Ferryman of the River Platte
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Author:  pushaw [ September 11th, 2017, 12:08 am ]
Post subject:  Ferryman of the River Platte

I always say, "There's no such thing as a bad day of fishing, as long as nobody dies." Well, this Labor Day weekend, I finally had a bad day of fishing.

Over Labor Day weekend, like most Labor Day weekends since 2005, I went up to Wyoming to camp and fish on the upper North Platte River. It's a wonderful place, an oasis of green in high desert country, without many people around, with cool water and plenty of good trout. It's the kind of place where an actual working cowboy rides a horse along the ridge next to your camp in the morning, going to find a wayward cow and her calf, where the deer and antelope play, and you get more ticked off about eagles and beavers spooking your pool than other fishermen walking through. I caught my best trout to date there a few years ago. It's a place where the change you observe does not change the essence of the place, where the pools get rearranged by floods every few years, but the essential nature of the place is timeless and eternal. We all know these kinds of places, the places where you just know if you can just get back there, the world is still OK, even when the world doesn't make a lot of sense. It's like Nick Adams' Big Two-Hearted River - even after the war to end all wars, it will still be there.

This year, I went camping with my wife and our three girls, plus my wife's parents. We planned to drive up and meet them after picking the kids up from school on Friday. Friday was just not my best day. Work was nutty, so I was working more than planned and packed in a rush. We had the treads let go on a trailer tire somewhere near the state line, but managed to change the tire and no really bad damage except the trailer deck will need some fixing where the treads knocked a hole. But we finally arrived at our favorite campsite on the river and set up the tent in the dark, while the river murmured in the background. I figured out I had forgotten my rods and my chest pack. But at least I had the one rod stored on the boat and the tricos and streamers I'd bought at the fly shop, plus my fishing necklace with tippet and gink. I fell asleep to the sound of the river gurgling and the coyotes howling. It was all going to be OK. Saturday morning, I put on my waders and went looking for some trout and tricos while the rest of camp had breakfast. I didn't really see the trico-feeders, but I did rise 8 or 10 fish in the riffles, hooked a few and landed none. It felt good to get out on the old NP, kind of like seeing an old friend and picking up right where you left off.

We packed up to do a family float after breakfast, with plans to do a little fishing, do a little picnicking, and have a relaxing float down 4 miles or so of river back to camp and a siesta. As we drove across the bridge next to the put-in, I looked down to see a pod of several trout rising to spent spinners in the slack water. My thoughts leapt ahead to making long delicate drifts at the end of long delicate casts and hooking good trout on tiny trikes.... I backed the trailer down, unloaded everybody and started taking the boats off. There was somebody fishing across the way, and I kept hearing the occasional slurp of a fish taking a bug.

Then I heard somebody yelling for help. "He's got no pulse. Does anybody know CPR?"
Another man yelled, "I got them on the phone, the ambulance is on it's way."

There was a man bent over a fisherman lying in the tall grass on the opposite shore. I kinda froze up. What's going on? What am I supposed to do? My wife yelled that she knew CPR and she and her mom (a retired doctor) went running across the bridge to help. I kinda walked around dazed for what was probably a minute or two. I asked my father-in-law to keep track of the kids and I went running over the bridge as well. It's all brushy on the other side. I found a spot to gingerly cross the barbed wire fence and shoved through the willows down to the water's edge. "His color still looks good." There was a man, maybe 50s, 60s, splayed out in the grass, his fishing shirt opened down to his Simms waders, his felt-soles just out of the water at the river's edge. They were doing chest compressions. There's a 30-something man in neoprenes clearly directing our activities. I didn't know what to do, really, but the three other people had it figured out and were doing CPR. The neoprene man said, "I'm an EMT and it doesn't look real good." I took a turn doing chest compressions. My mother-in-law tried doing mouth-to-mouth, but fluid started coming out, so she stopped. I heard the fish slurp. Another man appeared out of the bushes and took a turn pressing. We rotated through doing more compressions, each pushing until we started to get short of breath, then counting off 30 more. I heard the fish slurp. We looked across the river. The neoprene man said, "Whose boat is that?"
"It's mine, I responded."
"You think we could put him in that and get him across the river."
"That would be better. That way when the ambulance gets here, they can come right down."
I waded back across the river this time. The river was cool, and I got wet, not quite up to my waist. I pulled the raft off the trailer. The kids watched me. I grabbed the oars, dragged the boat out, and pulled hard on the oars on an upstream ferry angle. Pulling on the oars felt right. The boat moved across swiftly, competently. This was something I could do. "Where do you want the boat," I yelled.
"Pull it up here. Can we load him right across this board? You, keep doing compressions. OK, we're going to each get under him and hoist him. You," he pointed to my wife. "Take a leg." I was standing in the boat now, bending over, trying to wedge my arm underneath the man's bulk. The man looked pretty pale now, with a little bit of blue.
"OK, on three." We hoisted him up onto the deck. "Again." Now his head was resting on the rod tubes, and his feet were out of the water, dangling off the deck on the other side.
"Sir, you need to move," I said to the man now standing by the rowers seat. I don't really remember what everybody else did at this point. I think some of them were also in the raft. Somebody was sitting on the cooler, doing compressions. I pulled the boat out into the current, climbed into the seat and dug the oars in. I heard the fish slurping, still. The boat moved swiftly across. Pull. Glide. Pull. Glide. We reached the shore next to the landing. I had helped.
We took turns doing compressions, holding the man's head to open airways, and pushing his tongue out of the way of his airway. "We need suction. Does anybody have anything that can be used as suction?" I couldn't really think of anything. I kept thinking, where's the ambulance? They should be here by now. Another man arrived. He was a firefighter, said he heard the call while he was driving down the interstate. The interstate, I thought, that's at least a 25 minute drive away. This firefighter had a radio. "Chopper's on the way," he said. We kept working on the victim sprawled across the dog deck. I tossed my wife the keys and she drove the rig off the ramp. A sheriff arrived, then another one. Finally, the ambulance was here, at the top of the ramp. The neoprene man kept directing activities. We had a nurse now, and equipment. We loaded the man on a backboard to carry him up to the ambulance. Jeezus, he's heavy, I thought, as I struggled up the sandy ramp. At this point, I became more of a spectator. They had a monitor on him and they were searching for signs of life. The chopper arrived in a cloud of dust. I could hear the wail of my littlest girl. She didn't like the chopper. The paramedics came out of the chopper and the professionals kept working. I didn't know what to do. I felt the man's lanyard in my pocket, with his hemostats and nippers. I put it next to the pile of medical supplies. I went back to talk to the kids. The professionals pulled a sheet over the man. It was over. The chopper team got back in and took off, while the kids took cover in the 4runner. That was it. I went back to the raft and rowed across to where the sheriff was looking at the other side. I wanted to help find the man's flyrod. I remembered it had a peach-colored line. It wasn't there. "Oh, somebody took it and put it in the back of his truck." "Where was he?"
"It was right here," I pointed to where the grass was matted down.
"The coroner will probably want to see pictures. Can you move the boat?"
I got back in the boat and rowed across. I noticed a hopper pattern sitting on the deck. Good fly, I thought. Looks like a Morrish, but with more rugged legs in back. I heard the fish slurp. I took the fly and stuck it in the deck.

At the end of the day, all of these people worked really hard and did their best to save a fisherman's life. They did what they could. But we were just too far away from the tools we needed. People did what they could, despite the fact that some of them knew it probably wouldn't work. Afterwards, I kept thinking about the river Styx and Charon rowing souls across to Hades. I hope the unknown fisherman's soul is now blessed with an eternity of rising trout in cool water, who rise to a fly on a good drift. I suspect the Platte was also his river, his place where his soul knew true serenity would exist for an eternity. May he rest in peace.

Author:  braggsbay [ September 11th, 2017, 6:39 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Ferryman of the River Platte

A sad story. Perhaps the way we all think about going: doing something we love. Thanks to you, your wife and mil for stepping up in a time of need.

Author:  Hunter [ September 11th, 2017, 10:04 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Ferryman of the River Platte

Rough day on the oars. My thoughts are with the lost fisherman, friends, and family. I'm glad all were there to provide the help they could.

Author:  Dave M [ September 11th, 2017, 1:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ferryman of the River Platte

Man......that sucks.

We weren't as close to the tragedy as you obviously were, but this year while on the Missouri a kayaker drowned.

As we went in during the evening to fish Rescue personnel were all over the river. We looked at each other and hoped that it was just a drill, but when the boats, helicopters, and divers were still there hours later we knew it wasn't any drill.

It's kind of an Erie feeling fishing when you could be snagging up a body on any cast. She was found a day later three miles downstream in a back channel. Those Rescue personnel have to be commended. They looked hard and didn't quit until her body was found.

Dave M

Author:  733SUBDUCKER [ September 13th, 2017, 8:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Ferryman of the River Platte



Author:  brian foley [ September 13th, 2017, 12:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ferryman of the River Platte

It is sad, but a fisherman couldn't wish for more appropriate circumstances for his last moments on earth - beautiful river, rising trout...
The ferryman part is really spooky, though...

Author:  TGIF [ September 13th, 2017, 4:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ferryman of the River Platte

Ugh... heavy story. Maybe it was the best way to go... maybe not... I guess we won't really know, but we hope.

Good on you for pitching in, tough day for the kids, i bet that discussion wasn't on the itinerary. Sorry for that.

Author:  Baetis [ September 25th, 2017, 6:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ferryman of the River Platte

That's a tough one, especially with your little ones with you.

I had almost the exact same experience several years ago at GLS at the Picnic Pool. Except the guy was wading 10 yards below me when he had the heart attack. I took my canoe off the truck to ferry his body back across. :(

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