It was a memorable spring morning by Hat Creek in northern California, the dawn-glow lighting a to-be-eventful Memorial Day weekend. I was camping with my family. Our Brittany spaniel puppy and I had gotten up early to see the waterway and watershed, at that time misty and magical. It was one of my favorite streams. The part we chose had many small hills, further upstream a canyon and further down stream, flatter land.
I put on an Elk Hair Caddis fly, my favorite for this creek, sneaking in my waders toward a shoreline log. The immediately surrounding water was too placid to get as close in regular daylight. My first gentle laying down of the fly resulted in an explosion and it took almost five minutes to exhaust my eighteen inch brown trout, which I smilingly released following the old adage, “A trout is too valuable to be used only once,” especially such a beauty. It took me another five minutes to replay and forever fix in my mind the lovely images of today’s experience.
After my ponder, I decided to awaken my daughter, at twelve a perfect age for this perfect stream. Walking back I remembered the last time I fished this creek. It was after a morning’s operations to free up an injured elbow nerve and then a shoulder repair followed by an unexpected cancellation. On the spur of the moment the head surgical nurse, a passionate fly fisherwoman, and I decided to add a little fishing to our surgical day. We arrived in mid afternoon in the middle of a salmon fly hatch. The huge light-orange colored salmon flies were everywhere, in our faces, in the trees around us, and in the air. The background music was the splashing gulps of the fish. But that’s another story.
Arriving at our tent and camping van, everybody else was still asleep except daughter Lyndsay and dog Brandy. We skipped breakfast and I led upstream. We decided to stop where there were two long riffles of faster flowing water, only knee deep on our waders. The pool below hosted a couple of early morning fishermen.
That momentous morning my daughter and I had a magical bonding half hour. The fishermen below came up to watch. They wanted to know what we were using. I had decided to use the unusually large and black helgramite underwater nymph, hoping that it was time for their yearly underwater hatching. I knew that this timing was close – and I was right! We each hooked and released three or four nice rainbow trout, of course not as big in the riffles as my earlier one. My foreshadowing of a magical morning was correct. We were casting and coasting under the dainty clouds.
Suddenly there was a loud yell from shore. “Your dog is hurt!” The two men were holding him up on his feet. I balanced over the rocks as fast as I could, Lyndsay behind. “I think he got caught up with a porcupine!” one man said, the other steadying Brandy’s head as he tried to push the quills off with a paw.
I took Brandy’s head in my hands and did a quick evaluation. The quills were small, about two inches long. ”A baby!” I said. There were quite a few of them, inside and outside his mouth, tongue and nose. I exclaimed, “Terrible!”
My actions ran as fast as my mind and a small needle-nose fishing plier appeared in my hand. “Hold the head guys! Lyndsay, grab that stick to keep his jaw down!” I reached into his mouth. Brandy wiggled but kept his jaws open. We all stood firm as I dove in unerringly, inside his mouth, yanking one quill out at a time and wiping off the instrument on my jacket. It only took me a minute to get all nine of them out, inspect the rest of his face and body for three or four more then say, “OK, let him go!” as I kicked him away with a boot on the posterior.
“You sure are fast!” said one of the men, “I’ve never seen anything like it!”
Brandy seemed quite content trotting along on the way back. Lyndsay and I took a short rest in the tent until Brandy kept pestering me with his nose. I inspected him and didn’t see a problem, then suddenly realized he wanted us to follow him.
He took us to a large trailside, moveable log and went on a point with his nose and tail unquiveringly straight. By now Lyndsay’s two brothers and my wife were with us. Together we rolled over the dog-pointed part of the log and the quilly three pounder’s armor became twice that size, rustling, threatening. A female, we found out later. I had brought a big gunnysack and between us, we got her into the quickly closed bag and shortly after started home. Once Sideways got over her initial fright she was as cuddly and funny as a baby. She loved to sleep in son John’s bed and hang out under the living room couch, quills, springs and all.
A reader might ask, “How did Sideways get her name?”
It was a unanimous decision. On the way home the question was, “If you had to pick a way to have a porcupine shoved up your butt, which way would you choose?”
Sideways’ eventual home was the Effie Yeaw Sacramento Nature Center, where she was a star attraction, and became the oldest-known porcupine living in captivity.