Like so many of my trips, this one came together in the eleventh hour. A scheduling debauchal with an electrician working on our new house ended up destroying my hopes of joining Keith and the cast of a Fox Midwest fishing show on a trip to the Canyons, a quick call from Chet had things quickly turned around.
You see, Chet and his dad were headed to their log cabin tucked deep in the woods on the remote eastern shores of First Connecticut Lake, and the invite was extended my way to join them. A quick briefing from Chet let me know that their mission was to hang a truckload of trophy game mounts throughout their cabin. Interesting I thought, how many goddamn mounts must these men have? Knowing full well the deep Texas game ranch roots that the Clem family possesses, I could only imagine.
After some quality scouting by Chet on Friday, I was notified that there were no signs prohibiting motorcycle travel on the dirt roads leading to his compound, so I loaded the KLR with my fishing gear and was en route to northern NH by 5 p.m.
Google Earth research had me confident that this trip would take somewhere in the vicinity of 2.5 hours, as his place is a mere ten miles northwest, as the crow flys, from the Magalloway River in western Maine. I am able to reach the Magalloway in one hour and twenty minutes from my place. If I dared to venture down possibly gated dirt roads, this trip to Chet's could potentially be an hour and fifty minutes, but to be on the safe side I would remain on pavement and hoped to arrive no later than 7:45 p.m.
With gate codes in tow, I barreled toward Pittsburg, NH making several stops to obtain a fishing license. The final stop at a hardware store in Errol, NH proved successful; I literally walked in as they were closing the door. I had everything I needed, now to complete the trek.
I was chasing daylight, and I began to fear a direct collision with a moose on the motorcycle, a tango in which the moose would undoubtedly be the victor. I hugged every vehicle's ass that I could on the final approach to Pittsburg, and my road time estimations were proving underestimated, it was nearing 9 p.m.
Once departing from the pavement, I navigated several miles of logging roads and arrived at Chet's private gate a little after nine. I found the lock, spun in the code and was a bit concerned when it didn't open. No problem I thought, I'll reset it, spin it a bunch, and enter the code again....nothing. Chet had given me an old code and a new code, so I gave the old code a shot....still nothing. How about backwards, I thought...nada. Substitute 6's for 9's so on and so forth....no dice. Well shit, I'm three miles from his place, its now pitch black, I don't want to leave the bike, I have a bunch of gear to haul, and is it possible that this is even the correct gate? Might I walk in three miles and find that I am not even on the right road? No cell service and a wicked case of motorcycle ass had me scoping for ways around this wretched iron fortress in front of me. Boulders on both sides of the gate made what would be an easy pass seem impossible, and an attempt to lay the bike on it's side to go under the gate proved unsuccessful. The 500lb KLR was too much for me to lean over and hold onto past a 45 degree angle. It was now 9:30 p.m some four and a half hours after departing, surely Chet thinks I have bailed. I pulled out my leatherman and began cutting small saplings to make a passable trail behind what I believed to be the easiest boulder to ride over with the bike. I saddled up, and figured I had one shot at this. I was either going to beat the shit out of my bike, get stuck, or potentially make this a reality. Where was my sense of adventure anyway? Sawyer, master of offroad motorcycles, would be cursing me right now for not going balls out on this. Up on top of the boulder I went, squeezing the aluminum boxes on the bike between two 4 foot tall boulders as I descended into the NH forest. The bike overheated twice as I navigated my makeshift woods trail. With 10 feet to go and a sizeable ditch to jump, I punched it, slammed the the rear wheel into the gravel ditch and careened onto the road behind the gate. It was done, and I blazed through the NH northcountry darkness pulling into Chet's place a little after 10p.m. Chet was on the deck, holy shits and man hugs ensued. Chet's dad immediately notified me that the two of them had a considerable drinking lead on me and that I better get after it. I was offered scotch, whiskey, or PBR. "Whiskey" I said, "What do you want in it?", "Ice" I retorted. Old man Clem gave me a big Texas smile and a glass of Old Grand Dad was pushed across the table in front of me.
We rose around 6:45 in a foggy state courtesy of our late night whiskey drinking antics. A bowl of cereal and some headache laced conversation and a fishing plan was put together. I wanted to be on the road by no later than 2p.m for the journey home. Neither of us knew the Connecticut River; we would start by fishing a stretch of water that flowed south out of Second Connecticut Lake into First Connecticut.
Rigged and ready we stepped into the river. The water was low and relatively warm, which had us both somewhat concerned. We hit a few good pools, Chet fished up, I fished down, a few small brookies came to net. This was a pretty stretch, but not all the promising. Fall fishing here would be fantastic with the right water conditions. The decision was made to head down into Pittsburg, refuel the truck, grab a snack and pound some energy drinks.
At the gas station I purchased a river map and a red bull and as I stood in line I had the undeniable desire to puke. I hastily waited for my credit card to be processed and bolted for the door. This hangover was just setting in. Chet and I looked at each other as we pulled back onto the road, both in serious pain, next stop: The Trophy Stretch.
First of all, who the hell labels a stretch of water on a good river "The Trophy Stretch"?! There might as well have been a neon sign on every good pool I thought, but whatever, we were fishing blind as it was so we figured we would give it a try.
Said Trophy Stretch proved to be pretty busy. Downstream access was full of vehicles so we poked around upstream for access, even more vehicles. Rhode Island car here, Vermont car there, we were one of the only NH plated vehicles. This stretch is a tailwater, cold water pouring out from the bottom of a large dam on First Connecticut Lake. Where there is cold water in late July there will be fish. Chet and I separated almost immediately as he worked a few nice runs and I trekked downstream. I nymphed a few pools as I went along and got hung in the trees in several areas as out of staters, like myself, looked on.
I eventually came to a nice ledge shelf in the river that made a little 3 foot drop into a wide and seemingly deep pool. The largest group I had come across up to this point were standing waist deep in the pool nymphing like rabid trout hungry dogs. I would wait my turn, pick away at a couple of pools downstream, and hopefully slide into this area. A couple of casts at some pocketwater downstream had me on a few 12" Rainbows.
The folks nymphing the large pool were doing so without luck and soon they all dispersed leaving the spot vacant. I slid into position and soon saw Chet working downstream toward me. He had just connected with, and lost, a good fish upstream. Things were looking up. The two of us fell into position in this pool and began working tandem nymph rigs. It was obvious to both of us that the folks fishing this hole before us had no idea what they were doing as we began hoisting Rainbows left and right out of this area.
I opted to cross the river and fish the opposite side essentially casting toward Chet. This side of the river was significantly deeper requiring a lot of roll casting with limited action. I figured I'd switch it up a bit and and throw a green crystal bugger at them for a bit. Two dozen casts later I hadn't had so much as a bite. I was ready to throw in the towel on the bugger when I figured I might mess around nymphing it. I crimped on a few split shot and began dead drifting the fly. Immediately I nailed a few Rainbows. I found this rather puzzling but continued on. The next drift came swirling back toward my feet in a large eddy. I could see the fly, and as I began lifting it slowly for my next roll cast a large fish casually swam toward it and then exploded on the bugger no more than a meter from where I stood, fish on, and the battle ensued. As I was playing the fish a guy wandered downstream and yelled over my shoulder that he had come to see what exactly I had on the line, fantastic, an audience, stress level rising. The fish finally tired, NJ completed, large Brookie in hand.
The guy over my shoulder ogled the Brookie, commended the catch, and was nice enough to snap a few pictures for me. I relinquished the spot to him and returned to Chet's position. He switched up to the crystal bugger nymphing method and we took turns in his spot laying complete waste on the Rainbows. When we had our fill, we decided to try one last place downstream before hitting the road.
As we scoped out the next stretch of river downstream, Chet and I once again split up fishing 100 yards or so from one another. Rainbows continued to show themselves in the pocket water. Again, a gentlemen walking the shoreline stopped to watch me catch a fish. "Much luck?" he asked as I worked the fish in. I stopped to talk with him after releasing the Bow and he commented on my BFC hat. "Now is that Bates as in Bates College?". I explained yes, along with a brief history of our epicness. He went on to tell me he had gone to Bates and had graduated in the late 70's. Yet again the Bates connection hits home. Chet is now closing in on the guy that I'm talking with, and he immediately recognizes this dude. Apparently he was a history teacher at Chet's high school. They had been having limited luck so we hooked them up with a few flies and they proceeded to get into a few. Chet and I said our goodbyes and headed for the truck.
All told we landed over two dozen rainbows, three small salmon, the brookie, and Chet rounded out our grand slam with a quality brown that we didn't get a picture of. All of those fish came to net in roughly 6 hours of fishing a river that neither of us knew anything about. After a wild adventure to Chet's place the evening before, a late night of sipping whiskey, and a hangover ridden productive day of fishing the Connecticut River, we were happy to return to camp and call it a day. The BFCa does it again.