Why are avid Opening Day anglers so willing to wade through hip boot-deep snow, tangle with impenetrable tag alder, duck dive bombing kingfishers, and freeze their fingers for a little 7-inch fish? Legendary Yooper judge, writer and trout bum John Voelker hit the nail on the head in "Testament of a Fisherman:" I fish because I love to; I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found which are invariably ugly; because of all the cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I escape; because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bribed or impressed with power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid."
Tomorrow isn't just any old Saturday. It's Opening Day of brookie season, a leading spiritual and sporting holiday where fishermen flock to their favorite holy waters in search of Salvelinus fontinalis, a fish so sacred and revered, you can hardly speak its name.
Opening Day casts a powerful spell on trout fishermen, and I'm no exception. In preparation, I've been scouting Woodtick Crick for the past couple of weeks and everything's in order and art directed to the hilt for tomorrow. Her rapids, riffles, falls, cascades and plunge pools are in peak condition and flowing nicely. Her color is perfect, like Leinie Creamy Dark with a foamy head clinging to her log jams. Her beaver dams and meadows are still frozen over.
Verna Equinox has all her flora and fauna just the way I like them. Trout lilies are in bloom right on schedule. Soaking wet moss and aromatic cedar thickets tickle your nostrils. Crocus and trilliums poke through the natural compost of last fall's rotting leaves, perfectly hydrated by the melting remnant snow patch conveniently located nearby. Adder tongues, dogtooth violets, rue anemones, bloodroot and marsh marigolds add fragrance and splashes of color to the stream banks, and you never can tell when you'll run into a patch of morels.
Opening Day brookies tend to sleep in, and so do I. Even with all the fame and reverence that comes with being Michigan's state fish, brookies remain modest and unassuming. They are way cool and notorious for not biting until you get there.
Icy water temperatures make them sluggish. Their metabolism is slowed down to the speed of a glacier, and with the high, fast water delivering a smorgasbord right to their door, they don't have to go out to eat. You have to put it in the strike zone, right in front of their noses.
Look for the fishiest-looking water you can find; calm pocket water out of the main flow. Drift your fly, crawler or spinner through the downstream side of boulders and logs wherever they divert the flow, the smooth seam at the edge of rapids and riffles, undercut banks, and deep pools, especially where foam accumulates on the surface. Foam traps food and provides cover and protection from predators.
You know how the Gratiot River is out of its banks where U.S. Highway 41 crosses it northa the Whitehouse in Mohawk? During times of high water like this, brookies have to be careful not to stray too far out into the flood plain so they can't get back to the main channel when the water recedes. Getting hung up high and dry in the tag alders is bad for brookies, good for the otters and kingfishers.
Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at jjunttila@ chartermi.net.