Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Adventures in Canoeing on the Rogue River

The Rogue River, through Rockford to its
mouth at the Grand River (our journey)
This post is tremendously overdue.

Although many details have faded due to the time elapsed (it's been almost two weeks since our trip to Michigan!) I feel obligated to record at least part of the story. As I mentioned recently, things have been pretty crazy. I left my job at Columbia College Chicago, started a new one at ChartCapture, and have spent most of my free time fishing. The idea of sitting back down at the computer has not been appealing to me, so I haven't done it! I sit here now, fueled by a big ol' cup of coffee, hoping to get this little story out there and get my personal fishing records all caught up.

I've mentioned my fishing mentors various times here; Mark, Rob, and Luke. They are the trio who introduced me to fishing, got me hooked, and have provided lots of hints and tips along the way. Almost every time Claire and I head back to Michigan for a birthday, holiday, gig, or whatever, I end up fishing with at least one of these guys.

The last trip to Michigan was no different- at 5am (4am my time) I was at Rob's house, trying to down enough coffee to make sense of things, ready for my first time in a canoe.

Turns out, three people in a canoe may not be ideal. Although I've spent a lot of time in kayaks (in the past two years) I'd never been in a canoe until then. It was hard for me to judge whether canoes are just incredibly unstable, or our canoe shouldn't have really had three big dudes in it. Rob, Mark, and I arrived at the Rogue river before sunrise and started casting. Our quarry was trout, and on one of his first casts Rob landed what turned out to be the nicest fish of the day, a 14" brown. Somehow, the only picture I got of it was right before we ate it a few hours later. It was delicious.

EDIT: I found the "before" picture...

What a nice fish right there
What a great fish: great fight, super pretty colors, very tasty
We hopped in the canoe, paddling downstream with the hopes of covering a lot of water. Almost immediately it was clear it was going to be an adventure; even the smallest set of rapids gave us grief, the canoe pounding the rocks, throwing us off balance, teetering closer and closer to the water. One of our first direct hits jolted the canoe, almost tossing us out into the river. Mark was in front "watching for rocks" (each rock would be announced milliseconds before we slammed into it! it made for exciting canoeing) Rob was in back "steering" (who knows where we were going) and I was in the middle doing my best not to rock the boat. Most of the time I crouched down in the canoe, my knuckles white as snow as I clutched the side, expecting a cold river-water ejection any moment.

We hit a big rock, the canoe tipped to the verge of flipping; Mark fell backwards onto me and his ultralight rod, snapping either the rod or me, I couldn't tell. Turns out it was the rod. I have to give mad props to these two gentlemen; for the amount of trouble we had getting down the river, I don't think I heard a single profanity escape their lips! Me on the other hand, well... Let's just say there were two streams that morning: the river, and what was coming from my mouth.

As the morning went on, Mark and Rob both caught trout on little tiny spinners. I was amazed such small spinners could even be cast, let alone land 8-10" rainbow trout. Rob graciously let me borrow one of his ity-bity spinners, which I tied on with haste. I proceeded to miss what seemed like hundreds of trout taking swipes at my spinner. Some of them launched clear out of the water, but none of them connected.

It was exciting and frustrating. I varied my retrieves, faster, slower, faster still; and finally somehow managed to hook my first fish of the day. Before a picture could be taken, the little rainbow propelled itself out of my hands and returned to the water. Soon after that I landed my first brown trout that wasn't a tiny 5" juvenile. Rob came over to document the moment for me; he also documented the exact moment the little brown decided it was time to return to the water, as I desperately tried to keep it in my hands.

Check out that pretty little brown!
..and then it released itself
Great! I caught a brown trout, something that is more or less impossible in Illinois (you can catch them in Lake Michigan, but I've never been able to).

We headed downstream, my knuckles burning from gripping the canoe so tightly, Mark's still functioning malformed and broken rod still able to catch fish, Rob trying to disguise his worry every time we heard scraping and breaking sounds come from the bottom of the canoe... It was a great time. Between rapids I shoved beef jerky and trail mix in my mouth. It was good I wasn't paddling; I would have definitely put us all in the water.

Every time we encountered a fishy spot, we hopped out of the canoe and fished it. As the day went on and wives inquired to our location, we realized we didn't know where we were. My phone had no service; Mark and Rob had partial service. We realized we had a long way to go, and decided to push down the river in earnest.

One of the two rainbows I caught that morning
As we headed downstream, I was amazed how the character of the river changed from stretch to stretch. Some places shallow and rocky with fast current, others deeper sand flats, others rocks and gravel and sand with slower current, others just mud. Astounded would be too light a word to describe how I felt about the water clarity; for the most part I could see completely to the bottom through the gin-clear water. It was awesome.

At one point we reached a set of rapids clearly too much for our overloaded boat. I got out to carry some gear through the forest while Mark and Rob- expert canoe-ists- managed the rapids. I filmed their journey with my camera, but upon later viewing it was clear what the camera saw and they experienced were too different things. What shows up as a .mov file on my computer looks like an easy float downstream I'm sure caused their lives to flash before their eyes.

We desperately paddled (by we I mean they, since I was on canoe-clutching duty sitting in the middle) as the clock ticked and the day aged. Rob suggested I cast a bit while we canoed, so I did. We reached an area that looked like smallie territory, and Rob confirmed indeed it was. Smallies and trout, in one river? My mind exploded a little, but it didn't stop me from casting. Every so often Mark or Rob would point out a particular spot, I'd cast there, hopefully not catching my lure on anything. There was one close call with a tube jig: I had to cut the line or else the force of the canoe might have pulled the rod out of my hands!

As we floated down river, I cast to a spot Rob suggested and immediately hooked into a fish- I yelled "Fish!" My fishing partners put the brakes on the boat as I fought with a small monster- a monster I'm much more familiar with than those Michigan trout... I pulled out a very nice Michigan smallmouth bass on my go-to white twister tail.

Check out those colors
That fish was enough to halt our journey; the other two guys jumped out of the canoe and started fishing. Almost right away I connected with another fish, and a few casts later got him to commit. Thanks to Mark for manning the camera!

Big ol' rock bass from the Rogue River
A few minutes later Rob landed a smallie as well, but I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge how much bigger mine was. I've learned a lot from my fishing mentors, including how to give each other &$%# for their tiny fish.

Rob and an ok smallie (just kidding, it was great)
Pretty soon it was time to head out. We passed a lot more fishy looking spots that almost certainly held fish, but we were already more than an hour behind schedule. Somebody had underestimated the length of our journey. (I'm talking to you Rob!) Not that I'm complaining, I thought it was great. I could have fished that river all day.

When all was said and done, we had traveled more than 7 miles on the Rogue River, caught a bunch of fish, almost died about twenty times, one of us got a leech on his leg (hint: it wasn't me), and we created some real nice memories. They will stay with us for a long time, maybe even longer than the deep gouges on the canoe.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff Chris, you are really getting out there. I have yet to catch a brown trout. :D


Tell me what you think!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.