KALKASKA — You have to really want to fish the kind of places where Chuck Emmert fishes for brook trout. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s more like bushwhacking through the jungle.
We were on a small stream more than a quarter-mile from the nearest road, through mostly young growth that wants to trip you with every step you take and when you get there, that’s when the fun really begins. It’s alder-choked and surrounded by vegetation — like nettles and wild roses — that will hurt you if you are not paying attention. And it’s easy to lose your balance in the muddy bottom that threatens to pull your boots off with nearly every step. If I come out of one of these expeditions with no scars, I consider it an accomplishment.
But Emmert, who has been doing this since he was in single digits — he’s eyeing Social Security now — pays it no mind.
He dropped to his hands and knees as we approached his first hole and crawled within a rod’s length of the bank. Stealth, he said, is a key.
“All trout are skittish and that shadow factor is a big thing,” he said, pointing out that the sun was behind us. “I’ve scared away so many trout over the years just by waving my hand across the stream. I’ve seen it happen — more than once.”
Emmet pulled some line off his reel, stuck his rod through a small opening in the alders, and dropped a red worm (on a size 4 hook with a small split a couple of inches in front of it) into the water and seconds later, set the hook. He hauled out a small brookie, large enough to keep legally (i.e. 7 inches) but not what he was looking for. He probed the hole again to no avail and we moved on.
He caught a second brook trout at the next hole (about 25 yards away) that was a little better than 8 inches. He put it into a plastic zip-lock bag with some water in it and put it in a canvas creel.
Then it was my turn. I caught a nice fish (say 10 inches). And that’s when Emmert really kicked it into gear. He caught four keepers in a row and was releasing fish before I had my second. He was just that much better at making every presentation count.
“Sometime you get those spots where you get one shot at it and if you get hung up, very seldom do you get a second chance,” he said. “You spook them and you’re done.”
That was my big issue: I wasn’t making my first shot count. I’d made two mistakes when gearing up: I was using a 6.5-foot rod (a longer rod is almost de rigueur for this style of fishing) and I was using braided line — I was experimenting to see if it had an application for this kind of fishing. It does not. It’s too limp and when it hangs on a branch (and it will) you can’t shake it off, as you can with mono.
We worked our way upstream, ignoring most of the stream and concentrating on only the deeper holes, almost of all which had logs or tree branches in and around them. You had to shoehorn your bait in and get it back out before the current took it someplace you didn’t want it to be. That’s a key, too; you need enough weight to get the bait down to the bottom, but not so much that it won’t be swept downstream to where the fish are hiding.
It took us about three hours to cover what I imagine was about a mile of river. I caught three more trout — one of which was like Emmert’s first, so I let it go — and we wound up with eight. Emmert, for his part, caught about 15, releasing all but his five-fish limit.
That’s not that unusual for him. He says he likes to try to catch at least 200 keeper brookies a year — though he doesn’t keep nearly that many — and those 10-plus fish days help him get there.
“I’d say I’ve done it seven out of the last 10 years and if I don’t, I’m pretty close to it,” he said. “And it’s usually because I didn’t put the time in.”
A pastor by trade, Emmert only gets to fish a couple of days every other week. He makes the most of his time astream.
Emmert fly fishes on some of the bigger streams, usually in the evening, but he prefers red worms to any other bait when he’s dabbling the tight little creeks.
“I’ve gone back and forth over the years with chunks of nightcrawler rather than worms, but I think worms are the way to go,” he said. “It’s just more natural. You don’t see a chunk of crawler drifting downstream, though they will take it if you get it in front of them.
“I used to use grasshoppers all the time but I don’t use them anymore,” he added. “I think it’s just the pain of going out and catching them and putting them in a bottle. And then sometimes forgetting the bottle.”