Little creeks beg for quiet, contemplative exploration. If you're a creek lover, as I am, then you'll love this story - another bullseye by author Chuck Sams.
I’m from Michigan and my life has consisted of roaming around a peninsula shaped like a big mitten looking for fish. We’ve got a lot of water in all three of its forms. We’ve got lakes, rivers, and creeks. I’m partial to the creeks myself because in the Great Lakes state we are also fond of boat rides in all three of its forms. We’ve got lots of power boats, canoes, and kayaks. If Michigan were a comic book, pleasure boats in all their forms would be the arch enemy of the fishermen. And the rented canoe, well, it’d be like kryptonite to the fly fishing Superman.
Because these places are where our best memories are made...
Creek fishermen are a hearty breed specializing in small rods and roll casts, wandering around the country-side looking for a thin blue line that an army of fly fishermen have somehow managed to overlook. We get excited at the sight of old logging roads, brushy pull offs, and signs that say, "One Lane Bridge". They’re places that are less crowded, that require less equipment, where the trout are less technical and less likely to let a good meal float over them unmolested. Because these places are where our best memories are made, it isn’t unusual for conversations around a remote campfire to start with, "Remember that one time on that creek?"
There was that time in May when it hit eighty degrees, the sun came out, and we caught all three resident stream trout and steelhead smolts. We threw big bushy caddis flies on forty dollar fiberglass 3-weights and the fish just couldn’t turn them down. It was a river by name but it was so small, out of the way, and overlooked I’ll call it a creek 'till the day I die.
And there was that time we entered a One Fly contest and couldn’t buy a fish. That creek could have been running through the seafood department at Kroger and we would have still gotten skunked, until we let a couple of sports fish through our hole. They landed three fish in water we’d been hitting hard by bottom bouncing a bead-head hook with a fuchsia piece of latex tied to it, imitating worms after a big rain. They were nice enough to give us one. We dredged up two more trout out of that hole and it didn’t do us a bit of good in the One Fly. But we caught some trout by God!
...I don’t remember the fish as much as I do the thrill of the stalk.
I remember that day we were stalking a cold, clear creek that averaged maybe a foot and a half deep and came across a two foot steelhead. It was so big in that skinny water that it startled us and for a few seconds we considered digging out a streamer or egg pattern and trying our luck with the 3-weights. A fly rod can always be replaced. But I doubt the memory of fighting a fish like that on a small rod in water that shallow and clear could. I still have a recurring dream that we actually tried it, and it was everything we imagined it would be.
And what about that creek, a real trickle, across from the correctional work camp and under one hundred foot tall white pines? The one where the brook trout were so skittish we took turns kneeling, the water almost coming up over the top of our waders, and casting to the dark holes. We caught a couple that day, but I don’t remember the fish as much as I do the thrill of the stalk.
Then there’s that creek, so brushy that you can hardly fish it after the leaves are on, the one we explored on a whim. It's way back on the federal land next to an old trout hatchery, the depressions in the earth and some blocks from the tanks still there, we caught the brook trout on dries and nymphs.
The brookies so bold and colorful, like fish on a Trout Unlimited calendar or a fly shop post card. We cupped them in our hands and watched each one of those jewels swim off.
But a guy, standing in the alders fishing with worms, whispered us over and showed us what bait can do. The fish he showed us, over a foot long, and slit from asshole to eyeball ready for the frying pan. My mouth waters even now, just thinking about that fight in that narrow water and that trout in the skillet with some butter and onions.
I could keep going, but you get the idea about creeks, running like little blue veins through a map shaped like the back of your left hand. You can jump over some and some you could lay your rod across, end to end three times, before you reach the other side. The fish, on average, are a little smaller than the ones you’ll find in the bigger, more famous rivers. But that’s easily compensated for by the use of a 2 or 3-weight rod.
I can’t give you the key to finding them but I can tell you this much. If you find that secret logging road, the one where you can hear the water running when you roll the window down but can’t see it, get out and part the bushes and check it out.
If you find that one lane bridge, the one whose guard-rails scrape the side of your pickup and you can only see a glimmer of the setting sun on the water, get out and walk it up-stream.
If you find that over-grown pull off, the one that looks like a Panamanian jungle has been transplanted north and has over-grown a ditch, get out and rig a smaller fly rod.
You just might have found heaven on earth.
Chuck Sams lives in South Lyon, Michigan near the banks of the Huron River. His previous writing credits include Editor - The Cedar Sweeper Magazine, Woods-n-Water News, Sporting Tales Magazine and Northern Michigan Journal.
Chucks “Tributary Youghiogheny” was the winner of Trout Unlimited’s 10 Special Places essay contest. That remarkable story was published in TROUT Summer 2016 Magazine. This is Chuck's 6th contribution to The QE Journal.