Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Catching the Biggest Brook Trout of Your Life

See the previous post about the trip to Hudson Bay.

As soon we got our canoe loaded at Albert Chookomolin’s landing on the north end of Hawley Lake, Charlie and I started down the Sutton. The flight in roughed us up more than and I expected. Flying under a thick, gray cloud deck at 500 hundred feet over the Hudson Bay Lowlands can put a dark cast unto the start of any river trip.
Taking the back seat of the Turbo Beaver turned out to be a mistake. Low altitude, a headwind mixed with rain all made the flight a stomach turning ride from hell. With no way to see a horizon line out of the tiny side windows of the plane, I managed to hold back my first technicolor yawn for over an hour and a half of a three-hour flight. Two brothers followed the first before we landed on Hawley Lake. The waves of nausea passed quickly as we paddled down river. Gusty waves of rain that rhythmically pounded us on the trip north didn’t however.
It felt good to be on the water regardless of the weather. The river channels through a summer’s worth of weed growth were far too narrow for us to try to fish. In the gin clear water, we saw small schools of brook trout scoot under the canoe. Small numbers, big fish! The surreal nature of a school of brook, average size 17 to 20 inches long, swimming under a canoe still makes me smile in disbelief.
The Sutton in its upper section close to Hawley Lake runs slow through huge channelized weed beds. The banks were low to the water and lined with tag alder, scrub willow and high grasses with the tree line close to the bank. We started looking for a camp when the banks appeared to be more accessible. What we saw for the first two hours of paddling was very low and marshy. We arrived at some sharp bends in the river, a place called the First Rapids (not much of a rapids) where we were told by Albert we’d find a camp on the second bend of the first set of rapids. Almost on command as we came around a turn and there it was: our first camp.

Setting camp helped to settle the feeling of being exposed, a feeling I hadn’t felt this intensely on a trip before. Perhaps, it was the flight in over the inhospitable land, the weather, or the fact that Charlie and I would be traveling down a very remote river alone for thirteen days. To be honest, the fact that we were traveling through polar bear county loomed in the background. Even though the trees along the river made it appear we were in a northern pine forest, it only took a short walk through the trees to be reminded that the open and relatively flat Hudson Bay lowlands and it tundra like appearance stretched for miles away from the river. The vast stretch of the landscape inspired a healthy respect for the rugged strength of this land that has been the place of spiritual quests for the native Cree for generations and an appreciation for the awesome beauty of the stark landscape.
Setting tents, stringing up a tarp, stowing gear and cutting and stacking fire wood gave us a opportunity to slow our pace and start moving to the rhythm and the time of the river. The urge to get out and fish took hold immediately when we started to see fish rise in the run directly out front of our camp. While we strung up rods, the wind gusts mixed with rain and challenged our tarp and rain suits but didn’t put down the occasional trout the rising in the big bend turn hole just off of the landing from our camp.
I crossed the river to fish the runs coming into the bend turn. Two casts later I hooked and landed the first of many Sutton River brook trout. The wind and the rain challenged us. The casting was tricky, but nothing we hadn’t expected or experienced on our home rivers during the early and late seasons of Wisconsin or the exposed windy rivers of Montana.

Though the weather was obviously working against us we still caught fish. The aggressive way they took the fly was impressive. Equally impressive was the way they fought. Both presented us with an immediate problem: hook mortality. These brook trout would fight to exhaustion. Quite literally if we did not bring them in quickly they would be far too stressed to revive—one sea run brook trout literally ruptured its gills! We immediately started flatting barbs and strung our leaders from 6-8lbs. test to 10-12 lbs. test. Even though the Sutton runs very clear, the larger tippet size did not affect the fishing and allowed us the comfort of playing the fish more aggressively.

We fished until late afternoon amazed at the quality of the fishery, the size of the fish, and the raw beauty and the unique nature of the Sutton River. It was truly like catching the biggest brook trout of your life over and over on a river we had quite literally to ourselves.

See our next post about our trip to the Sutton River

Keep a tight line,

Steve Therrien

Saturday, October 16, 2010

then to the trust of rivers

as if falling from that place
where all things go when they are lost
or if, for an instant, the mechanics
of time unfurled themselves

the trout move
then to the trust of rivers
towards where they
as spawn
broke out
from the uterine thrust
of rain fed spate
up and through
their story wrote in water

the scent of the depression
muscled out of the gravel for generations,
at the tail out
of the big bend hole
overhung by willows
back across their own juvenile history
their origin
this spot
that mystery
fills currents born of silent flow

screaming a call
echoing through rock and water
lingering ghosts of
waiting female and competing male
the compelling musk
of sand and granite
rotted cedar log
whorling maple leaf in a back eddy
moss covered ledges
and stone

driving them
to dominate or surrender
to dig deep into the stream bed
of their ancestry
or to tumble lifeless,
back down into the moon lit pools.

Keep a tight line,

Steve Therrien

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"I dreamed the dream of the other dreamers..." Walt Whitman

This is the first of a number of posts about a "dream" trip to Hudson's Bay.

Walt Whitman emerges from American literature as the 1st urban poet. His poetry, a rich mixture of detailed imagery and a kaleidoscope of experiences, is effused with vignettes of 19th century urban life, and, at times, transcends experience into the metaphysical. In other words, he can get a little freaky. "I dreamed the dream of the other dreamers...." I'll get to the picture of the bear eventually which is other worldly in its own right. In his poem "The Sleepers," Whitman walks about his world experiencing the lives and dreams of a whole host of people.

I have long dreamed of fishing in the usual exotic locals: Alaska, Patagonia, Iceland, New Zealand.... Besides the occasional trip to some of the famed waters of the lower forty-eight, I haven't taken a trip to exclusively fly fish for an extended period of time. When it comes to trout fishing dream trips, I have for the most part "dreamed the dreams of the other dreamers."

The Sutton River got added to my dream trip list twenty years ago when I read about it in a magazine. Big brook trout in a remote river that flows into Hudson Bay, all of the things that dreams are made of. The Little North of Canada, the region between Lake Winnipeg, Hudson Bay and Lake Superior has been a destination for me on other trips to paddle some wild rivers. However, I had never made it to the Bay by traveling through the unique region of tundra below the artic circle that rings the Bay, known as the Hudson Bay Lowlands. Its stark beauty and unusual wildlife, polar bears and seals and whales, makes it a fairly exotic place to travel only 500 miles north of where I live in Wisconsin.

Charlie d'Autremont, a good friend of mine, and I have talked of doing a remote river trip for a few years. Finding the time and the right river seemed to be the only things standing in our way. We started looking into the logistics of the trip about a year ago. Being a fly-in/fly-out trip presented some cost challenges. Coupled with the idea that we were to travel 90 miles by ourselves in one canoe in a remote part of Canada gave us additional challenges as well.

Berger and Terry's description from the web site ottertooth.com was a great help in trip planning as was their book Canoe Atlas of the Little North.

There are few air services interested in flying into the Sutton River. Hearst Air of Hearst, Ontario, specializes in flying into the Sutton from july to August and has canoes stored on the river. They work closely with Albert Chookomolin, a Cree Guide, who runs a remote fishing camp on Hawley Lake (Albert's Fish Camp). He has rustic accommodations for fisher and hunters that want to home base out of Hawley Lake or to stay in his outpost lodgings on the river. Albert was born on the Sutton River and is a great resource for trip planning.

Once know as the Trout River, the Sutton is known for its big brook trout, its stark beauty, its clear running wadable water and its ability to inspire a soulfulness that I will never forget. It's gradiant drop is evenly spread out through its run to the bay which makes it a fairly easy river to run. The Sutton runs through Polar Bear Provincal Park. The likelihood of encountering one of North America's ultimate predators is very real. Besides resident brook trout, the Sutton also takes a run of sea-run brook trout starting in July.

For thirteen days Charlie and I paddled and fished down the Sutton and never encountered another human soul. The only man made sounds were our own and the occasional distant sound of an air craft. Evidence of other travelers along the river was minimal. I have traveled in remote parts of North America numerous times. Never in all of my other trips have I encountered a more enriching experience in such unexpected ways.

Sun set on the lower Sutton.

More about the trip and the encounter with a polar bear at twenty paces in my next few posts. See next post about our trip to Hudson Bay.

Keep a tight line,

Steve Therrien

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Delivered Fly

When the water pools on the ice that has had the river locked up since it froze over about mid-January and in places the river opens, its lacy currents playing in the bright March sun, I mentality wander around pondering piscatorial pursue that we are on the cusp of…

My wife scoffs at the idea that fly-fishing is sport. She views it more like an illness that comes on in late winter and leaves around mid-November with various relapses throughout. She is a wise woman and is probably “more right” about her observation than she knows. Though she fly-fishes, she’s not as “bit with the bug” as I.
The phone calls about the coming season start coming from clients, friends, and the one phone call I always expect from by friend and guiding partner: “Are we taking our usual trip out on the opener?” This is the beginning of a “slight fever.” The calls are only a few of the harbingers of the coming on of that sweet sickness that I willingly surrender to. The urge to spend time at the tying bench, the dreams of fishing, I even believe I hear the rush of water as it flows round my legs—though I probably have a touch of tinnitus—it all tells me, much like a sore throat and a headache tells me, I am about to get a full blown case of it.

The internet has done a lot to cool the fever that starts to rise in me even before “the fit is upon me”: surfing around, reading old fishing reports, reading fly-fishing message boards, looking up fly patterns. Though I really do miss the days when I’d start thinking about fishing, which usually sent me to the literature on the “sport.” I did a lot of reading, research and contemplative repose back then. I still do. Some might call it waiting, quietly on your own. Back when I was younger I had more time and I would take trips down to the river, locked up for winter and see if there was anything going on. On warm days when the thaw was going good, I would even go so far as to donning the waders and walking around in the cold current. Occasionally, I’d spook a few holdover steelhead.

It’s different now. People seem to be more connected. We reach out to each other: E-mail, IMs, Tweets, Message Boards, and Facebook. In that regard I find what’s happening just as interesting. The solitary contemplative repose I would have drifted into years ago has commingled with the digital world of the Internet. I find my random thoughts leading off into a discovery of the joyfully unexpected.

I was reading my guiding partner’s fly of the month column on our service’s website (yes, a shameless plug). So I got to thinking about that fly pattern: The Pass Lake.

After looking at my guiding partner’s version of the Pass Lake I got to thinking of why such a wide difference in materials—if you compare both of our versions you’d think they were two different patterns. Not to mention a third found on the internet. I know that patterns evolve this way. One tier takes the pattern and puts their own twist on it. Regional differences on popular patterns often will change a pattern in this way. That’s what makes the “sport.”

Fly patterns account for a good portion of the word count of all that is written about our “sport.” Hook and materials fashioned into the perfect dupe. It is always surprising what trout will take. Back when I cleaned the catch for my clients, I would always check the stomach contents. (You wouldn’t believe how many cigarette butts I have found besides the real trout food that ends up in the guts of a fish.) I once had a client have a eight inch brook trout take a small Pass Lake, only to have the brook trout disappear in the maw of a monster brown as long as my arm. The poor eight inch brookie didn’t survive the encounter neither did the client’s leader when the big brown realized there was something just not quite right about the brook trout firmly held in its kype. The leader parted when the trout decided to shoot out of the hole as quickly as it appeared, shocking the client into a “death grip” on the line and rod, leaving the molested trout to float to the surface. We retrieved the fish with the Pass Lake still firmed planted into the corner of the significantly smaller fish’s jaw.

The Pass Lake has been a part of my fishing arsenal for a long time starting as a wet fly pattern in sizes #12 and #14. Working as a guide for Cedar Island Estates introduced me to the fly as a real go to streamer pattern in larger sizes. Years later, I learned that it fished well as a dry fly pattern. When, on mid-morning in late June (1985), a client hooked and landed a brown of about 25 inches on a Pass Lake dry fly, I came to believe that the legend of the pattern deserved the attention it was getting in all of its variations, a real midwestern legend that has stood up to the test of time.

Out of curiosity I searched for the Pass Lake on the Internet and found a discovery of the joyfully unexpected. On the Wisconsin Fishing Forum “Duke” Welter held court on the history of none other than the Pass Lake by relaying the words of the late Larry Meicher, “The Pass Lake Kid.” At the time Larry evidently didn’t have a “hook up” to the “Net.” (You can read it here.)

It has amazed me how interconnected we are. You talk to someone coming off river from a day of delivering a fly like the Pass Lake and start a conversation and end up making all sorts of connections. Places, patterns, people; they all commingle waiting for a discovery of the joyfully unexpected. Larry Meicher fished the Brule with me nearly 30 years ago and introduced me to the Pass Lake.

Things do run full circle.

Keep a tight line,

Steve Therrien

Thursday, February 25, 2010

a water sign

a water sign

we are sent by water
into this world of air
only to be
drawn back to its
feathery tangles
whirling eddies
current and tide
wave train that crashes folds into
a whorling pool foam granished
after a long race over cold stones.

each encounter is a reminder of
liquid life that speaks in a language
of living motion and primal buoyancy
where water was mouthed first
before air, before sound only
the measured meter of the heart
the arbitrary noises of human plumbing.

our random beginnings
a discharge
in the transparent flow
of the ancient element
to live then is
to give drink of the essential knot
to water something
down, to submerge it
in the flood taken
from a colorless source

a bottle of it bought off a duck’s back
poured carelessly down the drain
to eventually run under the bridge
or over the dam.

Sorry to have been hibernating.

Keep a tight line,

Steve Therrien