Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pere Marquette Journal: Final Entry


From May 24, 2004:

"I had hoped to get a pattern established in May, taking advantage of the Spring changes in the river and its denizens. But it was on this late day in the month that I managed to escape to the north again.

The night of the drive was unsettled, and lightning was flickering to my West, North, and then East as I worked my way near Ludington. I hit rain between Ludington and Scottville. It was heavy but short-lived, but the road was wet all the way to Baldwin, and there were obvious storm cells all around, the sky awash with lightning.

I had decided to roll on to Baldwin because of a late start, planning to wake up at the Clay Banks access ready to fish. The parking area was deserted, the woods were loud with drips and drops, and the lightning continued to flash as one far-away Barred Owl called out to the restless night.

Morning had me up and ready. Imagine my surprise--though I should have anticipated the possibility--to find the river tumbling brown and muddy over its banks. Blown out. Did that stop me? What choice did I have?

I had tied some matuka style streamers, and I figured this was a white matuka kind of day. I managed to ford the river to get to the trail and some possibly fishable water. The usual approach is to fish the far bank--deep and fishy--while standing in the shallows. On this day it was clear that the far bank was completely out of reach, and the usually shallow near bank now provided intriguing holding areas for trout.

My thinking was proved out when I stripped the streamer past a submerged bush directly downstream from me and saw a flash of golden orange as a fish turned on it in the muddy water. I went right back and got a take--solid, thrilling, and brief. The trout moved into the main current, powerful and throbbing, and it was as though the river itself just stripped it off the streamer.

That was to be the story of the day. I had several swirls, and two other solid hookups, but the powerful current simply made it impossible to play the fish.

I hiked far downriver during the course of the day, and all my usual access points and fishable runs were virtually unwadeable. One result of that was that, at a spot I would have usually been in the water, I was on the bank and found a log, obviously tossed onto the bank during an earlier spate, with a great tangle of fishing line wrapped around it. Upon closer examination I discovered--and clipped out and retrieved--thirty-seven good flies, all apparently victims of this Spring's Steelhead run. Most were stonefly nymphs and sparrow nymphs, with a few eggs, a few green caddis, and even one big old Clouser minnow. Later I found one more fly, bringing the total found to a record thirty-eight.

On downstream, hoping to cross to gain access to the run where I had caught the Steelhead, I cut a long branch from an ironwood tree and carved it into a very sturdy wading staff. I even drilled a hole with the knife point and strung a tether of nylon rope that I had in my pocket. I did manage to cross, but I had to hang onto the staff for dear life. The current was very strong and, though this crossing is usually knee-deep, on this day it was over my waist in spots. But I felt that I had accomplished something, and had not let the vagaries of the weather stymie my plans.

Later, back upstream, I used my staff to get even deeper into the current and was rewarded with one of my solid hookups of the day. This one jumped before being swept off by the current.

The wading staff now stands in the corner next to my desk in the little apartment in the city, another totem which, simply in the holding of it, calls out memories and sensations of this day of fishing, and of many other days in which the forces of nature, large and small, tested me, and found me not unwilling to stand up to the test."

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