Fishing the North Branch of the Lamoille

This following essay is written by guest Jed Feffer, who is a mutual friend of North Carolina bamboo rodmaker Munsey Wheby. Jed is a retired teacher, and  he has been fly fishing for nearly 20 years. Like me, Jed often feels a strong sense of connection, while fishing.  “It can give me a heightened sense of the small details around me,” Jed writes.  It’s my pleasure to share his great piece. Both the writing and the pictures are his.

 

Fishing the North Branch of the Lamoille

Driving up over Eden Mountain Road is a joy.   There is the cooling of the air, and at the peak a stained barn, stately and dark.   The bark of the bordering maple trees are like the barn wood.  The inhabitants have built on the wall, and by the border trees statuaries of stone.  These are pillars of varying sizes and shapes, that add a fanciful touch to Eden Mountain Road, and the neighboring woods.  Someday, I will stop there to gaze over the southerly view, where the mountains, hills and farm fields fan out.

Usually, I am in a hurry to the town of Eden Mills, then farther to Belvidere Center, where the North Branch of the Lamoille begins its sparkling descent to the Lamoille.  Today, I pay more attention to the northerly view.  I consult my map, and find the peak to the north is Belvidere Mountain.  The Long Trail winds its way to its peak and beyond.  I note its closeness to our home in Greensboro.  It would be an easy day hike.  I think how brilliantly alive the trees would be in the fall, and how bracing the air with the sweet smells of leaf dryness and decay.

Below and out of sight is Lake Eden, the source of the Gihon River, and beyond that the bog that gives rise to the North Branch.  I remember the loss of a large Brown in the pool off Bog Road.  I was using a weighted stonefly nymph, and as it swept into the current I felt the snag of a rock.  Pulling up on the rod tip the snag began to move across the pool.  I was tight to a large fish.  As I drew it to the lip of my net I could see its mottled back and hooked jaw.  The net sent it shooting behind a rock wedged against the riffles.  It only took the pressure of the water and the stone to pry loose the hook.

That loss I note whenever I pass by Bog Road south into Belvidere Center, and then downstream to Back Road.  The section of the North Branch paralleling Back Road is one of its prettiest.  Back Road runs on the other side of the river from Route 109.  But Back Road carries with it a peaceful sway that Route 109 cannot possess.

It is a dirt road with curves and shadows, and houses set  along its length, and even a single covered bridge.  My first stop is where the road veers to the woods.   Across the way is the prettiest white house and barn you can imagine.  Rarely is anyone home, yet the house is clearly furnished, and the lawn  always trimmed.   The house is newly painted, and the other out buildings are well spaced.  Today, while walking back from fishing, I notice the screened in porch, and the shaded kitchen with table and appliances.  You know, a home away from home for a weary fisherman.

I have not forgotten fishing on the North Branch, but the details surrounding water, roadway, mountain, and house are all part of it.  They are at least half of the reason for going.

Today, it has just passed 1:00 p.m.  I have already eaten half my lunch under a blue spruce near the Eden General Store.  I’ve passed the upstream spots I’ve previously fished, and the others that I have ignored for lack of easy access.  I like stopping by the white house and its garage.   The road’s sway beckons the fisherman out of his car, and into the woods bordering the stream.

Today, I string up a 3 weight fly rod with a 4 weight line.  I am going to wet wade because the air is 75 degrees.  I tie on a small muddler minnow to my leader.  It’s been so long since I used a muddler minnow.  It has a cleanly cut deer hair head and a thin body of tinsel.  As a teen-ager I used them to catch brook trout.  All the stones in the North Branch must have sculpins darting amongst them.  The muddler minnow is a good sculpin imitation.

Bamboo and Nickle Silver: the Tools of the Trade

I’ve spotted a couple of nice runs that should have fish in them.  I wade over to a deep run, but multiple casts of the muddler yield no strikes.  I notice that in this fast run the muddler doesn’t have the weight to achieve any depth, and it swims only a few inches below the surface.   Midday fish are likely hiding down close to the rocks.

Inspection of the bottom reveals many caddis homes, one large stonefly nymph, and many mayfly nymphs.  I decide to nymph with split shot, a yellow plastic “indicator” and a gray and brown pheasant tail nymph, highlighted by a gold bead.  This is a good imitation of the nymphs on the underside of the  rock.  I swing my line upstream, so the nymph sweeps into the run.  This I do a half-dozen times without a strike, so I adjust the indicator to achieve more depth when the nymph hits the run.  I cast further upstream to give the nymph more time to gain depth.

Then it happens, a fish is on before my brain is aware of it.  My hand knows it, as the fish peels line out of the old Hardy reel.  This fish fights hard for its size and puts a good bend in the cane rod.  In a few minutes, I have a gold bellied trout to net.  It has big irregular spotting on its back.  I notice its eye has that subtle awareness of its surroundings.  I hold him in the water to release him.  He quickly clears my hand with a friskiness that speaks health and vigor.

I make my way downstream appraising the depth of the water, and adjusting the leader length accordingly.  Water depth is constantly changing in a stream, and for my nymph rig to be effective I have to change the distance of the indicator to the nymph.  The indicator keeps my nymph moving in a straight line as it flows with the current.  Separating the indicator further from the nymph allows it to move at a greater depth.

Now I am in water inches deep, and I get strong, rapid slashes at the nymph.  The fish are hungry and they are spotting the nymph quickly and grabbing it.

As I fish these riffles I notice the tall, red barked Hemlocks that shade the river, and the light, new green growth of their leaves.  The bank is thick with birch and beech trees.  There’s a bench above the river bordered by pink and purple lupines.

I’ve brought in 3 fish so far.  The last one jumped suddenly in the riffles.  I’ve also lost four or more fish to insecure hook sets.  Still, the action is frequent and surprising.  These fish are holding in small water among the rocks.  They are getting the shelter and aerated water they need.

The Eye of Awareness

I’m so immersed in the fishing I fail to grasp how my nymph gets caught on the back of my shirt.  When these things happen in fishing they prove all but overwhelming.  I see the direction the hook has taken, but tugging on the hook only creates a tear in the material.

I decide finally to take off my shirt.  Standing bare chested I try and find a way to remove the hook.  It’s too late.  All my tugging has broken the hook and my pheasant tail nymph can no longer be used.  I don’t have another one like it.

Fishermen are inclined to invest supernatural powers to flies.  When they are working they exert magical power.  I have placed my trust more in this fly than is warranted, and my confidence drops.

I try any number of other nymph varieties: a beaded black nymph, a hare’s ear with green irridescent sides, and a brass beaded pheasant tail.  None produce like the dull brown and gray nymph.  I attribute this to “Fisherman’s Magic”; the desire that imbues a fly with magical enchantment.  A logical explanation is that the little nymph is like all the common mayfly nymphs that cling to river rocks.  These are the nymphs the trout know and expect.  Enough of reasonable conclusions.  Better to have a talisman, a lucky rabbit’s foot, an enchanted trout fly.

As I work my way downstream a boy emerges by the shore on his bicycle.  “Catch anything”? he asks.

“Yeah,” I call back, “3 and lost 4 or 5.”

“If you caught them, where are they?” he asks incredulously.

“Oh, I let them go.”

“My dad makes me do that.”  He adds sorrowfully.

He continues to ask me more questions about the fly, about the rod, the leader and tippet.  I satisfy most of his questions, and he pushes his bike up some steps to a dirt path and disappears.

I realize by now that I am getting tired.  I am slipping more on the rocks.  I find myself less patient with the surrounding flow of the water, and I am getting hungry.  It is really time to leave, but as the light wanes I imagine the large browns moving from their hiding places, and assuming evening feeding lanes.  How can I go home now, just as the biggest fish of all are beginning to stir?

I walk up the stairs, down the path to Back Road, and to my car across from the white house.  I will drive down to another spot.  I find one about a half mile down the road.  After getting out of my car, I can see a large, shaded pool.  I find a way to the river, careful to take my wading staff.

I approach the slow, dark pool and see the faint rings of a rising trout.  As I watch, the back of a fish breaks the surface.  This trout is rooting for nymphs.  As these fish feed, a couple mayfly spinners dance on a column of air.  A few white mayflies rise casually above the water.

On the far side of this dark pool a trout makes two gulping rises.  I take off my mayfly nymph, and tie on a lightly colored mayfly dun.  It’s a tricky cast to this rising fish because the fly has to pass over the fish, just as the water speeds up over some debris.    When I retrieve the fly back over the lip of wood, it intercepts a branch sticking out of the water.  This branch proves to be a graveyard for my flies.  I lose three flies in a row to this branch.

The Last Pool of the Day

I have nothing complimentary to say to this branch.  The rising fish knows just how to keep me interested in this difficult target.  On one of many casts he seems to boil near my fly as I retrieve it.  I am never sure whether he is chasing a real insect, or pursuing my fly.  This mystery, and the difficulty of the cast keep me casting to him.

If this fish proves irresistible, then another huge fish to my left increases my interest in staying.  The fish looks to be the size of a small beaver, as its back and fin come out of the water.

I continue to cast my dry fly first to the fish by the lip of wood, and then to the giant who just showed himself.  But my hunger, and the growing darkness are playing on my nerves.  I am beginning to dream of a warm dry place with plenty of food.  I reluctantly turn toward the shore, and wade in the direction of my car.

The drive back down Eden Mountain Road will be in the opposite direction, but the stone statuary will still be there, and the darkly stained barn.  I will keep in my memory that one riser by the lip of woody debris, and his tag team companion boiling in the center of the pool.  They will keep me coming back to the North Branch for another day of fishing.

 

 

 

 

 

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