Let it flow

Back in January when my wife and I started planning our June vacation to Canada, I immediately started searching for places to fish.  Our destination was Wasaga Beach, near the mouth of the Nottawasaga River in southeastern Ontario.  The Nottawasaga is a well-known steelheading river and I’ve even seen a New Flyfisher episode on it, but in early June, I really wasn’t sure what kind of fishing I’d find there.

One of the more confusing aspects of planning the trip was the lack of information available.  The fishing regulations for Ontario are far more complex than those in my home state of Ohio.  The last thing I wanted to do is get busted fishing for the wrong species.  Unfortunately, while the Nottawasaga has an excellent smallmouth bass population, the season for them didn’t open until the week after I’d be heading back to the states, so that left only rainbows, brook trout, and pike.  Given the depth and lake of wade-ability of the Nottawasaga, I decided I was going to focus on fishing for pike and maybe rent a canoe or a kayak to reach them as unlike Ohio, public access in Ontario (at least on this river) is a rarity.  That was really my biggest issue even after I got there.  So much great fishing water but so few places to fish as a visitor.

During the late winter and early spring I started toying around with tying different pike flies based on popular patterns in the region.  I really didn’t know what I was doing other than imitating profiles and color combinations but it was fun regardless even if they didn’t work when I finally went to Canada.  Leading up to the end of May, I packed up my 7 wt (heaviest I have) and all my bigger flies, poppers, and bite wires and was ready to cross the border.

Unfortunately for our beach vacation, the weather was crummy for most of the time we were there.  Other than the last two days, the temps hovered in the mid-50s to low-60s with wind and rain consistently making it feel much cooler.  I have zero reservations to fishing in inclement weather, but I was getting very frustrated with my search for accessible water.  I had found a canoe rental who would put me near some supposedly good pike water for the entire day, but the foul weather had soured my mood and given the little time available to fish on a family vacation, I didn’t want to spend the extra money on a canoe for a full day and only get to fish it for a few hours.

After a recent day trip to the caves near Blue Mountain, we had driven over some rivers marked by signs.  When we got back to the vacation house, I looked up some of the names.  I wasn’t able to find any information on several of them, but I did find some information on the aptly named Pretty River; most importantly, that it had significant stretch of public access.  I learned that in season, it did have a steelhead run, but that in the off seasons it did support a population of native rainbow and brook trout, although there was very little information as to where they’d be found.

Now for a guy from northeastern Ohio, the prospect of fishing for native trout is extremely appealing.  Most of our river systems are not cold enough to support year long trout fisheries.  Those that are are so scarce that urban development, trout clubs, and over-fishing have all but destroyed our native trout species.  While there are still some small populations of native Ohio brook trout, they are generally a well guarded secret.  I even know where to find some, but I’ve never once gone for fear of pressuring the population.  I may, at some point, do it just once for the opportunity to hold one in my hand, but to this point I’ve been reluctant to bother them.

Having found a prospective stream to explore, I came to the aching realization that in my plans to pursue pike, I had cleared out most of the smaller flies from my pack and replaced them with these giant monster flies for the toothy critters.  Not only that, but I suspected my 10ft 7wt rod would not only be difficult to cast in tight quarters, but would make it so that all but the biggest of trout would not be able to put a bend in my rod.  Just the same, it was all I had and I needed some time in the woods.

You know it’s going to be a good spot to fish when there is no parking lot and you just end up having to park on the road on the side of a mountain.  As I got my gear out of the trunk, I checked the map on my phone for some guidance and found that I had zero signal (a fact my wife was pretty upset about later).  Thankfully I have a very good sense of direction and frankly, I’ve never really understood how people can get lost on a river when the water’s flow gives you a consistent path to follow if you pay attention to markers.

Stepping off of the road and into the woods and I was immediately struck by how wild the forest felt.  There were nothing more than deer trails to travel on and even those were overgrown with low hanging branches and lacy ferns.  I followed a crystal clear little feeder creek to the main river and felt as though I was walking back in time.  The forest’s thick canopy made it easy to forget it was mid-morning were it not for the few breaks in its umbrella where sunlight streaked in clearly defined beams through the mist.
I didn’t know what to expect with this stream.  I had no idea what the general size of the fish would be and with so much great trout water, I felt like they had a distinct advantage over this bumbling foreigner.  Without knowing the size of the fish, switched flies many times, altering size, color, and type.  I eventually just went as small as I could go with a teeny beadhead caddis nymph with a small foam spider above.

I wandered through the underbrush until I finally emerged in a beautiful sun drenched wild meadow.  The sunlight glittered off the surface of the river and while the open meadow made me doubtful of remaining unseen to any fish, I welcomed the warmth of the sun after trudging through the cool mist of the thick forest.  I decided that despite not being able to hide myself, it was worth sticking around just for the opportunity to warm up and to also have a little room to cast; something I had been struggling mightily with up to that point with a 10 footer.

Keeping my distance as much as possible, I laid a cast out to the bottom of a riffle as it entered into a slow pool.  As I watched the foam spider drift into the pool, a small trout attacked and missed the spider just as another trout took hold of the caddis nymph.  I almost didn’t realize the nymph had been taking and was about to recast after the miss on the spider, only to find that there was a slight resistance to my backcast.  And I do mean slight.  Had I even brought my 5wt rod, these little fish would have been drastically overmatched, let alone with a 7wt.
Nevertheless, I was now having the time of my life. I had never once had the opportunity to fish for wild trout and although these were all small and young, they were the most beautiful little gems I’ve ever held in my hand.  Each little brookie and rainbow had its own unique parr marks and coloration.  I ended up losing track of how many young trout I caught and stopped taking pictures in a conscious effort to remain in the moment and avoid the technology.  Eventually, I had moved further up river and spotted a larger fish, but not before it spotted me.  I tried to track its retreat but lost it in a knot of old tree roots and undercuts.  Unfortunately it was getting to be almost lunch time and I wasn’t able to wait it out.  I started marching back to the car and amazed, as always, how quickly the walk back goes when you’re not stopping to cast to every fishy-looking spot.  You feel like you’ve traveled so much further but in this case, it was only a half hour hike back.
It’s interesting to me that although I had prepped and packed for big nasty pike in a deep and wide river on a boat, I ended up finding something I loved in a small mountain stream with beautiful little trout and serene surroundings.  You can have all the best laid plans but there’s value in dropping your agenda and just going where serendipity leads you.

One thought on “Let it flow

  1. Great read. I always find it incredibly interesting to read or hear a different perspective on what I consider my home waters. It makes me realise that I shouldn’t take for granted how lucky I am to have such a great resource right in my own back yard.


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