By Andrew Cremata
After bushwhacking through a dense alder stand, I entered a small clearing lined with shrubs bursting with ripe blueberries. A little farther along, two spruce trees framed calm waters. The faint sound of rushing water somewhere in the distance permeated the abject stillness. I steadied myself while cautiously stepping out on loose rocks covered in various shades of lichen.
Large schools of grayling were visible in every direction. Their dorsal sails shimmered as they twisted and turned toward insects trapped in the expanse between lake surface and bottom. Long strands of mint-green algae growing out of control gave the entire lake an odd chartreuse hue against a cloudless pale-blue morning sky.
Out in the open, the sound of rushing water was more palpable. Just north of my position, the lake funnels through a narrow slot between two large rock shoulders. Nearer the outflow, grayling feed on anything unable to escape the steadily strengthening current. The fierce rapids fall about 150 yards to another section of the lake where the water calms yet again. It is yet another excellent fishing spot for many of the same reasons.
Catching grayling is certainly fun and I won’t say no to a plate of grayling and eggs, but I much prefer to catch trout. Typically, trout occupy deeper water just beyond schooling grayling. Bouncing a spoon along the bottom usually catches lake trout in this environment. This year, unusually warm water forced lake trout to move into deeper water. For at least two months, catching lakers from shore has been virtually impossible.
I ignored the rising grayling and tied on a small spoon. Bouncing a lure on the bottom is difficult when it’s entirely covered with algae, which is yet another side effect of the warm water. Every cast yielded a thick clump of waterlogged green slime, so I acquiesced to the conditions and targeted grayling.
Using a small mosquito pattern fly and a torpedo bobber, I cast toward the calm water about 10 feet in front of the rapids. When the current captured the bobber, the fly slowly lifted toward the surface, causing grayling to attack with wild abandon. It took less than 15 minutes to limit out.
Trout notwithstanding, that’s a pretty good way to start a day of fishing. After packing up my gear, I worked my way down to the calm water beneath the rapids. The water was dead calm. Grayling were everywhere. Lake trout were nonexistent.
It was then that I had what seemed like a spectacular idea. Many years ago, I fished a deep pool located about halfway up the rapids. It only produced fish during late summer, but I remembered pulling some large trout out of that hole.
Conditions had to be perfect. If lake levels were high, the rapids were too strong. This meant that the spot was rarely fishable. This year, water levels on the lake are far lower than normal, so I packed up my gear and trekked over the rock shoulder in search of elusive lake trout.
Reaching the hole requires climbing down a 20-foot-high sheer rock cliff to a small gravel strand barely large enough for one angler. This was probably the first time in 15 years I’d fished this spot, but I immediately recalled my fear that a bear would suddenly appear atop the cliff. In such a scenario the only means of escape would require a wild ride through rocky rapids with a giant ursine terror in hot pursuit. I left the fish in my bag at the top of the cliff, along with my net.
The roar of the rapids was deafening as I tossed a heavy spoon just above the deep pool. The lure fluttered toward the bottom, occasionally sparkling in the late morning sunlight. The presentation was perfect, but I was still surprised when the rod bent double and began spastically jerking.
I could see the trout fighting for its life in the clear water. At first, it turned its nose toward the bottom in an effort to remain in the deep hole between two large boulders. Realizing that it could no longer seek solace in its hidey-hole, the trout quickly changed course toward fast-moving water. All I could do was hold on and put hard pressure on the fish, hoping it would turn toward a calmer backwater immediately to my left. This is exactly what happened.
Making up the last few yards of line, the trout rolled onto its side just below my feet. It was a 24-inch lunker adorned with bright red and yellow fins. I reached down to grab my net and remembered it was 20 feet above my head.
At that moment, the lake trout suddenly came to life in a spastic frenzy of twists and rolls. My fishing line suddenly snapped above the spoon’s swivel. Still visible in the shallows, the laker trashed to free the hook from its mouth. As it swam away, I watched my lure flutter into the depths of the rapids and disappear in a thick clump of green algae.
I don’t like losing trout, but I was still pretty happy about finding one. Figuring there may be a few more lurking in the depths, I tied on another lure and tossed it into turgid water just above the deep hole.
The hit was almost immediate. My fishing rod ratcheted downward into a distended arc. Then I heard a loud crack that was audible even above the din of rushing rapids. The rod suddenly went limp. Then I saw that it was broken in half just below the ferrule where shards of splintered graphite told a story of failure.
The sudden loss of tension allowed the trout to shake the lure loose. I pulled my spoon in by hand and it was covered in a massive clump of waterlogged algae that weighed at least two pounds.
It was a one-mile walk back to my car. I grabbed another fishing rod and hiked back out to the rapids for another round because I’m an obsessed fisherman with an unwavering belief in the potential of one more cast.
Thirty minutes later, I conceded to the trout.
No matter. I’d rather seek glory in the rapids and ultimately fail than play it safe in calm waters. Grayling tastes good, but catching trout is far more rewarding.