive to the southern edge of the WMA, where I can access the lower segment of stream from the road. I'm short on time—it's a weekday, and I am postponing responsibilities back home in Lincoln—but happy to back in productive-looking water, flowing shallow but clear over a bed of sand and fine gravel. However, I only see one trout on the lower creek, and that one darts away from under the bank as I first enter the creek.
[Lower section of Elm Creek, looking toward private land; the lighting was better.]
The weather has been dry, and there has been no flooding event. It would appear that I'm simply too late, or maybe just unlucky. I briefly wonder if the trip has been only so much wasted time and mileage, but then dismiss the question. Even when confronted with difficult conditions, it's almost always better to fish.
* * *
On my way back to Lincoln, I stop at Guide Rock once again. I'm hoping to get directions at the post office, but while the lobby is open, the office has closed for the afternoon.
On my way out, though, I happen to meet a Guide Rock resident, there to check his mailbox. He looks faintly disreputable somehow, in the manner of someone who's been down on his luck for far too long, but his troubled eyes take in my fish-print shorts, my wet wading shoes, and possibly some streaks of mud still on my legs, and he asks if I'm fishing in the area. I say yes, and he offers unsolicited directions to the local reservoir. "Big catfish down there. Really big. But you got to go at night. Bring heavy monofilament, maybe some wire." Since he seems inclined to be helpful, I ask him if he knows how to find Guide Rock. "They tore it down! Long time ago. When they built the canal, I think." (This is the general "they", the people in charge; in this case, manifestly not the Pawnee.) He gives me clear directions to precisely where I had been that morning, and subsequent research confirms that Pahūr, like several other of the Pawnee's sacred places, no longer exists as they knew it; what remains is not a vertical spire of rock but a modest, rounded loess hill.
Too late again.
* * *