Trout? What kind of delusional tripe could follow that kind of title? Yes, they are among the fishes. And it is true that I am fisherman. But aren't they a bit elitist for a bobber flinger like me?
I know a lot about the trouts. And I know next to nothing. Hours between the pages doesn't add up to a single second on the water. I've caught them on occasion. And sometimes I've even been trying to. But never with a dry fly gently placed upstream on a spring creek with a well mended cast to a subtly sipping brown trout. Not me. I'd give it a try but fear the trout would laugh.
On the other hand, I do like to fool them with some form of artificial that not only doesn't match the hatch but doesn't actually look like anything. Tiny Mepps style spinners you say? Maybe homemade? If you've read me, you know that's right up my alley. I've even tried to tie musky sized fly/spinners in red and white colors. Plastic beads and tiny spinner blade. I was so proud of the finished product. Pretty and looked eminently fishy. And they were incredibly light. Relatively speaking that is. Too bad they casted like a pound and a half of lead. They didn't so much load my ten weight rod as bang it to attention. Maybe they'd work on a twelve weight. But then I'd have to buy one and I'm way too cheap for that.
Gary, or maybe it was his brother, grew up knowing how to fish trout. And when to fish them. And where. They were both Superior, Wisconsin boys. A fair sized town within spitting distance of some of the best fishing rivers in the lower forty-eight. The St. Louis tumbled out of Minnesota's Arrowhead and into the harbor of Duluth-Superior. The best walleye water in America? Possibly. The Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers, known for their fast and clean waters, are spectacular smallmouth bass and musky waters.
And then there's the Bois Brule River. Noted enough to have former President Herbert Hoover build a residence along its shore. My Uncle Emil says the Brule came about when Babe the Blue Ox couldn't hold it any longer after draining the pure waters of the River Pishon flowing from the Garden of Eden. Seems he and Paul Bunyan had been felling trees in the Sahara Forest, later known as desert after they'd manually clear cut it and had worked up a terrible thirst in doing so. Even at seven years of age I was a little skeptical that the two of them could make it from the Middle East to upstate Wisconsin without stopping to empty their bladders. Hell, Uncle Emil couldn't make it from Parkers Prairie to Fergus Falls without pulling over at least twice. But, even at seven I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut and not ruin a good story.
This is a warning as to what's coming up. No, it's not gruesome, though there are some pretty scary looking spiders involved, it's more on the order of I'm gonna give out information that shouldn't be given out. If anybody was reading this site I'd be worried that a well kept secret fishin' hole could be ruined. But, believe me, that's not a worry. So if anybody out there reads this, you have to take an oath right now that you'll never ever, under penalty that all you rod tips, even that one you know and love best, will spontaneously combust, pass this secret on or make use of it in any way that would harm the fishery. Okay? Now that that's settled I'll go on with the tale.
It was part of a family trip about twenty-five years ago. Gary and his wife, his wife being my better half's blood cousin, were up in the sand country woods of northern Wisconsin and we were up there to visit. They were there on one of those classic one week vacations that families used to take at Ma and Pa resorts. The guy goes fishing and the missus cleans and cooks. Lois and the kids were along to break up Mary's week and me, I was there to be a macho pig and go fishing with Gary. In my defense I had my canoe along. With it I spent one evening on the water with Annie and one with Allan. It's not like I was helping with the dishes or scrubbing the floor but at least I wasn't running away from my responsibilities as a father. Or you could say I was sharing the fun, one kid at a time. Yeah, all of us men look the same when we're upside down (not sure what that means but I like the sound of it).
Like I'd said, Gary and his brother had fished and hunted the area for decades. And they knew some of the angles. And on much fished water, angles are the key. While we were out catching, or at least trying to scare up some walleyes or panfish, Gary kept a running commentary on what we oughta be doing. And his song didn't have many lyrics. Went something like this:
Trout, trout, trout,
We should be fishin'
Trout, trout , trout.
Brookies, 'bows and browns,
I know where they are.
And the browns are
Big, big, big.
Again and again and again. I suppose a couple of days earlier when he told me to buy a trout stamp along with my non-resident license should have been a clue. And that I was up for a trip on legendary water didn't seem to stand in the way. It seemed the only way to end his incessant chant was to get up early one morning, pack a lunch, load the canoe and hit the trail.
I'm a believer. When Gary said he knew what he was doing and that we'd catch fish, I never gave it a second thought. That we had to drive a convoluted set of sand roads to a point a half mile from the river seemed to fit right in with what he claimed. Most people heading to a trout river pull up to a landing, float the boat and hope for the best. That we had to start by parking in a tiny cleared area with only the smallest of signs indicating we were at a trail head leading to the river, the half mile portage was right up my alley.
In my mind, the more work we'd put in up front, the better the fishing would be. The Boundary Waters, Gary hadn't seen them yet, was a case in point. Northwest Manitoba, another.
I know my limitations as a fisherman. Like I've written before, I'm more than happy to put in the miles to find fish that are dumber that me. Having to carry a hundred-twenty pounds of canoe, food, gear and worms told me we were gonna have a fine day on the water. That the wooded trail ended at what looked to be a swamp was even better. Couldn't have been happier even if it was raining.
It truly was a swamp but there was no doubt something like a stream was running through it. Well, it kinda looked like a stream. Except there was no indication that it was streaming. Gary hadn't been there in years but seemed happy as could be 'cause it looked just like he'd remembered it. Kind of like the river was giving him a little reassurance that he badly needed.
You know how those things are. You're absolutely certain how things are going to be and at the same time are afraid it's all gonna go bust. Gary'd been keeping up a stream of how great the brown trout fishing was gonna be for three days by the time we actually wet a line. But the closer we got to the river, the more he started drawing in the clouds of doubt. We were there at the right time of year. More or less. Things looked about the same but you never know. We're really gonna hammer them but, then again, we might get skunked.
Having the river pat him on the shoulder did a lot of good. As for me I didn't care in the least. Catch 'em or not, this was an adventure of the first magnitude.
Yes, we did fish. Yes, we did catch trout. Dozens of brookies. A couple of rainbows and one fat brown trout in spawning colors. Yes, I did cheat with a worm now and then just to make Gary happy. I'm that kind of guy, willing to throw my morals to the wind in the interest of camaraderie. But mostly I stuck to a 0 sized spinner. Actually it didn't seem to matter a lot. Gary fed 'em red worms on a tiny hook with a micro split shot a foot above. Worms, worms, worms, the man lived by the worm.
It was almost too easy catching the brook trouts. Rather than being line conscious they were downright curious. And so innocent I felt sorry for them. You could have thrown a brick in the water and they'd have clustered around it just to see what it was. Make it smell like a worm and they'd have licked it.
But the little silver blade on my spinner had the same effect. Blip!, it'd hit the water. A second later, Bam! and I'd have one on. None were all that big. Most were in the eight to ten inch range. Pan sized in the old days. We'd just lift them, look at them for a second and twist them off the barbless hooks. And maybe chuckle about how easy it was.
The challenge came in passage down stream. Like I said, it was a swamp. With brush thickets here and there separating one pool from the next. Once we were in an opening we'd carefully fan cast the edges which weren't as much shorelines as they were an uneven, water rooted hedge. As such the edges were cover for the trout from one end of the thirty yard long pools to the other.
Getting from one pool to the next was the fun part. The rods had to be stowed on the canoe's bottom and the paddles put away or they'd hang up in the two foot high canopy. As for us it was bend down and pull ourselves through by hand. Over the hours the bottom of the Alumacraft slowly filled with twigs, ticks, spiders and a gamut of bugs that looked like we were in the Amazon Basin at the base of a rubber tree doing an insect count. Of course a fair mount of the little buggers made themselves to home under our shirts and in our drawers. Removing them gave us something to to when resting our wearing casting arms. Oh, the burden of the successful fisherman.
Even for a bumbler like me, fly fishing would have boated trout. And would have had me spend most of my time breaking off flies in the brush. I've run the scenario through my head a number of times in the years since. Vertical back cast kept short and careful. Then roll cast along the edges 'til I hooked up. Sweet vision. Reality says 61.43% of those back casts would have ensnarled just out of reach and we'd have spent more time extricating than fishing.
Everything about where we'd fished said nobody in the whole world knew about the locale except Gary and his brother. Until we reached the tiny island in the swamp where we had our lunch. There's something about a picnic table and garbage can that reeks of civilization. Oh well.
It was shortly after our break that I caught my first brown trout. Embarrassingly, it was a complete dredge job. The pool was deep and black watered. Gary set up my rig of split shot, hook and worm. About all I did was lob it out and let it sink. After a minute or so a short lift felt heavy and I set the hook. Meat hunter extraordinaire. A nice fish that I lost off the stringer a few minutes later with no great regret. Unless it didn't live. I don't mind harassing them but sure don't like killing them after they've given me a thrill. They deserve better. Guess I'm too metaphysical on the water.
Come mid-afternoon we began to pass cabins. Pretty spots to see but from there on we couldn't raise a fish. We pulled out at the location most people launched their boats. There we talked with a guide who hadn't been having much luck. The old story of fish becoming smarter than fishermen. I almost spilled the beans about where we'd been but Gary's intense stink eye quickly shut me up.