Sometimes it’s best to stare down the unknowns and bad weather and roll the dice. I did recently and was reminded that a little fish slime on your fingers can cure whatever ails you.
I’d been waiting for a window, however brief, to go trout fishing. Between a late thaw, singing engagements, and other wrenches in the gears, I was feeling a bit cooped up.
One warm, sunny day followed by almost certain thunderstorms was good enough for me. Most probably wouldn’t jump at the sure prospect of camping and fishing in the rain. I really didn’t care.
That need for fresh air and renewing of the mind has become ingrained during the pandemic. Two years ago, it felt like escapism. Now it feels like realigning life’s compass, like revisiting and revising priorities on a regular basis.
It could therefore be argued that a visit to a trout stream or two was way overdue. What’s more, a St. Croix trout rod came into my possession over the winter months, and it positively needed to be tested.
Who am I to stand in the way of another’s needs?
The first chosen stream was previously unknown to me. I picked it out of the lineup due to accessible length and favorable stats. Plentiful brook and brown trout. Miles of public easement. It wasn’t known for producing picture-worthy spotted behemoths, but it sounded like I might get to dip my landing net in the water a time or two.
Or twelve. Over seven hours of creeping hunchbacked along the narrow, winding stream, I managed to fool ten browns and two “brookies”. That was better than expected in terms of numbers.
In terms of size, however, it was as if they were specially designed to suit my fishing talents— mediocre at best. The largest were in the vicinity of 11 inches. The smallest were probably under five inches.
Overall, that was consistent with what could be seen darting here and there. Which is not to say that truly large specimens were absent, however.
My best chance at a really good fish was foiled perfectly by a pair of well-hidden wood ducks.
There was a great-looking stump hanging over the water in one place. It had roots going every which way, and a large shady void underneath it. Just as I’d crept up to the bank about ten yards downstream and prepared to cast, those ducks blasted off next to the stump. A long trout with beefy shoulders darted out from there, and disappeared upstream.
While my instinct was right, the execution was foiled by forces beyond control. The moment could have been tinged by frustration, but it wasn’t. I simply made a plan to keep moving upstream and set a hook into her jaw somehow.
That never happened, but it didn’t matter much. I was having too much fun discovering what was just beyond every turn in the creek. Between the sun, scenery, and occasional bend in my rod, nothing could ruin the overall feeling of well being and relaxation that was mine all afternoon. I left with only pictures and a mild sunburn.
The next destination was some state forest land where I hoped to camp along another trout stream.
After a short drive and a mile-long hike through the woods, I arrived at the bottom of the valley. To my surprise, there was another guy down there, who said he would be turkey hunting in the morning. He had good things to say about the creek and its fishing history, and went out of his way to point out a couple good spots.
Also to my surprise, that creek was even smaller than the first one from that day. Actual log jams—some of them large—were plentiful. Trees and bushes crowded the airspace over the creek, and pools were on the small side. The phrase “combat fishing” came to mind. I was glad to have had lots of recent casting practice.
By the time I’d found the perfect spot to hang my hammock, there was little daylight left. Fortunately, a couple of nice little pools were hidden nearby.
Brookies were extra eager that night, albeit extra inept at getting their mouths around lures. One finally did; I called it good.
The night was peaceful on the whole. Gentle breezes kept the trees whispering while a distant farm dog yelped into the darkness. The beeping of construction equipment pierced the night at quarter to three. I couldn’t help but ponder the wheres and whys surrounding that while I re-tucked my sleeping bag around my shoulders.
The pit-pat of incoming rain tapped my tarp just as daylight began to creep in. It grew in intensity as I monitored it from a half-asleep state. I reset my mental alarm clock to “after it slows down again.”
That finally happened at 7:20. Knowing it might not last long, I sat up and hastily stuck my feet into my boots, doing my best to clear my eyes while I fumbled with laces.
Those trout and I picked up right where we left off. It was like they hadn’t eaten in weeks and I was slinging twinkies. It was never a question of if, rather a question of how many every time I hopped to another little spot that held a couple inches of water.
Altogether there might have been 10 minutes when the sky wasn’t spitting something. When it became undeniably steady again, it was time to call it a day.
In about an hour and a half, I managed to land seven brook trout and two browns. Many more than that were counted as fruitless strikes and lost fish, which always frustrates. Considerable time was also spent yanking at overhanging trees and bushes. But I didn’t lose a single lure, which balanced the scales, more or less.
The way out was dark overhead and downright greasy underfoot. Fat raindrops—aimed right at my neck—tried their best to dislodge the satisfaction that hoisted me out of the creek bottom. They did not succeed.
Nothing— not even the tiresome barrage on the windshield—could ruin my mood. My trout itch had been scratched, and thoroughly. The day was still young, and by its end I would be poised to take my daughter out for her first day of turkey hunting.