I don’t know what it is about this certain river that does it for me. But it does it in a big way. Headed north with -G- for a three day float I was downright giddy. We put in pretty high up, brook trout water really, but some beasts surely lurk beneath the cedars.
It was tough right off the bat. We drifted and anchored and drifted some more, finding a few scattered mayflies and one odd cloud of stones but none of the fish we knew to be about showed themselves.
Another cold front had hit the day before and after a string of 80 degree humid weather we were looking at lows in the 40s and daytime highs barely breaking 70. What can you do.
The moon came up like a second sun and we could see our shadows against the cedars leaning over the bank. Sometime very early the next morning we anchored the boat and hung our hammocks on some high ground on an inside bend. I don’t think I slept at all, it’s hard to say. It was dead quiet and I lay in my hammock with the silence ringing in my ears wishing Bear had been along with some homegrown sleep medicine. The day before I’d famously told -G- that since we planned to fish hard, I was thinking it would be more of a coffee and cigarettes weekend rather than the boozer we’d had the weekend before. So I lay there in my hammock, having already drank half the twelver I’d impulsively bought from the quick n ez in the last town we’d passed through. Other than that and a plastic bottle of BV -G- had brought cuz he knew I was full of shit, we were sitting pretty dry with 3 days of fishing yet ahead of us. What can you do.
The next morning we knew we really had another day yet before we got to the water where the true degenerates lived, but in that precious window before the sun gets on the water you’re dialed in anyway. There’s always a chance of an encounter with an animal anywhere in this river.
The mosquitoes were aggressive. I hadn’t really slept. But -G- made a cup of french press you could seal a driveway with, I lit my deet stick, and we pushed off, nearly trembling with the sort of visceral excitement that goes way beyond sense or logic. It’s that subconscious reaction you have to finally be doing something you’ve thought about for months.
Plus, Bear was driving up to meet us midday. With the sun up we pulled off again to have a nap and wait to see about bugs again that evening. -G- fried up some dutch ass ham and we made a bit of a camp around two curious adirondack chairs and a broken plastic chair placed fairly in middle of nowhere.
We napped, drank, -G- made fun of me asking wouldn’t I prefer a coffee and a cigarette as I pulled off the horrifically warm BV, which tasted faintly like stomach bile out of a hot garden hose. Then a tailgate slammed and a Bear appeared through the cedars. We relayed the shitty bug report which was met with a shrug as he plopped down in the broken plastic chair and looked into the water. Good fishing’s hardly ever the point of anything anymore. We were there, and doing it again. These days you don’t take things like that for granted. Then somehow it was dinner time again, it seemed we’d lost track of time and that plastic bottle.
The sun got low and - Bugs again! It was nice to see them. And some nice heads here and there, but I don’t think we connected with any good ones, least I don’t have any pictures proving it. I’d meant to keep better track of things with pictures, but there are some gaps in this part of the trip. 3 friends in a boat in beautiful country, and whatnot. Whole chunks of time seem to whirl up into the ether.
Camp again, late that night. We hung our hammocks in some cedars at the edge of a willow swamp you’d expect to see a moose walk out of. I stuffed paper towels in my ears so I couldn’t hear the silence and slept like a baby until I heard -G- up making coffee well before first light. Bear said there were deer in camp keeping him awake all night. Stuff your ears, I said.
That next morning was downright gorgeous. As we pushed off there was a sort of dead set silence in the boat. We were in the good water, where any piece of wood or trench in the sand bottom might hold the fish of a lifetime.
There’s this certain time, a window within a window, when the light comes up and makes the water thick and glassy, like liquid mercury. The willows and cedar tops blush pink and you retrieve every cast carefully, almost wincing. It’s frightening in a way, as if you’re wiggling your toes in some blackness, knowing you’re within grabbing distance of something with yellow eyes and a low rumble in its throat.
When it happens your throat catches.
Hours spent in a boat makes for some weird conversation, between the lack of sleep and the excitement and booze and drugs and the pure feeling of being free there’s no limits, none of the usual barriers. Things get strange, macabre, taboo, at all times somehow hilarious yet deeply real, and often inappropriate to the point that you want to apologize to the sky and trees for the red vapor of obscenities trailing behind you. After Bear and -G- both had encounters with animals, one that was taking -G- out back to the woodshed when the hook pulled, and another that swiped at Bear’s fly on the surface so hard a wake lapped against the bank, we got to talking about the idea of “The Criminal.” In this river there’s good trout like the one above, and then the sort of fish that transcend the usual dimensions and live somewhere off in the land that time forgot. The land of beasts and small gods, where Harrison wrote of man’s ancestors walking in seven-league boots and 500lb birds and wildfires roaring across the vast savannas. These are the trout that I imagine live in the fast dark rivers that cut those savannas, fish that live in the blackness of the deep pools beneath rushing cold water no man has ever fished. In our world they show in brief winks, orange-sided and lanky, flashing their white jaws suddenly from those lightless places beneath that flat flowing glass. That is the criminal and he keeps his bulbous boozer’s nose into the soft current, moving in creeps and slithers, watching like the eyes of a crocodile just above the water line. That’s what we were after and the fact that none of it makes much sense now just reminds me why I do things like that. What a boring life it must be to only ever know the civilized state of mind.
After two near misses, it was breakfast again. -G-‘s dutch ass loves that dutch ass ham. The last few beers were taken VERY sparingly.
The days in Northern Michigan are long long this time of year and with the weather feeling like early October, we started floating again and just sort of kept on. At first with some intention and then none at all.
The last cold pibber in all its glory
-G- was like “BIG BROWN BIG BROWN”
Dry bugs were spotty again. What can you do.
We ended up floating so far we decided to take out at what should’ve been the end of our next day’s float and trailered back up to re-do a good section.
-G- got his car buried to the axle in sand trying to take a short cut around midnight. I did not take any pictures of that because I was afraid he might’ve leapt out of the car and buried me in the sand. It wasn’t really my fault, but it was like, more my fault that anyone else’s. Somehow. He was driving after all. I had just said it was a good idea.
2 or 3 hours of sleep again. I slept in the front seat of the car after we dug it out of the sand. I was very dirty and covered in sand. And I could smell myself. Luckily we were in that point of the trip where sleep comes in any calm moment like a sledge hammer.
Even the coffee had sand in it I think. But we were doing it again. Whether it’s worth it or not is certainly up for debate. Not like, with me or -G- or Bear, but like, with other people. We didn’t see anyone else fishing so maybe that questions already been answered.
It was a beautiful cold morning. Bear was grumpy. I was grumpy. -G- was grumpy. But it was a beautiful cold morning.
Not 5 minutes after the pic above was taken -G- hooked some real trailer trash in front of a log jam that went whoopin ass out into the current and he never turned it. The hook pulled. Jeeze Louise, I said.
“Try not losing one."
What can you do. Sometimes it happens just like that.
Part 3s got more yoga pants.