Welcome to Just Old Flies

Welcome to 'just old flies,' a section of methods and flies that used-to-be. These flies were tied with the only materials available. Long before the advent of 'modern' tying materials, they were created and improved upon at a far slower pace than todays modern counterparts; limited by materials available and the tiers imagination.

Once long gone, there existed a 'fraternity' of anglers who felt an obligation to use only the 'standard' patterns of the day. We hope to bring a bit of nostalgia to these pages and to you. And sometimes what you find here will not always be about fishing. Perhaps you will enjoy them. Perhaps you will fish the flies. Perhaps . .

Part Twenty-two

The Flume Pool

By Charlie Kroll

My paternal grandfather, William Kroll, was one of the old-time logger barons. During the 19th century heyday of those northwoods entrepreneurs, he built mills and established a private empire among the virgin white pine stands of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Shortly after the beginning of this century, when most of the giant pines had been harvested, he was one of the first to move to the untapped forests of the Northwest, building what was at that time the largest sawmill in the region at St. Maries, Idaho. Beginning in 1914, the mill and the town it spawned grew together in what was then fairly isolated wilderness. Both were on the banks of the St. Joe River, a sizeable waterway fed by numerous mountain tributaries. The St. Joe flows into Lake Couer d'Alene some 15 miles downstream. Because of its heavily forested banks local residents usually referred to it as the "Shadowy Old St. Joe."

The loggers, particularly the river drivers, were a tough breed. Mostly Scandinavians and French Canadians, they worked 14 hours a day and still found time for bunkhouse brawls and other diversions. One on these was reckless wagering on who could sink his boot caulks into a big log and ride it, standing, down the final mile of the main flume. None that I knew of made it all the way and for more than one it was the last ride he ever took.

The largest flume, some 10 miles in length, ended 10 to 12 feet above the river surface and the force of the water flow from it formed a deep and highly oxygenated pool. The natural mouth of the partially diverted stream nearby added additional current, oxygen and displace aquatic insect life. The Flume Pool was a favored lie for a host of native cutthroat trout.

Mother beside the big flume

The St. Joe River was one of the finest cutthroat habitats in the West. Many races or subspecies of this excellent game fish existed throughout the Rockies, from Alaska to California. The cutthroat had the largest original range of any North American native trout. They derived their name from twin slashes of orange-red on the underside of their lower jaw. Overall coloring varied with regional strains. Those of the St. Joe are dark olive on the back with cadmium-colored sides fading to very pale yellow on the underside. They are quite heavily spotted with black, particularly over the rear third of the body. As table fare they are among the best of fresh water fishes.

My father had worked for his father since the age of 14, first as a logger then as mill store clerk and finally as the company comptroller. Having spent his life in and around the woods, he loved to hunt and fish. Mother, having also been born and raised in northern Michigan, enjoyed fishing even more than he did. I came by my love of the sport quite naturally. From the time I was old enough to hold a rod (six or seven) they took me with them on frequent outings up and down the river. Fishing spots were often reached with a light, strake-sided rowboat. Dad would anchor the boat in a position where I could fish from the stern, while he and mother cast from various spots along the river banks.

The tackle consisted of Bristol metal telescoping rods, light wire-frame reels, enameled silk lines, silkworn gut leaders and Indiana or Willow Leaf spinners baited with angleworms or grasshoppers, although dad often fished with snelled wet flies, using a tail fly and two or three droppers on his leader. His favorite patterns were the Mosquito, Western Bee, Red Ibis, Grizzly King, Montreal and Black Gnat.

Mother fearlessless walked the booms

The cutthroat were not too dificult to catch. The river was heavily populated and competition for food usually resulted in plenty of "takers." When time was a factor, good fishing was nearby. Our home was by the river near the green pond and adjacent rafts of logs. Dad had fitted a pair of mother's high button shoes with logging caulks with which she fearlessly walked the log booms to get with reach of good fishing spots.

To be continued. ~ 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.

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