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Points North: There and back on a springtime expedition

Spring on the North Shore
Spring on the North Shore

"Let's pack a lunch and go on an expedition tomorrow," I told Vikki last Saturday.

"Where are you taking me?" was all she asked.

"Let's try to find some brook trout for dinner," was my reply.

We didn't have to go very far-no more than 20 miles--to find them, but in Hovland even a 20-mile backwoods drive is an expedition. So Sunday morning we packed a lunch and a fishing rod and headed into the woods. We followed a series of forest roads that eventually diminished from graded gravel to ruts and rocks.

We were headed for the middle of nowhere, but we weren't alone. First we met a pickup with a sled dog box on the back. Then we came upon three fellows sitting beside the road on their ATVs. A little while later, a lone ATV rider came up from behind. When we pulled over to let him pass, he paused as he came alongside.

"The road gets really rough up ahead," he warned.

"I know where we are," I answered.

The road was rough, but that's why I was driving a four-wheel drive truck with 10-ply tires. In this country, you need to worry about jutting rocks more than bottomless mud holes. If you have high clearance, you can go down just about any rutted pathway where your truck fits between the trees.

This theory was soon put the test as we turned on a logging road that presumably led to a trout pool someone once described to me. My hope is that we could drive, then hike along old logging roads until we were near the stream. For a scouting trout fisherman, hope springs eternal, even though it doesn't always pan out. The logging road became narrower as we went, appearing to be kept open primarily by ATV traffic.

Eventually we came to a place where young trees were overhanging the road. I got out and walked ahead to see if we could drive any farther. The truck could pass beneath the overhangs and I broke back some alder brush to widen the corridor. Then we went forward, climbing a ridge and dropping down the other side into the stream valley, where the road ended in an aspen thicket growing back in an old cutting. On the edge of the thicket was a black spruce swamp and somewhere in the midst of it was the stream.

I knew the swamp was downstream from the honey hole we were seeking. Instead of taking Vikki along on a nasty forced march through the swamp, with a likely outcome of not finding a place to fish, I decided to continue this particular exploration at a later date. Not far away was another trout stream with a good pool to fish.

So off we went, parking the truck at the stream crossing and following a short path to the pool. Actually, it is more of a pond than a pool. In the spring, hungry brook trout congregate where the creek current runs into ponds like this one. I was hoping to find some here. If not, it was still a fine place to enjoy the day. Vikki found a comfortable place to sit and I started fishing.

My first offering was a garden worm suspended beneath a float. Some fly-fishing readers might sniff at my less than puritanical ways, but a worm can work wonders for early spring brookies. Interestingly, my gardens were already so dry it took a surprising amount of digging to uncover a paltry five worms. I let the float carry my offering in the current, but didn't find any takers. Next I tried casting a tiny Red Eye, which attracted a few minnow followers. Vikki got bored and walked back to the truck. I finished up with a few casts using a minuscule crawfish-colored Rapala, which looked good to me, but apparently not to the brook trout.

Although I didn't check the water temperature, the creek had a decent flow, especially considering the lower reaches of North Shore streams are essentially too low to fish for spring-spawning steelhead. That said, it's really dry in the woods and unfortunately, not as dry as it may get before our spring drought eventually breaks. Twice during the day I heard the familiar drone of the U.S. Forest Service Beaver from Ely flying wildfire reconnaissance.

Continuing on, the forest roads eventually got better as we approached, if not civilization, at least more traveled backcountry. We stopped and
looked for rocks (one of Vikki's favorite pastimes) in a gravel pit, marveling at what may be the world's largest inuksuk: three huge boulders stacked atop one another like a stone snowman. While we were there, a couple of trucks and an ATV passed by-the first people we'd seen in several hours.

We ate our sandwiches at the gravel pit and then kept going, taking by choice the long way home. We stopped by a lake that was barely ice-free by the fishing opener last year. This spring, a month prior to the opener, the ice was already gone. Then I tried a few futile casts in another brook trout creek. It was good that we weren't counting on a fresh fish dinner.

Now the shadows were growing long and, hopefully, some wildlife would wander out to the road. We'd seen a few moose tracks and wanted to encounter a live critter. Unfortunately, our luck for catching brook trout and seeing moose was the same-bad. On the rest of our drive we saw a few grouse (including five in a half-mile stretch), a few ducks, a pair of geese and two beavers.

Maybe next time we'll see a moose or catch a couple of brookies for dinner. I might even find that secret fishing hole. At any rate it won't be long before Vikki and I set off on another expedition.

Airdate: April 23, 2010