Essay by Nate Camp
There is a river not far from my front door. It’s not wide, it isn’t deep. There are no swimming holes, unless you are a dog and I was about to round the bend to fish that spot. There is a heavy ceiling of branches and the massive trunks make it a narrow corridor along the banks. More often than not the best-looking water has the worst looking surroundings. The bow cast is a constant first move, on only few occasions there is space enough for full casts, follow ups, or even a smooth retrieve. The foot traffic is steady, and the path is very close to the water, some days leaving me with little opportunity to focus solely on the kebari and the current. Even so, it has become one of my favorite spots.
I would say there is a certain balance to the area. It’s enough of a hike to build the anticipation for trout on the way in. I can reach the best spots from most positions along the bank and hit all the spots wet wading. Thick branches overhead mean that I fish in the shade on even the sunniest of days. There are plenty of overhangs, sheltered by those giants that form the corridor that the river flows through. The diversity of the structures and undergrowth make that perfect cast, and the tug of the take, all the more satisfying. The best part is the wild population of brown trout that lurk and linger in the depths. Any inconvenient structure on this trip may yield the headliner of the day on the next trip or even on the way back downriver.
This summer could be shaping up to be a good one for fishing if I can find the time to get out and stalk trout. Last September, I got away for a few hours just hoping for a few small trout. Instead, I was rewarded with twenty-eight browns in a period of three hours. Most of them were between 6”- 8”, but three of them were over 12” and a few that were close. I caught these wild fish on a single fly, a kebari-ish version of the “House & Lot”. That day was a blessing and a curse. It was joyous to experience and a pleasure to remember, but now, whenever I fish less than a handful of trout out of the cold water, I am disappointed that my performance can be so poor on a river so rich.
This past Memorial Day I brought my wife and young daughter out for a family hike and decided to sneak in a few casts along the way; “I wonder where we shall go.”
The weather was warm and pleasant, the smell of pine and damp earth was strong and comforting, the sun was bright, and that allowed a clear-sight picture of the quarry. Our first encounter with the river was the wide, lazily flowing mill pond whose dam creates a formidable fish barrier to the lower river. Typically, this silty body holds no sign of life, its barren shallow expanse is clear to see even on an overcast day. Not so on our hike; we could count at least four large brown trout actively feeding from the bottom and there were more that were smaller, doing the same thing, all of them just out of reach.
While I was happy to see them getting a meal to grow big and strong; disappointed would be the word to describe the inability to reach out and present a kebari to them. Later there was an opportunity to try for a fish I could reach, during my little one’s water break. I caught a small brown from the middle of a boisterous riffle after a couple short drifts with a lazy pulse in the rough water. My wife and daughter were fascinated with the tiny predator from the shallow river. Before long, it was time to head out, naptime was calling one of our company and we were ‘briskly’ making our way towards the car.
On the way out, though, dad needed to make a pit stop. There is one spot that bugs me. It’s next to a large embankment; the top where the trail passes is about nine feet above the surface of the water. The pool is, by my estimation, six to eight feet deep and there aren’t many ways to approach it unseen by any of its occupants. If you happened to hook up from the high bank here, the move to a shallow, flatter area to retrieve would require you to pass your rod around a couple of tree trunks while standing on a steep angle fighting a fish under branches. To hook up from the low bank you would need to be near prone in the stream or belly crawl through mud and vegetation. Are there even trout here in this swift moving bend in the river?
Twice now I have crept to the edge and peered into the abyss to find myself staring at the back of a very large trout. My reaction the first time was pleasant surprise. It wasn’t until I dropped a beaded kebari in the clear water to tempt it and watched it go down, down, down and disappear against the bottom did I realize the potential size of this river bend’s resident. That cold first day, everything I tried casting was shunned until a black and gold wooly bugger was mouthed and summarily spit out before I could draw back to set.
But now, with a sleepy toddler clutched tight, the second sighting was a chance for me to stand back and marvel without the mental exercise of placement, current and an exit strategy. We were rewarded for our slow approach and cautious peek. Not one large trout, but a pair of them side by side and gliding in the current.
Then in my peripheral vision; more trout, all lined up large to small. I got my phone out and took a quick video for review later. Phone held against the lens of my polarized sunglasses, I recorded a short clip that I assure you has been reviewed many times to analyze what their movement tells me about the current, how the lineup was arranged and where they ‘dipped’ into the current to eat. Of course, the most reviewed, paused, re-winded and scrutinized portion is when the dappled sunlight shone through the cover above and outlined the largest in the pool.
That fish may have been the biggest I have seen in this river, otherwise, I’m more hopeful than is good for me.
Nate Camp is a tenkara angler and woodsman from New England. He can often be found exploring the rocky streams and rivers that surround him, as well as destinations deep in the back country. Nate is a devoted husband and father, Marine Corps Veteran, Tenkara Adventure Outfitters Ambassador, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Member, and chef. Instagram: @camp_made
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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