Friday, October 07, 2011

creek where the hog resides

The weekend before last was time for the "dads' fishing trip" of the year. A chance for me to regain a bit of sanity while being outdoors, hanging out with one of my best buddies, drinking beer, possibly taxing myself physically, and sleeping on the ground. Oh, and for fishing. Never one to catch many fish, or very big ones for that matter, I tend to rely on the other attributes of the trip to make for fine memories. But after hearing of "healthy looking" fish at our destination this year, I was hoping to eat something larger than the under-a-foot-crowd that dominate my last 10 years of backcountry fishing.

Arriving late Thursday afternoon, to the completely unmarked "launch area," we loaded the canoe and took off into the murky green waters. Paddling a few miles to our camp we witnessed various types of birds. Pelicans sat gathered or flew silently in formation. Ducks quacked their disapproval of us while audibly flapping away. Great Blue herons stood, waiting to see if we'd cross their invisible line of threat. Swallows danced and dove, snipping bugs on the wing. Geese honked. I think I even saw a Sandhill crane. Lots of birdies, all seemingly healthy and robust. We landed our canoe, huffed our stuff a few hundred yards to camp, and began a bit of on-foot exploration. A short three minutes walk away, crystal clear waters seemed to have at least a few 15+ inch trout. Sweet. The sun dipped a bit lower, we gave the cooler a thorough temp check by sampling some of the beer, and heated up some grub. Sitting around the fire after a long day of driving and a great afternoon paddling, things were right on track for a memorable time.

Friday morning, looking out toward the sea of high grass and shallow water beyond, I noticed a large bird coming our way. Solitary pelican? No wait, damn this thing is big, maybe a turkey vulture? Naw, too fat and flapping, flying along some 50 feet off the ground. Real dark though. As it passed overhead and the perspective changed, I saw a big white head and fat profiled body. Damn dude, Bald eagle! It flew North of camp about 100 yards and took hold of a large branch in a pine looming above a pond. Cool! Wonder if he's gonna fish for the same trout we saw in the pond the night before?

After a light breakfast, we took a short walk to start the fishing part of the trip. The wild rainbow trout that inhabit the spring-fed waters here were looking abundant. Trying our luck from the shore, with N on a fly rod and me throwing my tacklebox of lures at them, we managed to scare the fish rather nicely for a few hours. Eventually I hooked a teeny little guy, and nearly landed him. It was at least proof positive that something would bite.

We went back to camp, packed some snacks and water, boarded the canoe and pushed through the algal mat blocking the mouth of the creek. Paddling into the clear waters, we began seeing fish as they were "spooked" by our canoe, swimming everywhere it seemed. A few of the larger fish had obvious wounds on their bodies. One suffering from some nasty looking, multiple puncture wounds, and another with somewhat healed looking ones. Looked like one big gash on one side of the body, with punctures on the other, and a repeating pattern farther down the body. Injuries from fishing eagles, or ospreys? Trying our luck while exploring, proved that once again, middle of the day fishing usually sucks. But the beer is at least cold by then. We took shelter from the afternoon sun, resting in the glorious shade of a thick oak canopy. Checking out the scene again near twilight, expecting more activity from the still at least visible fish, we were baffled to not even get a bite. The surroundings were totally amazing though, and it was joy enough to just be there.

Morning number two came time to pump some water. While doing so, I kept witnessing the same two "torpedo" fish lazily chasing much smaller fish around the edges of a pond. I wondered if I should be using something light and fishy looking as a lure. Checking in with N, he had caught a few small ones but kept seeing the bigger stuff. I gave him my theory, knotted up something a bit more fishy, and walked around the pool beneath an outlet stream for the pond. Another pair of fatties circulated this little cove and my heart raced a bit. I tried casting just to the edge of the stream, hoping to ride the turbulent edge of water and retrieve my lure shallow and fast so it won't get hung up on the ubiquitous rocks. First cast, tempted a little nibble from something. I hadn't seen the two nice fish for a second and thought they must be on the other side of the pool. A quick cast landed right on target, and just as the lure was close enough to start seeing, an bright gold flash hit it. My meager little 2-lb test line tightened and did a quick whining. I loosened the drag, settled down to letting this beast tire itself out and realized I must have hooked one of those "torpedos." Dear god, please don't shake off.

With much coaching, I landed this beauty. Definitely the nicest freshwater hook-up of my life. I was eager to eat it, N pointed out that it was at least a 4 pound fish, if not 5 and that it would be lunch, AND possibly dinner. "Its a big fish dude, let's get a quick picture and get it back in the water, it will be alright." It sounded like sound advice from my fishing guru. I tried to pick up the fish and dropped it into the foot high grass. Too heavy and slippery to hold by the tail alone. I took a few handfuls of grass for traction, grasped the tail with my left hand and slid my right under the belly. Holy crap, this chunky fish had a fat roll! I checked out the "bacon" around the bottom, and handed it to N, knee deep in the water awaiting hand-off. Tenderly pushing the hog back and forth in the water for a few minutes, it woke up and took off.

We did some more fishing. Mainly N I think, and I believe he caught a few more fish, but I was simply in a trance. It took a while to hit me, but damn.....did I just catch that fish I've been day-dreaming about? Wow. Sure is pretty here, great weather, abundant wildlife, crystal clear water, HOLY CRAP THAT FISH WAS FRICKI'N HUGE! Wow, maybe I should eat something, I feel like I'm tripping or something, did that really just happen? Maybe a few beers and a nice long paddle driven exploration will help ground me. We walked back to camp, gathered some grub and went exploring again.

With nothing but a calm breeze at best, we headed East to explore the other two campgrounds, should we ever want to come back here in the future. (Hell yes!) Tracing our path from a few days before, we witnessed the same bird populations, adding a few more species to the list. (Loon, Cormorant and White egret perhaps, plus positively a few turkey vultures.) Eating lunch, out of the canoe, at the Easternmost campground, a wind suddenly kicked up, and out of the West. Seriously? We looked at the high clouds and thought back to the last weather report we'd seen. Cooler on Sunday. Well, late Saturday it is, and apparently the change is going to start right now. We got back in the boat and paddled hard as some mild white caps began to form in the shallow water. Fighting a headwind nearly the entire way, we got a good unplanned workout. We landed near camp finally, shoulders burning a bit. Nothing a few cold beers can't cure. Refreshed and still dreaming of big fish from the morning, we walked over to the clear pond and began our last evening of fishing.

Once again, not having much luck fishing the twilight times, we broke down and tried a few worms. A group of people materialized along the path nearby. "Hey, how's the fishing?" Well, not really anything tonight, but a few nice fish this morning. "Cool man!" Then something tugged at my line. As the party walked past, I reeled in another nice fish. Not as long as this morning, but of equal proportions. 15+ inches, likely toward 2 pounds. "Dude nice fish! Aw, I can't wait for the tomorrow!" Having swallowed the worm completely, this fish was being eaten for sure. I walked away from the pond and got down to gutting it and prepping it for dinner.

Small salmon anyone? Can you believe the color of this thing? I've had trout that was tinged pink before, but this looked like a King salmon for crying out loud! I hacked it in half, sprinkled it with salt and pepper, loaded the pan with a few garlic cloves and some oil and started frying it up. Rich and fatty, this sweet trout tasted like none I've ever had. Toothsome, bright, and quite able to stand up to the garlic, this "little one" made me wonder if the "big one" would have been similar. Likely. But, guess I'll have to come back sometime and hook into another hog to find out.