Old Cowboy Ranch and Williamson Lake

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Monday, August 21, 2017

After breakfast we went up to the campground office to check in with our wives, read emails and post the blog. Jonni came in first. She had a client coming today, but didn’t know how it would work out. Besides running the ranch, she sells real estate. We talked about the fire that almost took them out in 2015. We could see the dead, black trees still standing when we drove into Westbridge on Rt. 33. The forrest rangers came in saying they had 10 minutes to get out. Probably because she had watered her hay field, the fire stopped there. Fire insurance is very expensive here and many didn’t have it. They lost everything. Others that had insurance, rebuilt and did fine. It is very dry here now, and it could all happen again. Fires are burning north and south of here, although things seem to be better at the moment. 

As the workers came in, we went out on the porch to get out of their way. Mya came up and struck up a conversation. A tall girl with straight brown hair and her canine teeth still coming in, she said she was 10 years old. She helps her mom work at the ranch during summers. I was trying to catch up on the blog as Kelly talked to her. We have passed out a couple of Kelly’s books, which has a chapter on the Old Cowboy Ranch. Mya asked if Kelly wanted to take the tour. I watched them out of the corner of my eye as I kept writing. In a minute, Mya was back saying, “Come on”, so I followed. As we walked up the dusty road, she pointed to her farm just across a couple of fields. They raise pigs and cows. She rides the pigs. A friend of hers has ostriches, and they like to ride those too. First we came to a pen with ducks in it. Some animal had gotten in last week and killed 11 ducks. Mya said there are coyotes and a few wolves around, but they aren’t sure what did it. It is unusual for an animal to kill that many birds.

There are pens with goats. Mya went to feed them a few days ago and they chased her all over the pen. She said the big, fat Billy is the mean one, but she ran between two trees and he got stuck with his big belly allowing her to get out of the pen. Then there were emus. “Don’t stick your fingers through the wire” she said. There are donkeys, miniature horses and regular horses, trail rides being a featured attraction. She pointed out her favorite that she likes to ride bareback. “It’s just easier than putting all that stuff on. I just put a halter on and use a rope for reins”. She said there are 80 peacocks. A big chicken pen is across from the office. We thanked Mya for such a great tour. She is a very cute little girl. 

With the Kettle River so low, we decided to go up to Williamson Lake. We had been there on our previous trip four years ago. It’s a rather harrowing drive up a big mountain on a gravel road, at one point along the edge of a giant cliff, but that’s the rockies. We got out at one point to check some footprints on the dusty road near the lake. Probably a cougar, but we couldn’t tell. The last part 200 yards to the lake are not drivable for most people, but as we were gathering our fishing gear, a Jeep came down it. It was a perfect vehicle for these roads, with a small trailer on the back to carry their gear. Big knobby tires and a big clearance allows them to get into places like this. They stopped to chat a bit. Nice guys, maybe in their 40’s, they had camped there for two days, and said the fishing was pretty good. They had seen only one husband and wife fishing. Then they asked what we were using for a boat. We asked if the old boats weren’t still up there. “They are, but you will need a lot of duct tape and some fiberglass to seal all the leaks.” They drove off slowly down the bumpy road, probably laughing the whole way down the mountain. Two old guys on top of a mountain trying to fish from a leaky, old boat. 

There were two old, leaky boats up there. One was definitely shot, but the other might be manageable. There was a rib on the sides at about the water line. Above that there were long, open tears (rips), the sides held only by a wooden gunnel. We applied duct tape liberally to a hold in the floor and pushed her over a log into the water. Water oozed in, but we thought we might get a couple of hours out of her. We found a 2×4 and a short plank to use for paddles and carefully got in. Watching closely for big rushes of water, but didn’t see any. Fish were breaking the surface all over the beautiful lake with crystal clear water. It is surrounded by green pine trees. Little birds, ducks, a loon and ravens kept us company. Three young ducks were having a big time chasing each other, diving and hopping over logs.

We fished everything we had with minor success. Kelly tried dry flies at first, then switched to a spinning rod, then back to the fly rod. I used an ultralight spinning rod, but neither of us had much success. We caught a few little ones, and hooked a few that somehow managed to slip off. Finally, I found a black and gold Mepps lure that worked. We kept a couple of nice ones for dinner. Someone else drove up and started fishing in a fishing float tube. As we paddled the leaky boat toward shore, we were surprised to see it was a girl fly-fishing her way around the lake. She had pitched a tent and was staying the night with her two dogs. She had driven a Toyota pickup up that last impossible bit of road. We were amazed a girl would do that and stay in this very remote place. I’m sure she was packing.

Going back down that long, gravel mountain road didn’t seem as bad as we expected. We had a wonderful trout dinner with corn on the cob and broccoli. The next morning when we checked out, Kelly left $10 so Mya could buy some things at the camp store. We stopped to see Murray, the mayor of The Old Cowboy Ranch. I took a picture of him with Kelly. He has been coming here of 10 years. He helps out, takes kids on rides in the hay wagon, and gave us great advice on where to fish. We enjoyed talking with him and hearing his stories.

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