Down Channel

Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

Pre-dawn, but the gate had been left open…and the hatchery gate was too, so I parked up near there and walked through, arriving at the river’s edge as high as a person is allowed–any further and I’d be in the dam release zone. The sky was brightening but I’d beaten the sun to the water by 20 minutes. The 5-weight 9-foot rod I’d made for myself the previous winter balanced nicely in my hand, flexing a little like I imagined a split bamboo classic might flex. I tied a little cased caddis worm of my own tie onto the 6x tippet and stepped in. Cold water drew a shiver right through the waders, but I knew the early June chill would soon dissipate.

Figure 1 — Headwater

A narrow tongue of swift flow needed crossing if I was to get to more comfortably wadable water, and that required some care. Below it was a hole six feet deep and a bit of a haystack standing wave atop it; I did not want to take a swim through that. I had no wading staff but made a mental note to buy one someday, hoping that commitment would be sufficient to save me on this morning. Shuffle one foot, then the other; keep as thin to the current as a man’s profile would allow…inches at a time…don’t lunge…almost across. To free up my arms for better balance, I got rid of the leader between my fingers by casting the fly up ahead of me, into a shallow pour-over against a little shoal. The loose end wouldn’t distract me now…shuffle again, and…uh…BUMP BUMP! Of all the…some early morning trout trying to interrupt my concentration here with a take on my fly! I did the right thing by allowing myself to miss the take, instead focusing on finding a surer foothold. My path shallowed and I climbed onto a gravel bank, now only ankle deep, past the danger. I stood at the edge of the shoal over which I had just cast.

Trout were clearly active this morning in this river I knew only a little about. That was a good sign, but I guessed my crunching over bottom stones would have spooked the near ones. I tried for ten minutes to interest the one who’d grabbed my fly a moment before, then decided to head down the middle of the shallow river. A large crawdad in the gravel at my feet zipped away as my boot came near it, punctuating the point that I’d be fishing a rich and healthy ecosystem.

Figure 2 — Crawdad

This river was about a hundred feet wide, and I guessed that much of it might be wadable. I went straight down the middle, my back to the dam and the dawn’s first warming rays, taking tiny steps, spraying my casts left, right and center, always downstream. It defied reigning wisdom but was a style I liked. I could reach good water to left and right from my center-of-channel path. The water deepened to waist level but the current here was slow, so I pushed on.

No action, so I switched to a Hare’s Ear nymph and a #4 split shot above it, to ply the edges of snags and vegetation, hooking and netting two small fish, both of which hit the nymph before it had sunk more than two feet. To my right and ahead was a snag of some proportion–downed tree limbs were pinned against a large midriver bush the size of a pckup truck, providing obvious cover for fish and equally obvious opportunity for a fisherman to lose a fly. Close above it was the remains of a stump, and the water deflected from the stump to the bush and then funneled through a venturi section before things looked like they widened up again below.

I cast the nymph near the stump, but it swept around. I tried again and thought I’d gotten closer, but it was difficult to tell, and I knew it had not sunk deep enough. On my third try I took a wild chance, casting to a point far above the stump, knowing there’d now be enough time for the fly to sink but that I’d no longer be sure of where it was. There were dead reeds surrounding the stump, and each was a snag waiting to happen. My line suddenly stopped drifting and dragged, cross to the current; dang it, I’d hung up on a reed or that stump.

But my grimace had no time to form, for the line began to vibrate. For an instant I thought it was due to being stretched across the flow, but lifting the rod tip made it clear that a fish was on. I worked it back upstream toward my position and brought it to net. It was a nice 16-inch brightly colored rainbow, although relatively thin for its length. This fish had not grown quickly over a couple of seasons; it looked like it had been more selective. Not aware that it was by far the largest fish I’d catch this day, I released it gently and moved on.

I came to a spot where I could feel thick vegetation below my feet. I didn’t know how deep this water was, but the dense bundles of stems below kept me tall enough that my wader tops stayed above water. I cast to the edge of the bushes either side of the venturi slot. Where the swift water deflected into the main tongue, it was difficult to get a fly in under the tangled mass. I managed to let it sweep under several times but got no strikes, so decided not to tempt fate. The slower side, however, produced frequent nursery fish slashes at the fly before it had time to sink. I worked the edge of that bush for fifteen minutes in hopes of finding something of size deeper, but it produced only a few barred fingerlings. Still, they were beautiful. This was a fine morning.

Figure 3 — Fingerling in Net

What lay beyond the venturi slot? I’d heard a fisherman the year before comment that “you can wade all the way down to the lower parking lot.” Not a very precise description, and that was a good half mile…but I decided to give it a go. To my amazement I strolled right through the venturi’s middle, the water never getting closer than three inches to my wader tops. Straight down-channel.

Through the slot, the left side looked somewhat fishy but the best water would clearly be to the right, under the branches of a couple of large spreading trees and right up to the bank. And that was the side that bank fishermen couldn’t easily reach, so it’d be the least fished water. But the sun was glinting off its surface now and I feared most of these shallows were used by fish more as nighttime foraging water and that they’d have by now retreated under the thick bushes I’d just passed–unreachable, if so. I switched to an Elk Hair Caddis dry, then a caddis emerger, then a little stone fly nymph, then the caddis worm again…but did not tempt a strike under those spreading trees. Well, another day.

A male wood duck flew like a frantically flapping missile upstream directly over my head, and I paused to watch and to envy it its barred flank feathers.

Figure 4 — Overhanging Trees

I moved on. I was at a long straightaway of maybe a hundred fifty yards. The water wasn’t featureless but neither did it inspire confidence. Still I cast, drifted, swung, strip-retrieved. Forty minutes later I’d fished the entire stretch and had not tempted a single take. But I continued down the channel, making mental note that that section was so far not my favorite. In particular I worked the eddies behind a couple of beachball-sized rocks as I went, then on passing each, saw and remembered the water’s depth behind them.

I had now waded directly down the channel a good quarter mile, and had reached the drop-off at the top of a long riffle. The depth increased through and below this riffle as the water slowed, and a few smaller fish were rising where the surface churn subsided. This was the kind of water I tended to fish well. I knew rainbows would hold in the slightly deeper water below but would come up into the riffle itself to feed. I went back to the Hare’s Ear nymph, added an extra split shot, and immediately encountered some takes, both to the left where subaquatic algae coated the bottom stones, and to the right where the current skirted a long sun-bleached log. To the left, as my fly ticked bottom, I’d often end up with trailing algae on the fly, which would naturally spoil subsequent takes.

Figure 5 — Top of the Riffle

So I concentrated on the right, casting down and to the side always, into the swifter current, paying out line to allow the fly to sink, then snubbing it up a bit so it would swing. I’d drop it back to the bottom, swing my rod tip to a new heading and bring it up again. Had a feisty fish on, but lost it within two seconds. I’d occasionally cast left again, braving the algae, just to give a particular drift direction a moment’s pause…and I did get a few little takes there, from little fish.

Swirls would occur on the surface near the log but it was difficult to get a fly there without near-instant mega-drag. I worked the bottom contour instead, but switched to an olive baetis nymph and landed two small energetic fish in the next ten minutes.

Figure 6 — Lively Little Rainbow

I moved on down, having to leave the channel momentarily because of the depth, but re-entered it and fished a nice eddy below a larger rock on the right another fifty yards down. Caught a small but aggressive fish there on a line-fed wet fly swing, and moved on.

The sun was high enough to consider breaking for lunch. I had fished nearly a third of a mile of river by walking directly down its middle. I’d made it to the deep slow pool. Along the way I’d learned where the fish can be expected to forage pre-dawn, where they might be found with the day’s first rays, where within the slower areas, and how long on a bright morning they’ll stay at the more dynamic points of flow. I’d caught nothing worth a brag but had fooled a number of pretty little wild fish throughout the morning. The lore this walk gave me for future visits to the river was substantial–I now knew many kinds of insect species the fish would consider natural here, how the bottom rolled and tapered, how much weight to use within each section…whether my cased caddis pattern would be viable.

Figure 7 — Deep Slow Pool

More than anything else, I’d enjoyed a morning being part of this stream–I’d listened to the music of the gurgle, felt the pull of the current, found footing on the stones and stems below me, caught the rays of a rising dawn as it filtered through the trees of the south bank.

I found an easy place to make dry land, stretched for a moment while my knees warmed in the morning air, and started back upstream along the river’s edge. The riffle gurgled a farewell. It had been a very good hike.

2 thoughts on “Down Channel

  1. Cecil Schulte

    Nice. I began reading, and, approaching the end, realized I had been completely, thoroughly, and happily immersed into the wade down the stream; never thinking about the text, but rather, experiencing those eddies and smooth water, and water-up-to-the-top-of-my-waders.
    Thanks, Michael, for letting me share the trip.

    Reply

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