Monday, September 29

The Come Down

     I've never driven so slow in my life.  There were only a few cigarettes left in the pack and with the knowledge that I wouldn't be buying anymore, I reluctantly lit one.  There was an old guy, weathered hands and face, short a few teeth, changing a tire on the side of the road about a mile from my house.  I gladly stopped to offer my help, delaying the inevitable. He laughed and thanked me for the offer.

The worst and best part of fishing trips is getting so deeply immersed in what truly matters in life.    Maybe I should say "submerged" in what matters?  Or...maybe it's just being able to get away from what everyone else thinks matters.  Yeah, I think that's it.  In a few short turns I would be thrown back to the wolves, forced to smile as I returned phone calls, answered benign questions about insurance policies, and mostly, pretend like it all mattered.  Don't get me wrong, I have a great career.  One that affords me the ability to make my own schedule, answer to almost no one, and work at my own pace. Hell, I'm writing this in my office right now.  It's just that I'll never be quite satisfied with any career choice I guess.

I miss the kids when I'm gone, I miss my wife...but sometimes I miss myself when I'm home.  I know it's all fantasy...I couldn't stay gone forever and probably wouldn't want to.  I live in Northern Michigan to begin with, a place where most people go to "get away" and to escape the hustle and bustle of of yet another lost and wandering population of people.  Maybe it's the idea I'm in love with.  The idea of a life spent by the stream, around the fire, and smelling of fish, waders, and beer.  Contemplating only the next piece of water to fish.  Winter is coming soon...that'd probably make me change my tune a bit.  But still...the idea persists, no matter how many times I try to suppress it with common sense, beer, and manufactured agendas I can't seem to shake it.

I'm already busy planning the next escape.

It wasn't really a spiritually moving trip, no cosmic connections, rather a grounding.    A rekindling of feelings not often felt and rarely shared.  I was able to stretch my roots deep into the land, drink in the connection, and repair the scars that everyday life has a way of creating.  A reckoning of the year's ups and downs.

The drive up started at 3:30 am.  We had decided that if we leave at that hour we could arrive at the river by 10 am, hence losing no fishing time.  I crawled in bed that night around 9.  I'm not sure why. My eyes didn't close until about 1:30, but I was up with the first few rings of the uncommon occurrence.  Most of the drive was filled with hopeful conversations of the rivers and lakes we would fish, the fish that may inhabit them, and past experiences in the places we would again ply our craft.  We were to meet my dad the following day at the camp site.  He happens to be sane enough to leave at a normal hour and also had a few extra days to stay so the urgency wasn't there.

The Jeep was packed to capacity and then some.  By the time we arrived in "town", nothing but two bars and a few closed general stores, the car smelled of enthusiasm, impatience, expectation, and stale cigarettes.  We dropped a few things at camp and made the 30 minute
drive to the first spot in 20.  It was a place I'd never been, a spot Alex had put in the leg work to find.  It was a hard two track to locate, if you can call it a two track.  It was shady at best...disappearing only to re-emerge as the jeep passed over tree stumps and rocked through wash outs and down a narrow, twisting hill to the put in. The type of place that makes you question how far you're willing to walk back to civilization when you get stuck. A track with branches and trees laying across the road, re-enforcing the idea that no one had been there in a long, long time.  Maybe they were just smart enough to walk...but its's a long ways back...and it's my story.

The water was roaring; a truly fast Michigan stream.  It was a fly fisherman's wet dream.  Literally.  The depth of the water was perfect, about 1 to 3 feet, but the rocks and boulders were not to be taken was slippery and I'm clumsy.  The lay of the land made for relatively easy casting.  High steep banks on one side, a gorgeous rock cliff hanging menacingly over the bank on one side created an amazing undercut that occupied way too much of my time.  I know there was a fish in there, laughing as I changed flies to try to bring him out. I don't think I ended up in a tree the whole day, a rare occurrence.  The first fish took me quite by surprise.  A gorgeous 11 or 12 inch brookie in full fall splendor.  The next several hours were spent moving brook trout, landing several and missing many more.  I met up with Alex downstream.  He was sitting on the bank lost in the scene. It was pretty apparent he was in his element.  His childish delight radiating off the water was not hard to miss.  The fall colors were the perfect backdrop.
A little later that day and a lot further upstream, we were in a stretch with deep pools. I hooked into the first big fish of the trip.  At least a 15 or 16 inch brook trout.  I carefully played it being sure not to rush.  As I reached for the net, I glimpsed the fish for the first time.  It was all of 15 or 16 inches, but somehow, my trout had turned into a pike.  I felt a little guilty that my disappointment was so palpable.  I grimaced as I unhooked it.  No...I didn't take a picture.  The next fish was a 22 inch pike. It was time to head to camp.

We met up with my dad shortly thereafter.  A few beers in and during a nice fire I decided to say what we were all thinking.  "I'm too tired to go mousing tonight."  It was all Alex could stand.  "If you're to tired then I guess we don't have to."

The next day's adventure had been set in stone before the trip was even finalized.  The lake.  We all have a few spots we don't talk about.  We don't utter the real name under any circumstance and we don't take anyone least not without the proper credentials and a blood oath.  This lake isn't really hard to find, in fact there's a sign pointing the way.  It is hard to get to however.  You almost have to fish it with a boat, and the long walk down a winding rooted disaster of a path is the perfect deterrent to keep out the unworthy.  Last year around this time found my Dad and I quite dumbfounded.  We weren't just catching brook trout...we were catching gigantic brook trout ready and willing to rise to a dry.  It was truly the experience of a lifetime and one I will never forget.

This year the fishing was quite a bit more difficult.  The wind was up and over the course of 9 hours we managed to bring 3 fish to the boat, all on streamers.  The biggest of which was only (this lake is unique) 14 or 15 inches. The walk back was chorused by wolves...gorgeous albeit a little off putting. I insisted we go back the next day.  What choice did I have?  In fact, left to my own devices, I'd probably never leave the lake except maybe to chase some river fish from time to time.

The next day found the lake in much the same situation...high winds and a boat full of impatient anglers.  Finally, around 6:00 the lake started to turn to glass.  Good god yes...they would start rising any minute...and eventually they did.  There was about a 30 minute window where they were sipping the surface.  And damn were they fussy about presentation.  Fly choice didn't seem to be a huge factor, but fishing a lake is different.  You can never be quite sure about the best strategy:  are you fishing to cruising fish, in which case you should just leave your fly the hell alone and let chance do the work, or should you chase rising fish and put it on their plate.  We tried a little of both with limited success.  We both caught a few 9 or 10's, the biggest fish again being in the 14 to 15 inch range.  (A great brook trout I know, but still).  This is the LOST LAKE.  This is brook trout paradise. That was the last time we fished the lake.  It's a commitment to head in there and there are just too many places to fish to spend the whole week in the same spot.  I could however be heard muttering the rest of the week: "we should be there right now...I bet now would've been a good time". I've said it before, but having "catching" expectations shattered isn't a bad thing.  The uncertainty is what keeps us going.  It's why I'm salivating as I write this, and why Lost Lake will haunt my dreams until next year.

The next several days were spent trying to cram as much fishing into the little time we had.  Mousing unfamiliar and hazardous water at night, chasing brook trout during the day.  Eating way to much food.  Probably drinking a little too much beer.

It's shit like this that a successful trip is made of:  

and don't forget to cast your ballot for Glasscock! He won't go soft on crime, and refuses to pull out until the job is done, and done right...

The official trout season is coming to a close in a mere day.  Even though trout season never really closes in Michigan, I'm still sad about it.  It's the mark of another year gone.  A season that I may remember for the rest of my life, or may be pushed out to make room for others.  Other fish, other places, other experiences.  I hope it doesn't though.  This has truly been one hell of a season, and the trip was the icing on the cake, the rise in the riffle you've waited all night to see.

Go chase your contentment, chase trout, have an experience...this year I've had more than I deserve.

fish on,


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