Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Revisted River

There are worse problems than trying to decide where to go fishing, for sure, but if you're surrounded by water choosing one place can be a conundrum. There's a lot to consider. You probably know what species of fish you're going after, but will it be on a lake or a stream? Who will you have for companions, if any? Waders, canoe, boat? How far away is it? Will it be a day trip or should you bring a tent or motel money? Time of year, weather, moon phase? It can get complicated. Or not. Whether it's someplace new or an old favorite, once you make that first cast it all becomes pretty simple. So I thought of a river I hadn't been on for a long time, and why it took so long to think of it is a mystery. 
 I was quite a bit younger when I made it a mission to paddle my canoe on all of the area rivers and I spent a couple of days camping and exploring this one, call it Kawipinni River. A few years later the owner of the one commercial fish camp on the river asked me to work for him guiding some out-of-state anglers who only wanted someone to handle the boat up and down the river while they cast crank-baits for smallmouth bass. The pay was good so I moved into one of the comfortable cabins for a week to show these guys what I knew of the river.

The fishing was fine but not what they'd driven a thousand miles to experience, and even though we took some breaks from bass fishing to catch nice stringers of walleyes and some big northern pike, they weren't catching the numbers of bass they'd hoped for. The weather was great, sizzling fresh fillet shore lunches were savored and evenings around the camp bonfire were enjoyed, but by day four these fellas' were saying things like “maybe it'll pick up tomorrow.” I had an idea.

Miles downstream, below a waterfall, there was a rocky bay I figured to be a smallmouth hot spot. It would take some work, but if the guys were willing we could trailer a small boat and motor to a pull-off from a dirt road, then drag it all down a hill to water's edge and motor upstream just past the falls into the bay. If it worked like I hoped hauling the boat, motor, and gear back up the hill would be worth it. And it did work! I ran the little outboard motor in the current while they cast and caught bass after bass amid their hoops and hollering. Those guys were so happy the chore of getting everything back up to the truck seemed effortless.

I was there again the other day with canoe and fly rod but I hardly recognized the place. The pull-off and faint route down to the river were so overgrown I wondered for a second if I was at the right place. A short reconnaissance hike confirmed my location. I pulled and dragged my canoe down through the brush to the river and pushed off. Recent rain had raised the water level more than expected (I learned later the flow rate was over three times higher than normal) but I leaned into the task and paddled upstream. I had to pause at the falls – the water below was raging with standing waves and strong swirling currents. I may have made it through to the bay just beyond, but I may not have. I surely would have been pushed up against the granite wall the river crashed against before turning downstream but I can't say it would have capsized me. I held the canoe in a backwater for long minutes trying to decide. It was probably good sense that stopped me.

Fly casting from a canoe isn't like standing in the bow of a drift boat or knee deep in a trout stream, but there is a quiet grace of canoe, paddle, and rod along with the satisfaction of good fishing in places most folks won't bother to find. So with the aid of my anchor and shoreline eddies I fished my way back to the take-out. There are pike in the river so I snapped a deerhair popper to a wire tippet and cast to the rocky shoreline and weed edges with good results, though the fish I caught were smaller than those I believe wait for me in that bay when the water goes down. I aim to find out.