PAGE, Arizona— It’s about 30 minutes past rendezvous time and still no word from the St. Croix team. Phone service is spotty in the desert, and I am most definitely in the desert. Yes, most definitely in the desert—looking for fish.
Page is a town of about 7,000 near the Arizona/Utah border. It’s a sort of Twilight Zone for fishermen that serves as a gateway to monstrous Lake Powell, a boneyard for house boats and a bizarre time capsule of geology. “It’s the coolest place you’ll ever fish,” says Bassmaster Elite Series pro John Murray. “It’s a flooded Grand Canyon.”
Murray, an Arizona native, is right. Over the next three days I’ll learn just how right, in an adventure that will set me among a select team of writers, retailers and pros from around the country as we run a new lineup of St. Croix rods through the ringer under the shadows of the past, in a Martian-like landscape.
We’ll have our hands on the soon-to-be-available St. Croix Legend Elite rod and the new Avid X. To test them, St. Croix will strand our motley crew on a beach—somewhere in the middle of the 254 square-mile lake—with a couple of fishing boats, at least seven different species of fish and not enough alcohol. At least, they will in theory.
To get to the beach, I’ve got to get to the team. And so far, it’s been dead silence since I rolled into Page.
A jackrabbit hobbles past.
[divider]A bad drug deal[/divider]
Without communication, I’m left to a crumbled paper for direction. It doesn’t list an exact rally point, “meet at 6:30 at Lake Powell Resorts & Marina.” I arrive at about 6:00 just to be safe. Everything’s cool, except Lake Powell Resorts & Marina seems to cover a few square miles of real estate. There’s a hotel, bar, pool, launch ramp, marina, restaurant, sporting goods store and several massive parking lots to choose from.
First reaction: I snatch an iPhone from my pocket and dial the contact for St. Croix. No service. Right … it’s the desert. Then, I try to remember how people met up before cell phones. “I think, we would just wait at the most logical spot. The bar!”
At the bar, people from at least three continents—Europe, Asia and North America—are scattered around sipping cocktails and taking in the afternoon sun over the flickering blue lake about 200 feet below. Some speak English; most do not.
The minutes pass. Still, no word. I take a seat on a bench overlooking the lake.
Another jackrabbit hobbles by.
Finally, the iPhone buzzes at 6:52 p.m. On the other end is outdoor TV host Jarrett Edwards. Edwards is a legend in Page and a lethal stick on the water. We’ve never met. “The St. Croix guys wanted me to call you,” he says. “Everyone’s flight got delayed, but we’re headed to the airport now to get them. Where are you?”
At the bar: the most logical place.
Edwards quickly relays the real rendezvous point to me: there’s another marina labeled “rental boats,” and it’s located a few miles away near the end of a dirt road. The crumbled paper won’t do me any good now. This is old school direction-by-phone.
“You’ll see two 19-foot sport boats at the dock. We’ll meet you there in a white, 12-passenger van.”
It sounds like the beginning of a bad drug deal.
[divider]A journey through the dark[/divider]
The rendezvous point is a strange scene. Row upon row of empty houseboats occupy the top of a hill. If Mad Max were on a boat, this would be his home base. Presumably, these boats are all rented out during the busy summer months.
A suburbanite husband and soccer mom are busy browsing through the roof of one of the sandy hulks stranded in a batch of tumbleweeds. Maybe 200 feet below—near the end of the dirt road—I spy two 19-foot sport boats tethered to a surprisingly modern marina. This place is called Wahweap, and it’s no place for a bad drug deal. The sport boats sit among more rows of houseboats; however, these are in the water. They’re not sandy. They are ready to sail.
A jackrabbit hobbles up to the window of my rental car to pose for a photo. He’s fearless.
A few hundred yards away, Jarrett Edwards’s van isn’t far behind. Inside are two similarly fearless men who are about to captain those sport boats through miles of vast, canyon lake towards St. Croix’s beach. And they’ll do it under the shadow of night—with very little light.
A disheveled heap of writers emerge from the van as Edwards brings it to a halt near the red dirt beside the marina. As everyone starts loading up, Edwards is at the wheel of one boat. His dad, Jim, at the other. And as I toss my bag and camera onto Jim’s boat, the younger Edwards barks a warning: “Good luck. You’re gonna need it.”
We burble off into twilight.
You're reading Part One of a Three Part Series following FTR's expedition to get up-close with the new St. Croix Rods. To continue into the darkness, visit Part Two here.