My first really exotic angling adventure occured
in 1935 when I was a freshman in high school. During the summer
vacation, our parents took my younger brother Bob and me on a trip
to Michigan. While there we stayed a week or so with our cousins,
Redge Moll and his family, in the Upper Peninsuala village of Bruce
Also staying with Redge that summer was his lifelong
companion, Tommy Cole. Both men were dedicated outdoorsmen,
Redge raised Labrador retrievers, tied trout flies professionally and,
with Tommy, had worked for the Michigan Department of Conservation
in predator trapping and other wildlife management programs. Both
men were fly fishers. Tommy Cole was a bachelor whose home was
in the iron mining town of Ishpeming. It was there that he converted
another friend, John Voelker, from bait fishing to fly angling and later
became one of the central figures in John's popular fishing novels
(published under the name of Robert Traver).
Redge and Tommy educated me. One
of the first things they did was teach me to tie flies which I
took to like a trout takes to caddis. From there, they instructed
me in all the art and nuances of fly fishing including the proper
use of small bucktails and streamers. I soon found these to be
highly effective on the brook trout of the Middle Branch of
the Ontonagon, the Jumbo River, the Baltimore, the Whitefish
and other nearby waters.
Finally one overcast, muggy and buggy
evening in July Redge told me to get my tackle ready, that we
were going to hike in to a special place. I had no idea just
how special a spot it would turn out to be.
Daylight was beginning to fade as we drove
from Bruce Crossing to Kenton, 20 miles to the east. Kenton is a
very small village on the banks of the East Branch of the
Ontonagon River, having remained quiescent since the passing
of the white pine logging eara. It was here my paternal grandfather
had started his career as a lumberman.
From Kenton Redge took a side road north
for several miles, at one point passing over a likely looking stretch
of stream that meandered through a natural hay meadow. Redge
said it was called Beaver Creek, for reasons I would later see, and
emptied into the East Branch a short distance away. He also
mentioned that where we were going to fish had, years ago, been
a favorite spot of my grandfather's. That bit of news in itself
made the hair on the back of my neck rise - I was about to fish
where my grandfather had fished more than a quarter of a century
Redge finally pulled the car over
to the edge of the bush road and we started off on foot
through the woods, following what looked like an old
game-trail. After a 15 or 20 minute hike we could hear the
sound of running water and emerged upon a scene that
took my breath away. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen
before, yet somehow seemed strangely familiar. As Yogi
Berra said: "It was like deja vu all over again."
We were standing near the end of a
huge beaver dam with ponds both above and below it. It dam
itself was 12 to 15 feet high and almost completely sodded over
with tag alder, ferns and grasses from its lattice-work of logs.
It was obviously very old. The beaver had been there when
grandfather and the young lad who would become my father
initially saw the stream and traveled first by horse and buggy,
then by shank's mare, to fish the ponds.
Climbing up on the dam I could see water
backed up for at least a quarter of a mile, with many dead but
still standing trees along its sides. The water was black as
pitch and very deep - certainly impossible to wade. I stood
transfixed, staring out over the magnificent scene. In my direct
line of sight, beside a huge old white pine stump, a brook trout
suddenly breached the surface. It was the biggest brookie I had
ever seen and was large than any I thought ever grew.
I suddenly wanted that fish more than
anything I had ever previously desired. Yet I was completely
foiled, for it was beyond my casting ability and there was no
way I could get closer.
As I stood there in a spellbound stupor
other fish, big fish, began rolling everywhere. I heard Redge
shout and turning around saw him hip deep in the lower pond and
fast to a sizeable trout. He hollered something about getting my
ass down there while the fish were active. I could barely make
out what he said above the noise of watering flowing through the
depths of the dam.
Scrambling down, I waded out near him and
cast a Grizzly King wet fly out among the rolling trout. Almost
immediately it was taken. In my eagerness I struck too hard and
lost both fish and fly.
In the time it took me to tie on another fly
Redge had landed two or three lovely, deep-bodied brookies. He
was fishing with two flies, a tail and a dropper, and hooked a fish of
about 16 inches on the dropper. As he was attempting to subdue it,
another fish hit the tail fly and that one was a real squaretail. I got
a good look at it when the action surged my way. Redge later
said it was a four pounder that he had encountered before and I had
no reason whatever to doubt him. At any rate, the double tie-up
ended in disaster as the tail fish surged one way and the dropper fish
another. Something had to give and, of course, it the the larger trout
that tore off. The air in Redge's vicinity turned deep purple for a
moment or two.
By the time darkness settled in we had a catch
of brook trout that dreams are made of. I had six and Redge had 10.
None was less than a pound and a half; the largest being 20 inches and
three pounds: gorgeous, dark, heavy, lantern-jawed fish whose bejewelled
flanks and white-edged fins were breathtaking.
Packing our fish in creels line with wet pond-side
ferns we took the trail back out through the gathering gloom, accompanied
by the melancholy seven note rise and fall of a whitethroat's evening song.
I subsequently fished the ponds a few more times,
on each occasion catching a few large, lovely trout but never again did I
encounter a rise of fish like the one of that first magical evening.
Before the decade of the 1930s was over, a tragic
end came to these ponds. Someone in the State Fish & Game Department
decided that all beaver dams everywhere were ruinous to both fishing and
real estate and in 1934 ordered the Civilian Conservation Corps to blow
out all of the dams they could find. Redge later told me the C.C.C. camp
that had dynamited the Hod Connor dams had afterwards gathered many
washtubs of big trout for their mess hall.
Beaver Creek is still there and still contains brook trout,
although habitat destruction and the introduction of
brown trout have reduced the population and the fish
size from pounds to inches.
Sic transit glorie. ~ Charlie Kroll
Excerpt from Pools of Memory, The Sixty Year Odyssey of
a Devoted Fly Fisherman. Published by
Frank Amato Publications, Inc. Used with permission.