Rob and Mark and I stood behind the car and suited up. There were hundreds of kayakers and canoers, but they were headed downstream. One look at the water and we knew we had to fish it; we’d wade upstream.
It was fishy as hell!
We walked into the woods and began fishing.
The water was gin clear– actually probably clearer than gin. And it was cold, colder than the water that comes pre-chilled out of the refrigerator. When I stepped into the fast flowing water I took a breath; in my breathable waders the frigid water was a shock to my system. Especially when the water came up to my belly.
“This might be the fishiest river I’ve ever seen,” Rob said. It wouldn’t be the last time he said that about the Jordan.
It was true. There were ideal places for fish to hide everywhere. Every few feet a downed tree. Big boulders. Undercut banks. Overhanging trees. More downed trees and boulders. Fast water, riffles, very deep pools; and we could see it all in the clear water.
It was pretty amazing.
The river was lined with a forest of pine, cedar, and beech trees. (I can’t identify trees yet but that’s what my fishing partners said.) I’ve never walked through woods like those; they seemed untouched, as if nobody had ever hiked through them before.
The sounds of paddle-sport enthusiasts quickly disappeared as we went deeper into the dark woods.
In the water, I was having problems. It seemed I forgot how to wade. The water was relentlessly fast, and the bottom was riddled with tree limbs reaching out to trip me at every step. Trees reached out to grab my flies. I saw no fish.
I made my way to the other side of the river and started hiking through the woods. As I walked, I watched the river, watching for a sign of where to fish.
It was all so fishy I couldn’t decide where to fish! It seemed the fish should be everywhere, but based on the fishing thus far they seemed to be nowhere. In a river that fishy, where are the fish?
We worked our way upstream, unsuccessfully. Rob claimed he saw a fish. Not that I don’t believe him, but it seemed so unlikely. I picked up rocks in an attempt to get clues.
I found a big black bug I guessed was a hellgrammite or something, which looked a lot like the #10 black wooly bugger I’d been throwing unsuccessfully.
I also found what I think was a scud; I picked up a weed-filled rock, and it jumped off into my hands. Like a little shrimp!
After a few hours, the three of us plopped down on the grass and ate beef jerky. We were defeated. We discussed our frustrations and the possible reasons for our failure.
Maybe the fish could see us. Maybe my lucky fluorescent yellow shirt scared them away. Maybe they were only hiding in the fishiest spots. Maybe there was a fish kill and this was dead water.
We decided to try a different spot, upstream. I’d read in a book about Michigan streams that there was a great spot upstream, and perhaps the fishing would be easier. We hiked back to the car, hopped in, and drove through the country.
We made some wrong turns; I still don’t have the hang of navigating with my little GPS. We turned down a dirt road that apparently was a “two track.”
Sometimes there is a nice overlap between music and outdoors terminology.
We drove down the road in Rob’s sedan; the look on Rob’s face conveyed his worry about getting stuck.
“I just don’t want to get stuck,” he said.
We passed some guys on “side by sides” (another unfamiliar term for me) who were trying to figure out if the “road” went all the way through. Even with a GPS, I was no help.
We kept going, headed toward the little icon on my GPS. We were looking for a meadow.
We never found a meadow, but we did find a pull-off with something of a trail leading to the water. We got out, hiked the short trail, and were suddenly in the wilderness. At least that’s how I felt.
“I think this is more remote than I’ve ever been, ever,” I said, more than once.
This stretch was even fishier than the last.
Mark was done fishing… it had been a frustrating outing for all of us. He sat down by a tree while Rob and I started fishing. I didn’t blame him. I was extremely frustrated.
Rob headed downstream; I fished slowly, quietly, and methodically as I could. I saw a small fish, probably 5 inches, dart away from under one of the many logs. So there were fish in this river. Maybe they could see us. Why did I wear such a bright shirt?
I picked apart the area like a good impression of a small stream fly fisherman. I drifted wet flies downstream under logs, the same way I’ve caught brook trout in tiny streams in the past. I made downstream pile casts and got good drifts with dry flies. I moved slowly and crouched low.
I saw no fish.
When I lost yet another fly on yet another log, that was it for me. It was beautiful and cold and fishy, but I was done.
On my way back to Mark, I discovered a hole that must have been 5 feet deep. I hoisted myself over a log; good thing I was still holding on, or I would have found out exactly how deep it was. Previously I’d drifted some nice flies through that hole. At least I wasn’t totally off on where I was casting.
I answered the call of nature, pulled my waders back up, and sat down next to Mark.
A while later, a triumphant Rob emerged from the trees.
“How’d you do?” I asked.
He held up his index finger, beaming. He described how he saw a fish feeding while we waded downstream and how he snuck up on it as he came back upstream. How he made a perfect cast, sling-shotting his tiny dry fly just upstream of the fish, and how the monster took it right away.
As he told his story, a little trout jumped twice, not 50 feet from us. We stopped talking, our heads automatically snapped toward the fish. I started tying on a fly.
“You’ve got three casts,” said Mark. I agreed.
“Go get’em,” said Rob.
I crawled into the water, crouched down, keeping as far from the fish as I could. I had a little hopper pattern on the end of a ridiculously long leader. I reasoned if I could get directly across the stream from the fish, I could get a nice drag-free float to the fish.
Of course my fly caught on anything and everything on my way to the spot. I silently cursed the logs that made the river such a nice place for fish.
I made three casts– three casts that seemed pretty good to me. Nothing happened, no fish rose. I shrugged, and came back out of the water.
Rob tried, and got similar results. Let the record show he casted more than three times for the little fish.
That was it. We’d done our very best, but the river had all but bested us. If not for the single small trout Rob found on a dry fly, we would have been completely and utterly skunked.
On the way back to the cabin, I grabbed some more Shorts beer to help soothe my wounds.