Business school, work, and life in general have left me with less time to fish than usual this autumn. It sucks, but what can one man do other than soldier on and try to make the most out of his opportunities. Fortunately, as I grow older I find myself more and more often surrounded by friends who are zoned in on the bite, both in the salt and in the freshwater, so when I have had time to wet a line the experiences have been positive of late. This trip would be no different. I’ll be up front with you boys… On day 17, we would catch fish. In fact I would say lots of fish. More fish than any two men drinking whiskey from the bottle in the pouring rain should ever catch, under any circumstances. But certainly more fish than those two men drinking whiskey in the rain should catch while fishing with fly rods in a 40 knot tropical storm induced winds. But, hey, I don’t make the rules on what should or should not be. I just show up to the party and hope some girl gets drunk and takes her top off. And this time they were D cups.
Day 17 started early. I was in and out of sleep from about midnight to 3AM when I finally had an excuse to hit the road. Nothing quite like the open highway in the middle of the night during a driving wind and rain storm. Just you and the open road, and of course the ongoing stream of consciousness. I stopped at the NH state liquor store and found to my dismay that they are not open 24/7. Disappointing. Fortunately there were liquor stores in Maine that we could visit later in the day. One Burger King croissant-wich later and I found myself exiting 95 and heading toward Belgrade, still under total darkness. I may be an old man now, but no one beats me to the spot. A quick check in with Wilkie confirmed he was 15 minutes behind me. I parked the car, geared up in the dark, and shuffled off with a headlamp as my guide.
Wilkie made his way down to the water not long after and we exchanged greetings. It wasn’t long before gray light began to take hold and we began to ply the dark water. First cast, fish on. Fought this one for a little while before he broke me off on a rock. Second cast, fish on. This one snapped the tippet. Not sure how. I went for the rerig and Wilkie jumped in. Before I could tie on another fly, he was tight. Nice 16 inch brown comes to the net. But this one was too small for Wilkie to consider taking a picture of. I’m back in. Fish on. I land this one. Similar class to Wilkie’s first. Wilkie’s back in. Fish on. This one is bigger. After a spirited battle we tape a male brown close to 21 inches. Nice fish! Wilkie says there are bigger ones in there. Crazy. I’m back in, this time with an egg fly now. First cast, fish on. I drop him but sneak in another cast as Wilkie is taking a break after landing his stud fish. On again, land this one. Colored up male brown 17-18 inch class. Wilkie wants me to try again hoping I’ll find a hog. Within two casts I’m on again, this time a bright female. She drops some eggs as we handle her for release. More fish are hooked and lost or caught. Rods remain bent for the first hour of morning. Over ten fish find the net with numerous other lost. It was lights out in the rain and wind. The trout were chewing.
A disturbance to the force. Another angler makes his way towards our location. My territorial Salmon River instincts kick in and I push down to try to secure us some space. He works in slightly downriver from me, five yard to my starboard. I hold my ground and continue fishing. 4 more fish come to net for us, including a decent 20+ inch salmon hooked right next to our competition. The bite slows to a pick. Phase 1 is completed and we head to the liquor store for brunch and afternoon supplies.
Beer and whiskey acquired, Wilkie suggests we try his other spot. Smaller water. Relatively unknown. Filled with fish. What’s not to like? He hands me a pig in a blanket acquired at said liquor store. Now this was a hell of a pig in a blanket and deserves some description here on the blog! The pig was good, but damn the blanket he wore really took it to the next level. It was warm, sweet, soft dough. Superb. Apparently the liquor shop makes all of their dough from scratch fresh daily and the result is a pig in a blanket that one just can’t reliably get down in Mass. Eating that sleeping pig was a true joy. But I digress...
We drink a beer in route to Spot 2 and despite drinking this beer at a accelerated pace we arrived at location before my can is empty. No one here but us. Lets do it. We approach a small damn that breathes life into a small stream no more than 8 feet wide. Sitting at the base of the damn are a half dozen healthy browns. A few swings through and I’m tight on the soft hackle. A nice female specimen comes to net. We try for several more casts and Wilkie suggests we move on. I was reluctant. We had just gotten bit and there were still more fish in the hole. The old man said “that’s nothing compared to what’s down stream.” This got us both fired up, so we drank a little more whiskey.
A hundred yard or so downstream the small creek wound through the woods. Wilkie suggested we approach the spot that he knew was holding slobs from behind a bluff. The fish were spooky and stealth was necessary in this spot. And I climbed over the embankment and prepared to cast I was baffled at what I saw below. Browns, probably 50 of them, mixed sizes from 12 to 22+ inches, sat in the pool playing grab ass as spawning trout so often will. Giant slack jawed male hogs tired from romantic sessions sat lethargically in covered lies like tranquilized bears. Occasionally they would wake up, charge after a couple smaller fish and return to their primary lurking location. It was utter madness. Wilkie told me to have at em, and so I did. My first drift through produced and aggressive smaller fish. My next drift the same. I tried to get the fish out of the water at quickly as possible so as to minimize disturbing the school. The water was only 2 feet deep at best. My third cast I accidentally fouled a fish. It charged around long enough that the rest of the school didn't want to chew for the next five minutes. But boy was it a spectacle. Whiskey in hand we trekked downstream as the rain began to fall.
It was a good 100 yards before we found another pool holding fish. They were tough to see with the rain falling harder now. The fish were literally right at our feet and required a couple switches of the fly before we connected with the first one. Shortly thereafter a surprise arrived at the net. A beautiful brookie. In the hour that followed, the whiskey bottle would become increasingly empty and the brookies would continue to bite flies. Finally there were 6 in hand with several of them handsome male specimens. A rogue brown would also find the net. These brookies were a unexpected surprise. Wilkie surmised that they had been stocked above the dam and had someone gotted down into the creek during high water. Most of these fish had been wild for some time though, and had colored up beautifully. We left them biting in that pool, hoping to find bigger and better things downstream. The "Belgrade Grand Slam", a salmon, and brown, a brookie, and a whiskey buzz- had been completed.
The rest of the walk down stream was relatively uneventful so we decided to return to the brown trout pool up top and see if those fish had cooled down and were ready to chew. Upon return we found to our liking that some of the the fish had re-positioned to a certain extent, with a couple of the larger males sitting in more cast-able water. Wilkie gave me fish cast at a large slack jawed male and after several misfires I got the right line and he grabbed the softhackle! The fish gave a spirited battle fighting to wrap me on whatever debris he could but before long and with some difficulty Wilkie had him in the net! This fish was freaking awesome looking. Colors were superb. It was my fish of the trip.
Not to be outdone, Old Man Wilkie stepped in and hooked up a nice slack jaw of his own. This fish would be the fish of the trip! 22 inches and thick. Again spawning colors were unbeatable.
We dug out a few more browns from the creek and then returned for a final half hour at spot number 1. There, we put a quick 8 fish on the bank like it wasn't a big deal. All business. Doing work. Hooking browns on eggs and showing them what a net looks like. Had the last half hour of our day been the entire day I would have been satisfied. It was epic trout fishing and will be difficult to replicate. I would estimate 30 fish were landed with many of them impressive specimens north of eighteen inches.
Good times, good friends, good whiskey, and solid hookups.