Back home. A delayed flight last night delayed our homecoming until 3 a.m. Brutal. A tough night capping off a tough week. A couple of days before my second trip north, I was informed that I had picked up parasites by drinking water from a Vermont river. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I arrived in Canada six pounds underweight and utterly off my game. To compound matters, it stormed relentlessly, which resulted in blown-out rivers and muddy water — the polar opposite of the sweltering weather that nuked the aforementioned Vermont outing. Mother Nature has inserted her foot up this angler’s nether region on a regular basis of late. Mercy, Old Girl. Mercy.
As mentioned, the first couple of days involved me following Randy — a family friend — into “the bush” near Chippewa, roughly an hour north of Sault Ste Marie (in Randy’s pickup, which he drove like a rally car on slick mountain roads). The scenery along the way was breathtaking, with large, rocky hills falling away into the frigid waters of the great lake. Enticing rivers and streams were everywhere, though most were well over their banks given the steady rainfall. I was using Randy’s gear, since Northwest Airlines managed to lose my rod holder (aka “the Bazooka”) on the flight up. (It showed up a day later at the US/Canada border). Anyhoo, we managed to scare up a few brookies and small rainbows in one of his favorite streams (which he called a “crick”), but the steady wind and rain made for a tough go. I sought comfort that evening in the form of good homemade wine.
As we headed back to town on the second day, we stopped at a small spillway coursing with brown water, and dragged bait in the flow. I was not happy about dragging roe bags through a muddy trough roughly the size of my back porch…until Randy hooked into a large fish that sailed several feet in the air and then ripped line up and down the ditch. I hooked and lost a big fish that also sailed high above the water, then was abused by what we took to be a steelhead. Randy managed three fish to my one, all of them Chinooks or female Coho (I believe) save a bright, scrappy steelhead that took him about eight minutes to land, despite the fact that it had mere yards of water in which to fight. He also fought a beefy, electric red salmon he said was a male Coho, but lost it when it broke him off downstream. Amazing stuff. I’ll admit to carrying a bias for snook, redfish, tarpon and other saltwater species when it comes to speed and power, but these salmon and (especially) steelhead are tough, tough customers. Wow.
Wonderful trout and salmon water in a hyper-developed hotspot.
On my last day out, I hit the famed St Mary’s Rapids just after sunrise. What an experience. This is top-shelf salmon and steelhead water that draws some of the best fly fishermen in the world, especially in the spring and fall. The river can’t be called scenic — given the industrial buildings, large bridges and factories along its high banks — but it is clear, healthy water loaded with fetching riffles, pockets and pools. As I waded into the strong flow, huge salmon sliced through the clear water all around me, and the bodies of their expired comrades littered the banks. The wind was low, so I started with weighted streamers on an 8-weight outfit. Over the course of a few hours — and many, many casts — I caught a nice Coho in the 6 lb. range, then hooked and lost a very big steelhead that jumped several times. By that time the wind was whistling, so I switched to a spinner-bait and landed two very large salmon, one that really showed signs of wear and tear, the other bright and sassy and almost as long as my leg. I’d estimate the first fish at six lbs. the second between 12 and 15. The second fish tore line from my reel with ease, and was almost impossible to budge once in the strong current. After releasing it, my conscience twanged and I stopped targeting the salmon. Most of these fish had made an amazing trek back upstream to the river where they were spawned, and it seemed unfair to tax them in their last few hours or days of life. Not sure if that’s the common reaction among folks who target these impressive fish — it was certainly mine. I waded back out and spent another hour casting for steelies, but no dice. I left the river in early afternoon, tired and more determined that ever to learn all I can about this wonderful fishery. Until next year…