Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Calendar

     Old man Autumn must have looked at the calendar Friday, because he roared in during the night, rattling the windows and dumping rain on the roof. At midnight, when one of the dogs had to go out, the temperature outside was sixty. But shortly afterwards the house shook and rain poured like pea-stone from a dump truck. By breakfast the temperature had dropped to forty-nine and the howling northwest wind started breaking up the clouds.
     Flannel shirts and added layers. Chores first and then off to the woods to run the dogs and find some grouse.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Ten More Days

     Soon Bird season will open. For the upland hunter, it is the most anticipated day of the year. Here at Camp Grouse, even the dogs know it is coming.
     Maybe it is changes in the weather, or that we’ve been going out to run with their bells on. I guess that is a dead giveaway. Perhaps they see the hints of colors on the hillsides too, just like we do.
     Whenever two or more bird hunters get together the conversation always comes around to how many birds they have been seeing. Birds in the roads are mentioned and maybe a woodcock seen flying at dusk. Of course, everybody is delightfully vague about where they’ve been seeing birds. It is fun to see the enthusiasm of new hunters.
    The trap is out to throw clay targets, set up on the side deck. We’ve thrown a few to refresh muscle memory. The gun comes up like it always did. It would be fun to shoot at a skeet or sporting clays range if one were nearby, but we’ll settle for targets thrown out beyond the drop-off beyond the house. If a target is missed, the dogs disappear down into the tall weeds to bring it back, sort of sticking the lousy shot in my face.
     New boots are broken in. The bird hunting pants will get a new treatment of wax.  The vest will be dug out and hung by the back door. There isn’t much more to get ready, which is one of the beauties of upland hunting.
     Tomorrow we’ll be out scouting for birds and running the dogs. There’s a ridge we want to explore. We have to get in shape too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Stream

      Moss under foot silenced my feet. The path slipped through shade beneath very green maple leaves then turned down into the darkness of softwood trees. Where the ground flattened, woven roots formed a bridge over a tiny trickle, then waist-high ferns shouldered the narrow trail between tall straight spruce and fir trees. 

     My dogs bounded ahead and I hoped they weren’t cooling themselves in my favorite fishing pool. The water would be low and those brook trout spook easily. Colby, the older German wirehair trotted back looking for me. Maggie, ever the hunter, was standing atop the bank by a bend of the stream, looking down into the water. Frogs? Maybe.
     The quiet babble said the stream was low long before I saw it. Stepping from the trees, I noticed that one channel was completely dry and what was once an island in the stream had become part of the far bank. Shoulder high grass grew where only pebbles lay before. After reminding the dogs that stealth was required, neither entered the water, much to my relief and surprise.
     Studying the water and hoping for some inspiration, I missed my pipe that I hadn’t smoked in almost thirty-five years. Which fly? No insects were on the water, but the water was mighty thin. I opted for a tiny caddis dry.  
     Where there used to be a deeply undercut bank a tree stretched across the stream. Gravity had taken its toll. The water still swirled against the far bank, where the water piled against the log. I floated a fly in. Nothing, and then several nothings. I contemplated changing to my trusty wooly bugger, but upstream a kingfisher burst from a dead spruce. The pool beneath that bird’s tree looked promising.
     With light footsteps, I crossed a stony shallow riffle to wade through the tall grass of what used to be the island. Both dogs snuck along with me and, when I stop next to the stream to fish, they sat to watch.
     Through the glassy surface it was easy to see the brown silted bottom of the pool. Trees over the left bank blackened the water with shade, but bright sunshine lit most of the pool. Dark cigar-shaped shadows on the bottom came from holding trout, possibly a dozen with one or two longer than the spread of my hand.
     Nervously, I worked out fly line. A fleck of water from the line hit the surface and the trout flinched. My next forward cast landed short and the trout twitched again, but did not move far.
Can you see the trout?
     After the fly drifted back I lifted it off the water and false cast over the weeds along the stream. When the distance felt right, I let the fly drift down ahead of the trout.
     Pandemonium! Some dashed left, others right. One snatched the fly off the surface.
After a short battle and a sniff by the dogs, that trout was returned to swim again. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

Monday, September 3, 2018

An Expedition

What Makes an Expedition?

Merriam-Webster defines an expedition as a journey or excursion undertaken for a specific purpose. That definition covers a lot of territory. It could mean traveling to the North Pole to see what is there. Or flying to the moon. Or it could mean a hike into the forest, searching for a wilderness trout stream to see if brook trout swim in its water or if woodcock live among the alders on its banks.
Looking for a remote stream sounds better than the cold of the arctic and much safer than flying to the moon.
There’s a locally well-known stream that has no easy access and long has been an interest of mine. The logging road that parallels part of it is gated and the headwaters are more than a dozen miles from that gate. Hours have been spent pouring over maps and aerial pictures trying to find a reasonable way in.
Finally the pieces fell together. An accessible logging road leads to a grown in logging road that shows up in aerial photos. It should only be a few miles down a long grade to find the stream. What would it be like? The expedition was planned…lunch, fly rods, camera….
The hike in was uneventful. Icy cold water flowed over a gravelly bottom, in spite of the hot August weather. Alders covered the entire wide bottom of the valley until the land started to rise into hardwoods on the hills. The remote place felt like we were the only people on Earth.
And I am not going to tell you more than that.