John and I launched the canoe for a 3.5 mile fishing expedition upon the Clarion River. From what we were able to see from the road it looked to be a good stretch of deep pools with big boulder sized rocks with back eddies. There were two stretches of unseen water through the forest that we were sure wasn’t fished much by road fishermen and we were hoping these waters were navigable by floating and not dragging.
John was unable to catch any fish Saturday on his fly rod so he decided to arm himself with two spinning rods and Rapala’s and crank baits. My weapon of choice was my 9’ 6wt. Vapor fly rod. I brought along my woolly bugger box, home made poppers, Clouser’s and a few other streamers and crawfish ties. By the time we got the canoe launched the sun was already rising above the luscious green trees along the riverbank and mountain tops. Soft cotton looking clouds dotted the pastel aqua blue morning sky. The air still had an early morning coolness about it but there was no doubt the air would heat up during our Sunday journey.
With the sun already spreading its shine upon most of the water we paddled across river towards the shady distant shore. Johns first mid-river cast only went about 10 yards. He mentioned something about how stiff the line was on the spool from not being used much. Nearer the shore line he casts a second time, plopping his crank bait a few yards from the shore boulders in the shadows of overhanging tree branches. Within three cranks the rod bent toward a hooked fish. Though a good fighting smallie, the heavy duty assault rod didn’t have much trouble getting it to the boat. The smallie was good size and I thought it might be our best for the day. Already the morning looked promising we commented as I lit up a long Brickhouse stogie. It would take another half hour or so before John connected with another smallmouth on a jointed craw fish Rapala.
We fished the river slow and steady, anchoring in good water and thoroughly covering the area before drifting on. John hooked into a couple more as I struggled to get one to bite at one of my offerings. John even offered me his other spinning rod but I declined.
We had anchored about 50 yards up from some white water rapids. A good looking run flowed along riffles that grazed big boulders on the right downriver side. I threw a long cast that placed my brown heavy bugger just shy of the boulders that extended out from a weedy grassy shore. My bugger sank before my fly line took current and began to swing the submerged bugger. I had my fly rod held high moving with the flow when I seen the extended arc in the fly line stop abruptly. I yielded back on the rod and the 7 ½ foot of 4x tapered leader straightened and I felt the hook set. The smaller smallmouth ran its course as I gathered in line and lifted him to the boat. With one smallie caught I felt a little more confidant with each cast of the fly line.
Upon approaching the white capped water we looked the situation over as we drifted nearer. John is a Kayaker so I knew he could read water and would be a good front man. The river isn’t deep in all areas and there are plenty of under water and subsurface boulders that can be hard to pick out within the white water riffles. We talked it over and picked a seam where two stronger currents combined from big exposed rocks on each side of us. John pushed off of one as I steered the canoe, by using the flat of my paddle as a rudder, through and into the next turn. The canoe rocked with the cross current and choppy water as my grip tightened on the wooden handle. With instinct, we both picked out a seam to the left and paddled hard not to drift sideways onto a subsurface rock ledge. I stopped the paddle blade and dug deep into the water and the canoe slowed quickly as the front of the boat swung to the right just left past the rock ledge. John pushed off the ledge with his paddle and we combined to straighten the canoe for our next plan of action. It was a long stretch of rough white water with a slight bend in the river. We knew quick decisions were needed amidst the on coming danger.
I seen where I wanted to be and I let the canoe drift with the current to the right. John knew what I was aiming for and as we drifted down and over I started to shift the canoe to the left and he paddled on his right and straightened the front forward. We hit the seam perfect and shot down through the gradual drop of boiling water rocking side to side as we floated. The river widened and we could see the once full white capped water was now a washboard of rambling riffles, with no doubt hidden rocks laying just below the surface. There were no obvious deep seams or visual escape from the rocky, wavy riffles before us. We both sank our blades in knowing our best plan of action. We paddled quickly getting the canoe moving at a good clip in a straight line. We hoped our speed and momentum would carry us over any shallow rock ledges and keep us from turning or getting hung up. We knew there was some danger of upsetting at the quick speed but I knew if we kept our cool and used our paddles to push off of hazards we would come out high and dry.
The canoe rocked with the turbulent current and we skimmed over shallow flat rocks by either pushing off or shimmying our way through. In an instant we saw what looked like a small falls running off a slate ledge in front of us. There was no time to change course but to take a chance and take it straight on. As we came upon it I seen the falls wasn’t as bad as I perceived it to be. As the front of the canoe cleared the falls I leaned back on my seat to distribute my weight more evenly. John dug deep and paddled trying to keep our momentum going. I heard the flat bottom scrape and flex upon the solid rock below the thin layer of water. With quick strokes he cleared us of the ledge and I pushed away with the paddle without us getting hung up. A few more quick maneuvers in the less turbulent water brought us out onto a wide flat stretch of water and sunshine.
We slowly fished our way down river and into another set of rough water. The main flow of fast water creased the left bank and beyond that a shallow cove appeared behind a jutting, rocky, grassy peninsula on the left. The center of the river deepened and flowed quietly and calmly as well did the far side. Just below the peninsula I dropped anchor in the slower current in order for us to cover the calm tail waters and the shallow cove. I relit my cigar as John was already casting into the cove. With a frog popper, I false cast twice while pulling line out. A quick overhand toss put the popper midstream and after a couple of short tugs, so it gurgled, it drifted with the slow current. For some reason the front of the canoe was angled towards the cove not giving John much of a chance to cast across and up river.
As John worked the cove and water in front of him I back-cast the popper above to my left and single hauled up river a bit and the popper landed into the slow current. I watched the popper for a moment but was more concerned about the boat position. I was turned to my left looking down at the anchor when I heard ‘GALOOMP’!! The sound a fisherman knows as a fish surfaces and gulps down a popper. The louder the ‘galoomp’ the bigger the fish. This was loud enough my instincts took over and I swung the rod tip to my left with hook setting force. Simultaneously John and I turned towards the sound. I’m not sure what John’s first reaction was but I seen the willow colored fly line angled down and away into the deep water. I knew I had him as my rod tip was bowed and line was stripping up off the canoe deck, through my fingers and rod eyes and in a tight line into the water. The fish stayed deep and pulled line out as my reel started to click like a Tommy gun. We started to laugh at the startling commotion. I got the fish turned downriver but was careful of my 6lb tippet. He headed toward us briefly but again took off across the river and he again peeled off line. I was anxious to get him to the surface for a look see but I kept as calm as possible and played him deep. John looked on and we both tried to get a visual. I tossed John the net and he was ready when I gave him the word. I could feel the fish tiring with shorter runs and faster retreats. About ten yards from the boat he surfaced enough that we seen his deep yellow-green body and dark splotches. I tried to force him towards us but he resisted and had enough energy to dive again briefly. I forced him back up and guided him towards John with the long 9’ rod. He scooped him up and we were all smiles!
A little later on in the afternoon we were more into drift fishing covering more water as we were tiring out. On a drift nearer the far bank of overgrown trees and boulder strewn shoreline, John tossed a crawdad jointed lure into the slow cove of water. Within two cranks I heard him holler and looked up to see the spinning rod flexing deeply as he leaned back to fight the fish. John played the fish, letting it take off in short runs, before heaving back on the rod. The solid smallie was John’s biggest of the day.
Later on in the evening I had some help in breaking camp. After they left I reached into my cedar humidor and took out a Rocky Patel Reserve. Kevin says these are great cigars so I figure I’d end the day with this smoke. I stood on the bank of the quiet river and lit the brown Corojo tobacco wrapped cigar.
‘Not bad’ I thought as I took in my first draw.
I hopped into the van and started on my way.
I turned left at the stop sign and drove south on rte. 899. As I crossed over the Clarion River I drove slowly upon the bridge and glanced over the short cement walls. My eyes scanned the flat calm water surface for one last rise. It happens every time!