Northern Wilds Magazine
Points North

Points North: The Time Is Right for North Shore Brookies

Sometimes, you just know the time is right. Last week, cold, wet weather gave way to a couple of days of sunshine and North Shore streams were running fresh and full. The conditions were prime for brook trout fishing. After munching antibiotics for a week to beat back a nasty sinus infection, I was ready to exercise my casting arm.

Parked beside the bridge of a Cook County creek, I went through the familiar rituals. First, before opening the truck door, I daubed on insect repellant. Getting out, I slid into my chest waders and pulled a favorite five-weight fly rod from its case. Peering at a box of flies, I selected a dark-bodied wet fly with a white wing—potent medicine for midsummer brookies.

My fishing strategy was simple—start at the bridge and wade downstream. I’d fished this stretch only once previously, but was impressed with what I found. Unlike most North Shore creeks, it was wide enough to wade and fly-cast without getting hung up in the brush. Brook trout—mostly 8-inchers—were plentiful, with enough 10-inch whoppers mixed in to keep things interesting. If the fishing was good, I planned to keep a few trout for dinner.

Stripping out a few feet of fly line, I started casting the fly across the stream and letting it swing below me in the current. Soon I had a strike. Two casts later, I caught and released a small brook trout. Hopefully, its larger kin were hungry, too. They were. Before I rounded the first bend, I’d released four brookies and missed several strikes.

Trout fishing is funny. When the water is too cold, too warm, or too high, you might think even a good river is devoid of fish. However, when conditions are just right, it seems like there is a trout behind every rock. On this evening, the trout were in the mood.

I waded carefully downstream, casting into every likely spot. The bottom of the stream was paved with slippery boulders, which were invisible beneath the knee deep water due to surface glare. The boulders created what was essentially an endless riffle, occasionally punctuated with pockets of quiet water and small pools. The active trout were deeper pools, where the tumbling currents were somewhat slower. Usually, the first pass of a fly drew a hard strike.

While the river was wide enough for easy casting, occasionally, my back cast became tangled in bank side brush or an overhanging tree. For a fly fisherman, this just part of the game. When I left a productive fly hanging from a black ash, I tried a couple patterns that didn’t work as well. Finally, I sat down on a streamside boulder, tied on a new tippet and rummaged through my flies to find something similar to the one I’d lost.

The next pool was the best in this stretch. The current ran through a deep slot and woody debris provided good trout cover along the bank. The first cast drew a hard strike and connected me with a larger than average fish. I played it carefully, allowing it take a few feet of line as it bulldogged through the pool. Eventually, I brought the fat 11-incher to hand. It was the largest trout I’d landed, so I decided to keep it.

One 11-inch brook trout does not make dinner for two, so now I had a mission—catch and keep two or three more. The same pool produced two nine-inchers. One flopped off the hook as I try to land it and the other leapt out of my hand and back into the stream. So far, my mission was proving impossible.

I kept wading downstream, but the character of the river changed. The gradient became steeper, so there were fewer trout-holding pools. Continuing around one bend, and then the next one, I managed to land a couple of trout big enough to keep. By now, I wasn’t sure how far it was back to my starting point, which I would reach only by slogging upstream. While the spirit of adventure was still with me, daylight was waning and I reluctantly decided to turn around.

By happenstance, I found a well-used path along the bank. It headed uphill, away from the river, but was angling upstream. I decided to follow it, since walking through the woods beat stumbling over slippery stream-bottom boulders. Soon I was on a ridge high above the river, which I could hear down below. Eventually, the path turned away from the river, so I continued heading upstream along the ridge, until I came to a gully that led me back to the river just downstream from the good pool.

Hoping to catch one more trout for a meal, I tried the good pool and missed a solitary strike. Fishing upstream with a wet fly wasn’t easy and I had no action as I waded up to the bridge. Finally, in the pool below the bridge, a good trout thumped the fly. It was another chunky 11-incher. With four trout, I now had the makings of a meal.

Back at the truck, I did the reverse of my earlier ritual. I was soaked in perspiration from the hike out and bug bitten where the sweat washed off the repellant. But after a couple of good swallows of water, I felt just fine except for one thing. My casting arm needs another workout, and soon.

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