MY SECRET RIVER
Every other year I take a major fly fishing trip to some exotic part of the country to fish the ‘great rivers’ of America. The only thing preventing me from spending my entire life time from becoming a professional trout bum is time and money. Please excuse an old cliché, but there are ‘so many rivers and so little time’.
A couple of years ago I was on one of my cross-country extended fishing trips. My schedule was tight, one to two days on a river, then move on to the next. About every 5th day I’d take a day off to wash the ‘fish truck’, do my laundry, visit fly fishing stores in the area, and talk with local river guides and fishermen. I was overdue for one of these R & R days and, after a hard day on the water; I was looking forward to settling in at my motel, just a short piece down the road.
As I was driving along I couldn’t help but notice that there was a river paralleling the road I was traveling on. A quick stop to check the road map did not indicate the presence of a river. There were no placards or identifying signs that might reveal its name. The river was calling to me, but I was overdue for a shower and a meal, so I chose to keep trekking down the road.
By early afternoon I had arrived and checked in to the motel. I started my laundry and inquired about local restaurants where one might acquire some grub and libations. Having skipped breakfast in the morning, I was starved, and my stomach was letting me know it. I was directed to a small eatery about two blocks down the road; one with a true sportsman’s attitude - knotty pine interior, a urethaned bar top, a ‘Jackalope’ on the wall and a whole section on the menu called, road kill this and road kill that. This is what I call a place with ‘real character’. The Reuben sandwich with pickle and chips sounded good and would provide the quick fix that my stomach needed. I’ll make time for a more substantial meal in the evening. Besides, I had made up my mind to back track and fish the un-named river I had just discovered; after all, there was still several hours of daylight available.
After lunch, back down the road I went. It wasn’t long before I found what looked to be a public access site. I poured myself into my waders, grabbed my vest and rod and headed toward the river bank. It was apparent that there was not a hatch going on but over the last few weeks the blue wing olives were thick and heavy so I made a decision to tie one on. Several casts later I was beginning to realize that the trout were not interested in my modest offering. My instinct told me to go to a generalized attractor pattern. I decided on a size #16 Parachute Royal Coachman. My very first cast produced at 14 inch brook, as did my second, third and fourth cast. I was in brook trout heaven! The fishing was so easy; I decided to walk up stream a hundred yards or so to see if my luck was going to hold on. Sure enough! Four more casts; four more brooks, all in the 12-14 inch range.
I knew I could stay and fill my fishing log with quantities that no one would believe but I decided to return to the truck and check out the next public access site just a short distance up the road. No reason to shed the waders since I wouldn’t be driving that long. Two miles later I was back in the river, this time with a new fly. I decided to try a red Devil Bug. BAMB! BAMB! BAMB! Three more brookies; a little smaller but just as much fun! This was unbelievable; less then an hour on the water and I had netted eleven impressive brook trout. The un-named river was too good to be true. I made the decision to re-adjust my whole trip. I just have to have another full day on this river. After dinner I planned on calling all my motels and pushing up my reservations by a day. Darkness was about an hour away; time to retire to a relaxing dinner and a couple of Manhattans.
I returned to my motel to finish up my laundry. It was time for dinner and I had decided to go a little more up-scale then my luncheon choice, but as always, I still wanted a place with character. The motel manager was nice enough to recommend a good steak and sandwich shop where the local sportsmen hang out. No ‘Jackalope’ on the wall and no road kill on the menu but, the place was very charming and clean. I sat at the bar, ordered a Manhattan and perused the menu.
Before I had even taken the first sip of my drink, another gentleman, wearing a fishing vest and a baseball cap bearing the insignia of a local fly shop, sat down next to me, stuck out his hand and introduced himself. He too began to peruse the menu. Within just a few minutes of a ‘getting to know you’ conversation he revealed that he was a local fishing guide. Great! I now know someone who’ll listen to my bragging about today’s experiences and someone who could probably answer my questions about the river.
A few minutes into our conversation revealed not only the name of the river but also its complete topography and biology. As it turns out the river is only 18 miles long with headwaters that surpass none --- trickling water falls that drip into deep pools loaded with brookies! For some unknown reason the river never made it into the guide books (probably because of its size). The guide asked me to keep the secret, stating, “the river already has too much pressure and the guides only bring very special clients to it.” In exchange for some information on getting to the falls at the head waters and some tips on private access sites, I agreed never to publish the name of the river or its location.
As the guide finished his dinner and the last couple of swallows of his draft beer, his final comment to me, as he headed to the door was, “throw anything you want at them as long as it has a little red in it.” Advice I will take very seriously.
Up before sunrise the next morning, I decided to skip my usual ‘lumberjack breakfast’ and go for a high cholesterol donut and a quick cup of coffee. The river was calling and I didn’t plan on being late. Within a half hour drive I had secured a private access site which the guide told me I could use. Within minutes I was on the water. Armed with an 8 foot, 5 weight rod and a Red Ibis in a size #18 I was ready to overstuff my fishing log with 18” brook trout. Everything was perfect: a lot of canopy, an overcast sky, and a steady barometer.
Being a little overly excited, my first and second cast wound up snagging some brush on the far shoreline. A couple of deep breaths later my Red Ibis was dead drifting along the shore line coming up on a few deadfall pines. Within seconds I hooked and landed a beautiful 16” brookie. I walked up stream about 30 feet and cast to some more structure along the bank. My fly barely made it to the water when I had hooked and landed another small, beautiful 12 incher. Both up and down stream I fished for the next hour or so, casting to riffles, shallows and still pools. Eight more trout were taken and returned. I was the only one on the river - I owned it that day.
Back in the truck, I decided to move to the next site that the guide had recommended. His detailed instructions were hastily written on a bar napkin, but still cipherable. The trout were so cooperative that I decided to switch flies, just to give them a fighting chance. In keeping with what the guide said (a little bit of red) I chose to try a Cabin Coachman in a size #12. My first cast to the middle of the river produced a handsome 12 incher followed by two more 14 inchers. I had only been in this spot for less then 20 minutes and already had experienced an entire days worth of fun.
Until now, I had never experienced being ‘bored with successes. I just had to move on to the next access site to see if my luck would hold out. Twenty minutes later I found myself knee deep in new waters. Once again I switched flies, knowing that if I did it enough times eventually I might find one that would make today’s activities a little more challenging. No such luck! The first two cast of my Brown Hackled Peacock to the middle of the river produced nothing, but my next few casts toward the shoreline near the scrub brush produced another handsome 12 incher followed by three more just like him. This was becoming ridiculous.
Lunch time was approaching, but I decided to pass for the time being. A few more hours of trout bliss was more important. I always carry a few snacks and a libation with me - now was the time to sit on the bank, take a couple of pictures and enjoy a snack and a brew before moving on.
I made the decision that this was the time to change the venue. I decided my last stop for the day would be to fish the deep, still, pools up at the headwaters. A short hike up the trails would be required. I also knew that an extra rod and camera would be in-order.
The park, which provided access to the falls and head-waters, was just a few miles down the road. After speaking with the guide the night before I pretty much knew my fishing experience would end here. After this stop it would be time to move on to the next river. After all, I had already extended my whole vacation by a day - what a shame!
The hike wasn’t too long. While walking, I spooked a couple of deer, rabbits and a small family of baby raccoons. As I approached the area I was hoping to fish, the sounds of the water falls began to catch my attention. As promised by the guide, the pools were large, still and deep. I decided to try a couple of patterns that I was developing: the Caplis and the Royal Bee (both of which have red tails).
Two hours later I had landed six more splendid trout, the biggest measuring out at 16 inches. This was my second 16 incher of the trip. Now, I’m from Michigan --- a sixteen inch brook trout is almost unheard of. So this was a record for me. My fishing log will record unbelievable numbers of fish on a river that was not even on the map.
In my day and a half on the river, I never met or saw another fisherman (for that I am grateful). I have no explanation for it. Usually productive rivers wind up being an ‘elbow to elbow’ situation. Maybe this was some kind of reward from God for 26 years of catch and release. I can’t explain the experience, but I’ll never forget it.
Late that evening I returned to the same restaurant where I had met the guide, the night before. I was really hoping to see him once again. I owed him many thanks for providing me with a couple of private access sites and the tip about ‘red’. He never showed - too bad for him because dinner and drinks would have been on me.
See you on the water…..
Fly tier and amateur historian, Tom Deschaine hails from Michigan where he
maintains a web site dedicated to old Michigan dry flies and their creators. His
flies and tips have appeared in such publications as American Angler, Fly Tyer, Fly Fish America and Trout Fisherman.