We take the logging road to the river and park near a recent clear-cut. The dim morning light rains down through gaps in the pines, illuminating the gravel road and sparkling off of the hemlock needles still wet with dew. We traverse the grown-up trail and arrive in time to see a pair of elusive kingfishers dart into the spruce scrub.
Towering pines enclose the river on both sides, their rugged, moss-covered branches battling the constant wind. The forest is dark, dense, and close. It varies between white birch, beech, maple, and oak on the deciduous side to spruce, pine, tamarack, and hemlock on the coniferous side, with sharp division lines between the species. Queen Anne’s lace, miniature daffodils, and alpine lupines peer up through the layer of pine needles in the occasional clearing. Behind the trees, mountains rise up to massive dimensions, their bouldered bald pates straining to catch glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean. The North Country can leave one breathless.
An osprey wavers overhead, searching for the trout that I hope to catch. His job is difficult, for these northern rivers are powerful and complex. Crashing rapids pour into endlessly dark pools. The perpetual waves and rolls, terrible in their strength and height, careen through rocky riverbeds before relaxing in the occasional flatwater stretch. The roiling water beats at the legs of the fisherman as he tries to steady himself against the current. The trout are not there, in the racing rapids; they are in the pockets that line the side of the river. Quite often the river will turn off into a corner, tumble gently over a bed of rocks, and glide over a pool that is overhung with branches. This is where the trout rest and feed, capitalizing on the flat water and the abundant food.
We fan out across the river and set to work. One gets a brookie right away, another lands a small rainbow. I compete with myself to mend the line in midair and place my Hornburg as close as possible to the overhanging branches, where the trout are likely to be. Few casts are perfect; each time, I watch the fly run down the riffle and into the darkness of the pool where various larvae, nymphs, and pine needles coat the surface of the water.
My turn finally arrives when I hook a brook trout near the top of the stretch. It’s first few tugs are deceivingly light. When I land it, I am transfixed by its shimmering beauty. It explodes with color. Blue, green, silver, grey, red, orange, purple, and more, all of which are covered in a myriad of dark grey spots, speckles, and white-rimmed circles. A flick of the tail, and he is gone. I’m sweating, and the sun has just come up.