Thursday, September 13, 2012

Beautiful Misery: T.O.A.D.S. Part Deux, The Anticipated Conclusion

Something must be known about the behavior at Smitty's Lodge.  The general condition of one's body takes a back seat to a good buzz when the occasion dictates.  I'm not saying that we happen to be a band of vile soaks, but we have a good time during certain weekends of the year, and sometimes there are casualties of war per say.  That being said, we continue the tale.

"Breakfast is served boys," Dubby beamed.

I nearly lost it at that moment.  A neatly lined, full to the brim, chilled row of blackberry brandy shots adorned the aged wooden table.  Blackberry brandy, the lodge kick starter and overall go to, has remained a staple sipper for as many years as the elders can bring their minds back to.  Sometimes it goes down like candy, but at 7 or so in the morning it can be hell.  This situation edged toward the latter.  We took our shots and cheersed to the venerable T.O.A.D.S.

"You have to be kidding me?" I choked out and took off in a dead sprint to the other room.

As I prayed to the porcelain god, in a series of foul heaves, I managed a smile.  Scurf and Corey had crowded the bathroom door to snap a few shots of this wounded soldier.

"Oh yah, Smit, give 'er," Corey chimed and giggled. 

Now that business had been taken care of and put behind us, we cooked breakfast and gathered around the table to put some substance between ourselves and the next round of blackberry.  It was a delicious spread of scrambled eggs, potatoes O'Brien, crisped bacon, and thick wheat toast.  Hearty.  Now I am still not sure if it was the last sip of milk, the smell of Hughes' Grizzly wintergreen, or just too much excitement geared towards wild brook trout, but something got me.

"C'mon," I groaned, and everyone shared a healthy laugh as I sprinted off once again.  I left my breakfast at the cabin, feeling like someone had hit me in the head with a shovel and pumped my stomach checking for what nymphs might be drifting that day. "Let's get outta here," I said motioning to the trucks.  "Time to fish."

After a half hour's drive we reached our first locale.  A four wheel trail of iron red gravel had led us to a walk in spot near one of the U.P.'s premier early season fisheries.  The mixed crew of fisherman rigged their respective rods.  Some hardware haulers, some bug chuckers, and some that even had a spinning rod and a fly rod in tow.  Though I prefer to fly fish exclusively these days, it was somewhat beautiful and nostalgic to remember the early days of learning to read the water with my dad and an ultralite.  To each his own, as they say.  Once we rigged and beers had been placed in the vests, another toast to the day was had.  I graciously passed on the idea. 

With that it was on.  I had already wet a line for browns during early trout season in Western Wisconsin with Big Smitty and caught some gorgeous fish, but something sacred is found in the U.P.'s opening ceremony.  The desolate look of the north's late spring radiates in it's own special way.  Something resonates in the idea, nearly mystical, when you say, "I'm fishing for native brook trout."  Geeking out.  This particular river holds good fish, browns and brookies, most of a fat average size. 

 We set out in teams.  The Hughes boys, the DeSmit father son combo, Garrett and Scurf, and the two sages Buck and Dubs.  We would fish for a couple of hours, have a few man pops before noon, then gather for communal man pops at the trucks.  The first four listed headed down to fish up, the latter went up to fish back.  The water, though still turbid but only lightly stained, was at a very manageable level due to the lack of heavy winter snow.  This being said, the fishing was surprisingly slow, with fish not holding in likely spots. Dad and I nymphed and threw streamers into the icy lies to no avail.  Even the Hughes boys were skunked with their Mepps and Panther Martins bringing nothing in.  Discouraged, we gathered as four and headed up to find the others.  On our way up Hughes finally hooked a smallish brook trout, and I had a bump swinging a sparkly bugger.  There were fish.  We arrived at the meeting spot where in years past we had caught trout.  It was nice corner, with a soft near edge that offered sanctuary for the finned quarry in high water years.  The water was at June levels and it seemed too slow to house anything but minnows.  I put the rod down and watched Hughes fish.

"Oh yeeeah," he yelled as his light spinning rod nearly doubled over.  "Good fish on!" 

I came through with the assist, netting his bulging fat 14" brook trout.  It was a haus. Interestingly enough the fish had a fly in it's that I had tied the night before! We had solved the puzzle of where the fish were, but where did that fly come from?! Unfortunately, or fortunately, however you might look into it, the fish was swiftly knocked on the head and brought to the creel.  We eat trout only a few times a year, and this was one of those occasions.  I prefer to put back, but some of the crew had ideas to taste the buttery flakes of such a fish.  One should experience this delicacy from time to time, because at it's true root fishing is a blood sport, whether we like it or not.  Though it makes me cringe to harvest such beauty each time, the feeling generally lasts until that wonderful smell adorns the kitchen.

"Ok, my turn."

I was not to be outdone by the likes of Hughes.  One cast behind a rock on the edge of the slack water and, pow-pow.  My rabbit strip concoction was savagely hammered by a lovely trout.  After a short fight and a complimentary assist from Hughes, another equally fat but slightly shorter brookie saw the creel.  On those two positive notes we hooked our flies and lures to our poles and made haste to meet the others back at the vehicles.

We arrived to see smiles, and knew the morning had been good to Buck and Dubby.  Dubs took the cake with a nice brown that barely trumped Hughes' brookie, but many fish from 10"-15" were caught.  We had our meal.  Scurf took one look at Hughes' brookie, with the fly still in it's mouth, and he nearly messed his pants. 

"No way!  I hooked that fish and snapped it off on one of my first casts!  No way!"

An interesting look into the eagerness, and aggression of the brook trout. Predatory in their ways, no doubt.

We swilled some more, and made our way to town to feast on pasties and chips.  After some much needed calories we made our way back toward the lodge, but to another staple early season stream.  This one unknown to many, fished by less, and holding some of the best trout in our area come early season, was ripe to see some flies.  Brookies only. 

Upon arrival a typical Hughes move was made, and the late afternoon watched Matthew doze in the truck while the rest of us did the dirty work.  The elders hung out by the bridge and plunked for trout casually drinking a Labatt Blue, and listening to "A Prairie Home Companion" on NPR.  The rest of the young guns headed upstream to a heralded tail-out that never fails to produce in April.  We fished for a little while with good results.  The Rat and Scurf pulled fish, and it was a pleasure seeing Garrett land his first ever fish on a fly rod!  Celebrating, we returned to the truck for a beer.  The elders had grown restless and informed us that they would head out to prepare cocktails.  Hughes remained a dead pile.  The boys had other ideas. 

"Let's go back up there," said young Hughes a.k.a. the Rat. "There's fish in there still."

That was all it took. We re-rigged and headed up with some brewskis to fish the same lie.  Cue the epicness.

As we returned to the hole the sun was setting against the poplars and furs on the opposite river bank in a psychedelic swirl of orange and yellow and pink, against a sky that made a Monet painting look hideous.  The flowing water was toiling in shades of steel, blues, and purples, streaked with blacks like spilled ink.  I watched from afar soaking in the awesome glory of this fantastical scene as Scurf and Garrett casted to speckled jewels within the deep tail-out.  Have you ever had that longing, deep stomach feeling for serenity and pure beauty?  A hunger for something that is nearly perfection in the activities you choose to love?  The moments at that pool, in the days fast dying light, satiated any thirst I ever had for a perfect fishing setting.  It was an utterly profound moment painted with God's mighty brush.  I felt so blessed, and truly saw what the impressionists must have seen through their eyes, but tenfold.

"The Magic Hour"
Oil Pastel, Spray Paint, Sharpie, Paint Pen
20"x 30"
(Click Here For More Art

I stepped in and made a cast, stripping back my articulated mess with no take.  I threw the wiggly bug back up across the pool.  Strip, strip, strip, pause...strip...strip...bump...pause...then wham she smacked it and ran.  Up to the head of the small basin she fled, and I steered her back down to fight fair.  After a few minutes of good fight the stubborn brookie came to hand.  Like all of the fish caught in "The Magic Hour", this hen glowed in a steely purple hue that I have never seen in trout, something cosmic and unreal.  Her shoulders broad, and her dotted flanks a work of art in their own right.  We high-fived as she finned back to the haunts of the pool.  The fish marked the end of a miraculous evening, and left the awed crew inspired and joyed.  We shared stories and a beer with Hughes at the truck, then headed for the lodge for cocktails and eats.

The next day brought us slow fishing, and the early departure of Buck and Dubs.  However, we saw Smitty heroically avoid the weekend skunk and shared a good morning on the stream.  May the tradition live on for years to come, the tradition of the T.O.A.D.S. weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, such a cool blog. I really wish you would post more. <3