Cougar Watching Trumps Fishing

By Bill Green

Being an avid streamer fisherman on the Provo River, if you were to tell me that if I were to spend three days on a fishing trip and experience greater excitement in something other than catching fish, I would say, "No way!" Yet, that is exactly what happened on a recent fishing outing in Emery County.

My wife, Iona, and I had been invited to spend a few days with Lee and Maxine Bamgartner in a duplex they own in the town of Emery. We planned to visit a different area each day to see the country and enjoy fishing some of the local waters. Even though the scenery alone was well worth the trip, we had some other experiences that merit sharing.

On the first afternoon Lee drove us to Joe's Valley Reservoir via Castle Dale on Highway 29. We caught a few fish, although it was pretty slow. Around 6:30 p.m. we started back and I asked Lee to stop and let me try my streamer on the river on the way down the canyon. He obliged at the first turn-out and I was able to bring two browns up, as he looked on. He then pulled over at the second turn-out to let me try again. As I started down the bank I received the shock of my life. There was a cougar lying on a big rock! When he saw me, he leaped right into the middle of the river in a deep, swift hole. I was yelling to tell the others what was happening so they could see, too, but all that would come out was "Look! Look! Look!" Finally, I blurted out, "A cougar!" The others ran to my side in time to see it leap out of the water onto a rock on the other side of the river and then climb straight up the canyon wall at least 200 feet before sloping to look at us. It was incredible! The canyon wall must have been on an 80 degree incline and that cougar went up it like it wasn't even there. Such power, agility and grace is almost indescribeable. I have fished, backpacked, and hunted all over the western states for over 50 years and that was the first time I ever saw a cougar in the wild.

The next day was the 24th of July, so we went sight seeing in the San Rafael River country. However, on the 25th, Lee got us up early in the morning to go up to Ferron Reservoir. We had just completed the long steep grade and were on a more gradual incline. On the left side of the road was a steep bank of 8 or 10 feet and on the right side the terrain sloped downhill.

All of a sudden, about 40 to 50 feet in front of the car, a cougar leaped from the bank on the left, landed in the road, and then bounded across the road and down the mountain side on the right. Since we had seen quite a few deer, we were all alertly looking and were able to see this second cougar even closer than the first. Again, the fishing was slow, bit we were excited to report our two sightings of cougars to the National Forest Service in Ferron. They were amazed that we had seen two cougars in just a three-day period, in totally different canyons.

I must say I had a hard time sleeping, wondering what the next day would provide for excitement. We had determined that we would again leave Emery early in the morning and drive south on Highway 10 to Highway 72 and then turn off and make the circle going by the Mill Meadow, Johnson Reservoir, Fish Lake and on to Loa and back, stopping at Forsythe Reservoir for some evening fishing. We had just gone a few miles past a scenic overlook on Highway 72 and on the left was a large flat meadow. Maxine spotted something walking across the meadow and yelled, "Stop the car!" I was driving and thought she had just seen a deer, so I didn't want to stop, but I did slow down. She then said, "It's a cougar!" I thought, " Oh yeah! I'm sure!" She then burst out more emphatically, Stop the car!" This time I did stop and turned to look at the meadow. There, as big as life, was a cougar walking along. When I stopped, he started to run and the grace and speed he displayed was an awesome sight. We learned later that a local hunter had a treed a cougar and let him go in an area very close to where this one was sighted. The fishing was somewhat better on this day, but that was relatively insignificant to the real excitement of the day.

This was the most exciting fishing trip of my life and not because of the fish. Four of us had seen three cougars in four days, each in a different area. As Iona and I went through Ferron on our way home on Saturday, we stopped to report this last sighting to the Forest Service. They were closed. It was probably just as well, they never would have believed a third sighting from us, anyway. I wouldn't have believed it either if it had not happened to the four of us. I can't wait for Lee and Maxine to invite us down again for another fishing trip. I have finally found something more exciting than catching fish!