The lie was not a natural structure, but the trout
did not know that. She had moved into the pool
after an unusual summer flood had torn away the
undercut bank where she'd spend the previous three
seasons. Her new lie was better than the old one,
though. Cedar logs lay parallel to the current,
overhanging cleanly washed gravel.
She was resting, secure with the logs to one side and
above her and the thrust of the current to the other side.
She paid no particular attention to the twisted wire tying
the logs together or the steel bar driven into the streambed
to anchor them. They were just part of the landscape.
For Mike Baxter, however, these artifacts had very special
He crouched among the milkweed and goldenrod at the tail
of the pool. The sun was just setting behind the farm
on the hill upstream. He was relaxed, waiting for the
Isonychia hatch - never prolific this late in the summer,
but sufficient to entice the bigger trout to feed on the
As he filled his pipe, he examined the log cribbing against
the bank upstream to his right. Even though the flow was
at its usual late summer level, the current chuckled bristly
along the edges of the logs. It was a lovely pool - hard
to fish due to the drag produced by the complex, ever-changing
eddies, but it was a challenge and it held big trout.
Earlier in the season, when the stream was much more crowded,
it was a popular place, and Mike always seemed to find some
other angler there when he arrived or, if he had managed to
get there first, he'd been disturbed by somebody clumping
down the bank. He preferred the summer - the fishing was
harder, but the crowds were gone.
The log cribbing in the pool had been built by Mike's
fly-fishing club the previous season to protect the
eroding bank and to provide cover for trout. It had
proved to be one of the more successful of the club's
conservation projects. Since opening weekend, there
had always been fish in the deep, gravelly run against
the logs. This was why it had become so popular.
Now, the dogwoods and grasses planted in the backfill
behind the logs were in full leaf, hiding the raw
construction scars left by the work party more than
nine months earlier. Mike smiled wryly to himself
as he remembered the day they'd pounded in the last
T-bar and twisted the last strand of wire.
* * *
It was painfully cold. Mike stood in water up to his
waist, leaning against the new section of cribbing.
His exposed hands were red and puffy from the near
freezing water, but he kept his grip on the pliers
and gave the stiff wire a final twist to tighten the
log securely against the T-bar. Then, dropping the
pliers on the logs, he raised his hands to his mouth
and tried to blow the ache away with his warm breath.
It didn't help much. His whole body was chilled to
the bone. Even his mind seemed frozen.
I'd better get out and warm up a bit, he decided, rousing himself.
But he hesitated. If he took a rest, the others would,
too, and they'd be slow to get back to work again. He
didn't really blame them. It was a hell of a day to be
working on the stream - and they were all older than he
was. Still, he was the one working in the icy water.
Could he get them back to work quickly enough so they
could finish the job? It was the 29th of November.
They were lucky it wasn't ten below zero. It was too
much to expect the unseasonably warm ten above to last
into December. He know this was the last chance to finish
the job before the following spring . . .spring! It
seemed an age away . . .
"You OK, Mike?"
Winter came back.
"Come on out. We're going to take a break. You must be
half-dead with cold in there. Here, grab my hand."
Jack Milner's gloved hand reach down to him. Mike
grabbed it and pulled himself out of the stream and
on to the logs.
The others had a fire going in the lee of a clump of
big cedars. Thankfully, Mike sat down on a log and
took the mug of hot chocolate Dan Fergusson offered
him. Dan was at least seventy and had a heart condition,
but he always came out to work parties. In fact, all
three of the others were well over fifty. Mike, at
thirty-one, was the baby. He listened condescendingly to their
half-serious grumbling as he warmed himself at the fire.
"Thought we'd have had a few more come out today."
"Too damn cold. Gotta be crazy."
"They're all inside watching the football game on TV."
"Nah, Ross and Al and some of the others are off hunting."
"Can't expect people to come out in weather like this."
Mike was only too aware of the problem. As club
conservation chairman for the past three years
he'd been frustrated by the lame pattern of member
involvement (or lack of it) in work parties. The
spring wasn't too bad, when anticipation of the
opening of the trout season generated initial enthusiasm
for working on the stream. But the enthusiasm quickly
waned once the season opened. He'd almost given up
trying to call work parties in the summer because of
poor turnouts. Oh, the excuses were legitimate enough
for the most part - family obligations, vacations, and
so on. There really weren't all that many freeloaders.
But it always seemed to be the same handful who could
be relied upon to show up when needed. The past year
had been the worse, as he'd lost his two best workers.
Dave Jacklin had moved out west when the factory in
which he was a machinist had closed down, and Ted Delaney
had slipped a disc while jogging.
Despite the drastic reduction of his work force, Mike
had been loathe to abandon the half-completed log cribbing
project, knowing that if it were not securely wired in,
it would most likely be washed away in the spring runoff.
But without Dave and Ted it had almost proved too big a
job. Even now, in late November, they had yet to finish.
"Another cup, Mike?" Dan Fergusson was holding the thermos out at him.
"Thanks, I need it."
Dan filled up his mug.
I'd better get back to work, Mike worried as he sipped
at the hot, sweet chocolate.
A flake of snow drifted from the leaden sky. Then
another, Mike dragged himself up. "Let's finish it,"
he encouraged, mustering the others.
As he eased himself back into the water the snow
intensified. The wind was beginning to freshen, too.
Only six more to wire in, he told himself, as Jack handed
him one end of double strand of wire. The other end had
already been attached to a T-bar driven into the bank.
Dan waited with a short stick to twist the wire tight,
and a hammer and a ten-inch ardox nail to pin it to the
log. Moved on to the next T-bar. By the time they
tightened the last strand of wire, it was snowing hard.
Mike was exhausted. I must be crazy, he thought.
Somebody else can do the job next year.
Dan had built the fire up, and the cedars provided some
shelter from the driving snow. They clustered around
the flames, absorbing as much of its warmth as the could,
indulging in the last of the hot chocolate before they
picked up their tools for the long walk back to the road.
They walked in single file, silently, along the muddy
path through the meadow, totally absorbed in the task
of forcing their feet to make each step. The snow had
eased to a few, bitter flurries, but it had turned much
colder. The farm on the hill stood out - white roof
against a dead grey sky - like some surrealist painting.
That's where the road is, Mike assured himself grimly.
It's a long way.
A thin, icy wind moaned fitfully in the tops of the
cedars. Occasionally it descended to cut indifferently
at their numb faces. They continued in silence.
* * *
A waxwing fluttered across the stream, almost hovering
as it twisted to snatch a fly from the air. Mike
snapped out of his reverie - the hatch had started.
He had already tied on his Isonychia imitation. He'd
been experimenting with cut-wing, upside-sown pattern,
and had found that, for the bigger duns, they were very
effective, especially in sparse hatches.
The waxwing made another sortie - and another. This time,
Mike saw the big dun rising steadily against the evening
sky. He shifted to a kneeling position on the gravel bed
at the tail of the run. The surface upstream was burnished
in the afterglow.
The first rise came almost under his nose. He didn't really
have to cast - just an inelegant combination of a dangle and
a flick. The trout hit it almost immediately and dashed
downstream into the riffle. As quickly as he could, he
brought it back towards him. It wasn't big - under twelve
inches - and it didn't have much of a chance against the
4 lb. leaders, but it was a well-fed, tough, wild brown,
and it gave a creditable account of itself. Its flanks
glistened gold and green as he reach down the leader to
twist the hook free. It held in the shallows for a few
moments, but as soon as he made the first cast to dry
his fly, it shot away towards the other bank.
He settled back to watch the pool, which had not been
much disturbed by his capture of the small brown. In
the west, the sky gradually changed from gold to a cool,
translucent green. Above him the first stars began to
appear. The waxwings vanished.
The reflection on the run was much dimmer, but still bright
enough for him to see the rise clearly. It was tight
against the log cribbing. Mike knew there was at least
one very big brown in the run. He's seen her on a number
of occasions during the summer, by lying down on the
cribbing and peering through a gap in the logs into
the deep hole beneath - and on one windy June afternoon
he was sure he's risen and missed her. She was well
over twenty inches long.
This rise had the heaviness and deliberateness of a big
fish. He felt the old familiar quickening of his pulse.
Steady - take your time.
The fish rose again. It was a good fish. Carefully, he
false cast, and dropped the big fly a foot-and-a-half above
the fish. It dragged almost immediately. He cast
again - and again it dragged. It was a familiar
pattern - the eddies were so unpredictable. It took
infinite patience. On the eighth cast he managed a
good float. The trout took it in a heavy swirl.
He struck and felt the weight, then the first savage
plunge for the safety of the logs. No finesse
here - just brute strength and luck.
The fish turned suddenly, bolted towards him, and erupted
out of the shallow water almost in his face. Frantically,
he handlined in the slack. When he tightened, the fish
was still on. Incredibly, it was holding in the centre
of the run, well clear of the logs on the far bank.
Almost as if it's waiting for me.
As if in answer, the fish surged upstream. Mike gave it
line. Then, as soon as it reached the head of the run,
it turned and headed back towards him again. This time,
however, when he's taken in the slack, the line tightened
against something solid and unyielding. It pointed
directly into the log cribbing. Although he knew it
was futile, he released the tension on the line for
a couple of minutes, then tightened on it again. But
it was stuck just as solid as before. He pointed his
rod tip at the logs and pulled on the line until the
Shaking a little, he rose to his feet and reeled in
his line. The reflection in the pool was gone.
Ah, well, he rationalised. At least I hooked it.
Maybe it'll still be there next year.
Beneath the logs, the trout lay with gills working.
Beside her, the remains of the leader were wrapped
three times around the steel T-bar, the broken end
floating freely in the water. ~ CM
We thank the
Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!