Casting Call

By Jim Collins | |

The sluice dam is gone now. The last remnant—a weathered wooden gatehouse that spanned part of the outlet like an old covered bridge—had lasted more than half a century after the final logs slipped downriver through the gates. Only low piles of rock mark where the cribbing once stood. The newly empty view looks strange to me, but the scene is as lovely as ever. The late-afternoon light sharpens and turns golden, and the lake seems to melt seamlessly into the river, as it had for centuries before man came here to drive logs or to catch fish.


The sluice dam is gone now. The last remnant—a weathered wooden gatehouse that spanned part of the outlet like an old covered bridge—had lasted more than half a century after the final logs slipped downriver through the gates. Only low piles of rock mark where the cribbing once stood. The newly empty view looks strange to me, but the scene is as lovely as ever. The late-afternoon light sharpens and turns golden, and the lake seems to melt seamlessly into the river, as it had for centuries before man came here to drive logs or to catch fish.

It’s the end of the summer season in northern New England and fall is in the air. I’m fishing with an old friend. In the morning, we had dropped anchor out in the fog and the gathering current, casting from the cold, hard seats of a battered aluminum canoe. We recalled trips past.

He and I have marked a lifetime on rocky streams, on remote trout ponds, on cool spring mornings when the fish were just coming up, on big lakes in summer in search of the evening rise. Now we’re in waders, covering tricky water close to shore with dry flies. Spaced far apart, almost out of earshot above the rushing river, we’re together in spirit only.

The changing light does two things at once: It gilds the water and the surrounding wooded shoreline and blue hills, and it makes it tough to see a fly floating in the current. This is no place for chatting now, or reverie. The promise of five-pound wild brook trout narrows my focus—my entire world—to a small tuft of feathers at the end of an invisible line drifting in the water.

I let the fly play out and pull my rod back slowly, snap the fly line behind me and shoot it out again, up-current, this time 30 feet out, next time 40. Poetry has been written about the act of casting a fly. It is a delicate art in which, when done well, the harmonies in the laws of physics seem to resonate, like the sweeping turns of telemark skiing, like the spin on ice skates, like the magical swing of propelling a rowing shell, or the waltz of a partner on the dance floor. The motion, after years of practice, comes from muscle memory more than conscious thought. It is as close to a feeling of grace as I know.

The effortless casting frees my mind. I make subtle adjustments for the changing currents, notice a sip breaking the surface just out of range, scan the sparkling water for others, and watch for what might be hatching. I’ve never forgotten a passage I read once in Zane Grey’s Rogue River Feud: “Keven made his first cast, and time was annihilated.”

Suddenly, the golden light is gone, and the water is pewter and the fly almost impossible to see. Much of the pleasure is below the surface: friendship, the beauty and history of this place, the memories, the bittersweetness of growing older and another season passing. I change my tiny, purple Quill Gordon fly for a larger, easier-to-see grasshopper, tying it quickly against the dying light. A salmon hits the first cast. A small fish, it leaps in the air as I bring it close. I pick up another salmon, a bigger one this time. And then another. I lay the fly out again, and I no longer hear the river. No longer notice the light, nor the cold. There’s a brook trout out there somewhere. A big one.

WHERE THE EXPERTS FISH
Tom Rosenbauer, Marketing Director, Orvis Rod & Tackle, Vermont

Rosenbauer, a veteran of one of the nation’s most venerable fly-fishing institutions, suggests beginning fly fishers find warm-water ponds close to home, and go after bluegill and perch. “It’s instant gratification and good practice,” he says. “Trout are almost always hard.” In western Vermont, Rosenbauer lists Lake Bomoseen and Lake St. Catherine as two good warm-water bets, especially fishing close to the coast in May and June for striped bass. For the more elusive trout, he points not to the fabled and nearby Battenkill River (“It’s really a very, very difficult river,” he says), but to the stretch of Otter Creek between Danby and Rutland, along Route 7. For classes and advice, call 802-362-3750 or visit the Orvis Fly-Fishing School at www.orvis.com.

Tracy Gosselin, Instructor, L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School, Maine
“I enjoy the aggressiveness of bass when they’re hooked,” says Gosselin, “especially smallmouths.” She grew up in northern Maine tying flies for her grandfather and was using her own by age 11, but she does most of her fishing now in the southern part of the state. She recommends fishing for bass from a pontoon boat on the Androscoggin River between Lewiston and Brunswick, or from shore at the Lisbon Falls Fishing Park. For more about fly-fishing classes and general fishing information, call 888-552-3261 or visit www.llbean.com. For gear and advice, call the L.L. Bean Hunting & Fishing Store at 207-552-7760. You might get lucky and talk with Gosselin herself.

Gerry Crow, President, Merrimack River Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited, New Hampshire
A licensed New Hampshire fishing guide, Crow likes to fish the Pemigewasset River from Bristol down to Franklin. He’s caught rainbow and brook trout there, but the prize is brood-stock Atlantic salmon, which can run from three to 12 pounds. “Normally people go to Canada for fish like that,” he says. “But the ‘Pemi’ is day-trippable—even from Boston.” To find the Trout Unlimited chapter closest to you, visit www.tu.org. Crow’s guiding service is New Hampshire Rivers Guide Service, 603-889-5611, www.nhriversguide.com.

Tom Fuller, Author of Trout Streams of Southern New England
“There are no secret trout streams in southern New England,” says Fuller, which is why he doesn’t hesitate recommending his favorite water: the two-and-a-half-mile section of the Swift River in Belchertown, Massachusetts, below the Quabbin Reservoir. “It’s often the only game in town,” he says, “because the tailwater coming out of the bottom of the reservoir is often cold and clear year-round.” The Swift’s rainbow trout and brown trout see a lot of flies, warns Fuller, and the fishing can be technical: “It’s a great place to get your fly-fishing Ph.D.”

Tom Fuller’s books include The Complete Guide to Eastern Hatches (The Countryman Press, 2006), Getting Started in Fly Fishing (Ragged Mountain Press, 2004), Underwater Flies for Trout (The Countryman Press, 2003), and Trout Streams of Southern New England (The Countryman Press, 1999).