THE SEA­SON

A wade in brookie coun­try goes from peace­ful to pun­ish­ing and gives new mean­ing to “fish­ing hard”

Field and Stream - - CONTENTS - By JOE CER­MELE

Chas­ing wild brook trout in Michi­gan is all fun and games un­til the wade goes from tran­quil and re­lax­ing to muddy and tax­ing. By Joe Cer­mele

LOOK­ING AT THE stretch of Michi­gan’s Jor­dan River I was wad­ing, it was tough to be­lieve it was teem­ing with wild brook trout. The shal­low, ul­tr­a­clear flow wasn’t very wide. It was fully lit by the Au­gust sun, and there wasn’t a dark hidey-hole in sight. Here and there, a few branches lay clumped to­gether on the sandy bot­tom, cre­at­ing mea­ger ed­dies and slight de­pres­sions. I could see ev­ery leaf on the riverbed, but I hadn’t seen—or spooked—a sin­gle trout. So when my first cast of a bee­tle be­hind a midriver stick was met with the sip of a brookie that seemed to ma­te­ri­al­ize out of the ether, I was shocked. Hold­ing the tiny fish in my hand, mar­veling at its ruby spots and am­ber fins, I re­al­ized that a wild brookie’s abil­ity to cam­ou­flage it­self is un­canny, and that I don’t chase them nearly enough.

Down­stream, my good friends Joe Demalderis and Brian Kozmin­ski were en­joy­ing the sim­plic­ity of the day too. We each car­ried a 3-weight out­fit, a dozen dries, and a spool of 5X tip­pet. This was Kozmin­ski’s turf, and while the Boyne City guide built his rep­u­ta­tion on big browns, wild brook trout are his pas­sion. Ev­ery few min­utes, some­one would hoot over a missed take or an­other beauty skat­ing to hand. It was all very re­lax­ing un­til noon.

NOT WAIT­ING ON A FRIEND

“I’ve got to split,” Kozmin­ski told us. “I’ve got some­thing to do this af­ter­noon, but you guys should keep fish­ing. Just keep work­ing up un­til the river meets the road again.” We watched tall, thin, in-shape Kozmin­ski bound off down­stream, prac­ti­cally glid­ing over ev­ery log­jam and sink­hole that had tripped up less-than-in-shape Demalderis and me in this swamp that was cut in half by the Jor­dan.

For the next hour or so, we picked away at brook­ies in ev­ery bub­bly bend and pot­hole that looked juicy. We also no­ticed that reach­ing each next juicy spot was get­ting more tax­ing. The Jor­dan had necked down into a deep, fast­mov­ing, wood-filled chute for as far up­stream as we could see. It quickly be­came the kind of wade that re­quired fresh cal­cu­la­tion ev­ery 20 feet. I tried the high road over the now brush­choked bank, only to take five steps be­fore my lead­ing leg hit mud with no bot­tom. As I con­tem­plated how I’d ex­tract the ex­trem­ity with­out los­ing a boot, I also came to the con­clu­sion that we’d gone too far to turn around.

BEASTS OF BUR­DEN

If you’ve never been on a fish­ing trip where the goal changes from catch­ing to just get­ting the hell out of wher­ever you’ve got­ten your­self, you don’t fish hard enough. By the time Demalderis and I made it through the quar­ter mile of deep, woody Jor­dan, that’s where our heads were. Ex­cept now we had to get around a mon­strous beaver dam span­ning the en­tire river. I started to scale the pile, limbs and branches crack­ing un­der my weight. At the pin­na­cle, it fi­nally hap­pened: The same leg I had ar­du­ously pulled from the mud plunged straight through. The pain from my crotch meet­ing hard­wood was over­rid­den only by a fear that at any mo­ment, my foot would be gnawed from my dan­gling leg by a pack of an­gry beavers below. Luck­ily, they weren’t home.

The next span of the Jor­dan looked like cake—wide and sandy with no ob­sta­cles within eye­shot. But looks can be de­ceiv­ing. For 10 steps it was like walk­ing on con­crete. On the 11th, you were buried up to your rear in quick­sand. Demalderis spent 20 min­utes try­ing to lo­cate the soles that had been sucked off his fancy new quickchange-sole boots be­fore giv­ing up. We were ex­hausted and re­ally had no idea how much far­ther we had to go. That’s when we made the de­ci­sion to take to land and face what­ever chal­lenges the swamp pre­sented un­til we hit the dis­tant trees and the road.

Af­ter al­most an hour of slog­ging through an­kle-rolling, knee-twist­ing alder bog that made me fall flat twice, we fi­nally reached the slop­ing line of trees and sweet solid ground. I don’t think we had ever been so happy to see a scrab­bly dirt road. As we caught our breath be­fore walk­ing back to the car, Demalderis cracked a sly smile.

“I think that’s enough wild brook trout fish­ing for me for a while,” he said with a laugh.

“Yup. For me too.”

16

In the Bag A Jor­dan River brookie caught by the au­thor be­fore the wade turned into a slog.

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