It was late summer in Michigan, fall actually, the crowds of
summer fly-fishers and party-going canoeists had left my
favorite body of water. I had camped every weekend at Canoe
Harbor on the South Branch of the famous Au Sable river and
spent many hours on a choice stretch just upstream from my
trailer. My Pontiac station wagon was alone in the campground
this morning and I had the stream all to myself.
A quarter mile walk on a cedar lined path and I was at a 'put-in'
spot I knew only too well. Many mornings I had entered the stream
at this point during the season and fished my way gently downstream,
the current pulsing at my knees, prodding me along. The temptation
was always strong to move too rapidly but I had learned the seams,
pockets and lies of many a trout and knew that was not the right
way to fish this section.
Mornings are magical on most rivers, especially this one. Light
fog hovers a few feet above the flow, rising finally when the
sun bores it's way thru the dense cedars and jack pine lining
the edges. Fallen trees, roots still gnarled tightly to the
shoreline, boughs sweeping the currents, hence the name, 'sweepers.'
Among these fallen guardians lived the object of my search. Brown
trout, big ones holding out for one last meal before retreating
to the depths for the day.
The water in fall is lower than other times of the year and
some of the places I had fished before were now mud or even
dry land. The speed had dropped and made presenting a dry
fly more enjoyable than throwing a brushy fly to fast moving
currents like in the high run-off waters of the spring. I
moved carefully down the center of the stream. The water level
made it absolutely perfect to make casts to either bank, perhaps
thirty feet of fly line and twelve feet of leader plus tippet.
I was selecting my targets with care and precision. My casts
were straight toward shore, ninety degrees to the waters flow.
A few quick mends and a dry would float for a goodly distance.
I often tried to match the hatch but at this time of year there
was little to copy. A few trico's flittered about, not enough
to bring up any action. Small yellowish mayflies of some sort,
probably saw half a dozen if that many and no fish saw them that
I could detect. There seems always to be the odd stone fly and
or caddis but none this morning at all. So I just put on a Adams
type dry and went to work.
Presentation is always important but at this time of year I
think it is even more so. All I was doing was 'pounding them
up' as some might call it. And there weren't any that obliged
as carefully as I worked. Cast after measured cast, I advanced
from run to pool to ripple to run etc. Nothing showed except
for those little guys sniping at fuzz in the middle of the
river. Seems they must live out there and are almost always
poking their little snouts out and snatching at who-knows-what.
They were not on my target list this day.
Ahead on my right hand side there was a slender sweeper,
long dead and nothing but the main trunk still exposed,
somewhat supported just inches above the surface. The kind
that would bob up and down in the high water earlier in the
year. Roots on the shore, main trunk out over what now was
barely a few inches of water. And a small pocket of water
right near shore. Perhaps just big enough to hold a brown
My cast was on target. The fly dropped gently as a falling
feather, the leader lightly coiling on the surface, not
dragging in the least. I let it sit, and sit, and sit. The
god's of the stream supplied me with one of those memories
that clips it's way forever onto your past and it is as vivid
now as then. I missed the fish. Big time I missed him. Not
only that, I didn't even give him a sporting chance at my
offering. He was not in the pocket where I thought he might
be. Oh no.
The bulge and widening vee of wake started at least six feet
to from the right of my fly and was closing. The shape grew
larger and I could see a tail breaking the misty surface. Try
as I might there was no holding back. It was like it was
playing out in slow-motion. Closer he came, tail slowly
fanning, Vee moving ever faster; but no, I was faster. With
a practiced flick of my wrist, up came my rod tip and with
it my hapless fly, now streaking airborne above my hat, and
never to be chomped on by a brown trout at least two feet
long. At least not this day it wouldn't.
Now I had been fishing this run for months and had never seen
such a fish, not here or anywhere else on this stretch. But,
I guess he was just enjoying the sunrise and resting after
his excursions of the 'night feeding' they are notorious for.
One last morsel before retiring I suppose, but it was not to
be mine. Not a chance. Not if I had my way.
My nerves were shot. I was shaking. I may have even broken
out in a sweat. If so, I wouldn't have blamed myself. I
worked for it, I earned it and I darn well received it.
One of the stupidest, dumb, worst fly fishing mistakes of
my life; but one that I still remember... as one of the best. ~ JC