Monday, July 12, 2010

The Rapids

Drake in Gladstone MI
Late last summer I got a call from my friend T who said that he had recently returned from an Atlantic Salmon trip to the St Mary's River. He was pretty amped about the trip but said that he missed the major run. He indicated that he was plotting a new assault on the river the following June or July. Over the course of the winter and spring we kept discussing the opportunities and as June rolled around, talking became pencil on the calendar...which eventually was replaced by pen.

On Thursday night we packed our rigs and met in Gladstone MI for a quick tent nap. Friday morning I piled my gear into his car and we pointed the grill northeast. A three hour push put us at customs on the Canadian side of the International Bridge in Sault Ste Marie and from there we dropped into the tire/bait / tackle shop for some information and licenses. By late morning we were standing on the banks of the St. Mary's watching crystal clear Lake Superior water on it's way to Lake Huron.

T, getting ready to drop in.

We hiked up the concrete dyke and peered though the sun's glare hoping to spot fish. Up near the gates, we spotted a steel blue fish in deep fast water. It's hard to say given the magnifying quality of crystal water, but the salmon appeared to be in excess of 10 pounds. The fish, sensing our presence, scooted upstream to a deeper lie as we dropped back to fish the main rapids.
The International Bridge and dyke on the St Mary's

The deceptively deep water was wadeable, though the wading staff's were employed. We fished hard, swinging flies both dry and with sinking leaders. We tried swinging nymphs, streamers, smelt imitations, soft hackles, green name it. I even spotted a few more Atlantics moving through the rapids. We took a couple of breaks and chewed the fat while gnawing on jerky and trailmix washed down with sun warmed water from our canteens. We tried upstream and down, the Canadian side and the American side. By sundown, we had given it our best shot. Nothing makes a better caster than practice and I, armed with my 13' two hander, practiced a lot that day. We got our ass handed to us. That's the quantifiable part. What isn't easy to convey is the fun we had despite not bringing a fish to hand.

T, Plying the clear water of the Rapids

Back at the car, we toasted the day with a cold one and called home to check in. Then, following a tip drove a few blocks, parked, grabbed our rods and a flashlight and made our way to the bank of different channel of the river. The tip, given to us by the guys at the tire and bait shop, resulted in T hooking and landing a 4 pound walleye in two casts. I have pictures forthcoming to prove it.

On Saturday, after brushing the film of Grey Goose off our teeth, we scouted a new section of the river north of the Rapids. Peering down into the blue depths we were able to make out a few salmon and decided to forego the rapids in hopes of finding some willing eaters. We watched gulls and terns diving for baitfish and saw a number of salmon crash them from below. Often times a gull would dive and the surface would boil, indicating the the salmon beat the bird to the bait. We put ourselves in position on a huge eddy that had shown itself to be a bait collector and started casting. I eventually ended up fishing a 3" EP style glass minnow on a 17' leader. T ran back to the car to grab something and an Atlantic

Me, trying to make the two hander work.

crashed bait 7o feet out. I dropped the fly into the dissipating rings, stripped 3 times and my fly got drilled. I set the hook and my fly sailed back clean... When T got back I told him about the strike and how I was sure that we were in business and that we had cracked the code. I think we stood, barefoot, in the St Mary's for 8 hours that day, expecting a savage strike at every cast. Despite the incredible depth and awesome volume of water, each time we saw a fish slash bait off of the surface, our hopes were tempered. By the end of the day, feet pruned and necks sun baked...we reeled in fishless.

T swinging for Atlantics on the St. Mary's

Conversations with other anglers indicated that our timing would have been good any other year but this one. Lake Superior's waters, having warmed faster than usual due to an early spring and 3 week jump on summer, pushed the fish out of the Rapids and into the deeper and cooler lower reaches of the river. Aside from a few bait soakers fishing over the fence at the dam, nobody was catching a thing. They said that a few weeks earlier the Atlantics were pounding swung flies in the Rapids.

Canadian version: Flower bed

We opted to forego the 2 hour customs delay that often occurs on the International Bridge and packed early on Sunday to beat the wait. We breezed back into the US after a short 15 minute line on the American side. We detoured on the way back to Escanaba so that we could stop by a small berg in the center of the UP.

"The train went on up the track out of sight, around one of the hills of burnt timber. Nick sat down on the bundle of canvas and bedding the baggage man had pitched out of the door of the baggage car. There was no town, nothing but the rails and the burned-over country. The thirteen saloons that had lined the one street of Seney had not left a trace. The foundations of the Mansion House hotel stuck up above the ground. The stone was chipped and split by the fire. It was all that was left of the town of Seney. Even the surface had been burned off the ground."

Ernest Hemingway - The Big Two-Hearted River
(More Here)

We stopped at the banks of the Fox River in Seney (generally understood to be the Big Two- Hearted River in the Hemingway story of the same name) and T tried to re-enact a little literary history by catching a hopper to pitch into the tannin stained water. Not even the hoppers cooperated.

The Fox or the Big Two Hearted, depending...

Train Depot in Seney

I shook T's hand at the campground where I left my car and he said, "I've never had so much fun not catching a fish...". It was impossible not to agree.

Hex'n....or not

I took a drive a week or so ago in hopes of finding some hex activity and the girthy fish that go along with them. I arrived streamside, waited and waited and waited and saw exactly 7 bugs fly by. Not a single fish showed. I tied on a big rubber legged ugly and pitched down and across on the walk out...I hooked a head shaker but it popped and then I saved the night with this guy...
Where the hell are the hexes?