To the American Indian, a good death is as important as a good life. For the Lakota, Hokahe’ was a rallying cry for warriors preparing for battle. "It is a good day to die” is the literal translation, but in a broader society, it means I am not afraid. Bob Evans was not Indian but he was a warrior, and I do not believe he feared anything.
Known simply as Evans to most in the Henry’s Fork fishing community, he spent the final three decades of his life fishing the Ranch water nearly every day of the summer season. And during the course of those years he became as familiar to locals and regular visitors as the Mule’s Ear that blossoms in the meadows or the call of Sand Hill Cranes at sunset.
Although Evans had family, he lived a solitary life as a single man traveling the western states in pursuit of steelhead and trout. His home was a small travel trailer towed behind a beat up Ford pickup that could be found on the Grande Ronde in the fall or the San Juan in winter. But mostly he loved the Henry’s Fork where he would arrive in May and leave only when cold temperatures in the high country made camping simply too uncomfortable for an older man.
Most who knew him well believe that Evans spent more actual time on the Ranch water than anyone who has ever fished the Henry’s Fork. And while his casting style would not win any competitive award, few could match his effectiveness on the elusive rainbows that characterize his favorite water. Gifted with keen vision and the instincts of a predator, Evans fished with patience and stealth, and this is where he separated from others of similar undertaking. When working a big fish, he was simply relentless.
Evans also knew the value of observation, as was evident in his knowledge of hatches and the flies he tied to match them. Proud to a fault, he never relied on another’s tie, nor did he need to.
Evans was a large man, and his un-kept white hair and stubbly beard could be intimidating to a new acquaintance. But his physical appearance and sometime brusque manner belied a kind heart and sensitive nature. If the names of those whom Evans helped on the water were ever compiled, the list would be long. It was this aspect of his personality, and the fact that he was simply a good guy, that accounts for the many friends he accumulated during his years on the Henry’s Fork.
As one who counts himself among those friends, I have many memories of time spent with Evans. Most of those memories are from fishing the same water, but the most lasting are our conversations on the Observation Deck at the Log Jam.
Although never by appointment, we often came together in early afternoon when Evans had finished the mornings’ fishing and I was taking a mid-day break from work. In my mind, I can see the lone figure striding toward the parking lot at the end of what was often a long hike from deep within the Ranch. Usually, it was a hot day in July and August when the crowds had thinned and conversation could be private.
A fishing report was inevitable when you met Evans, but he had an opinion and could talk on any subject. Matters pertaining to river politics were always of interest, but in later years his softer side began to show in the things he wanted to talk about. Usually, family would enter the discussion, and the love he had for his kids and the pride he expressed in that regard are memorable. Always, however, he spoke of his love for the river and the gratitude he felt for being there. As aging men of similar years, we also talked about life and the prospect of death and from this I have concluded that Evans knew how he wanted to leave mortal existence and where his spirit should reside.
Bob Evans’ life ended on a warm June day while wading the water he lived to fish. And for him, it was a good place and a good day to die.
Rest Well Old Friend
June 25, 2013