The night before I left I just couldn’t get comfortable. I was rolling, flipping and flicking through channels like it was a dull Friday night. My eyes were two big saucers that couldn’t get a grip on the screaming infomercial salesman and gadgets dancing on screen. I couldn’t escape the anticipation of an endless highway, tires ripping and rolling and gliding on cruise control through an endless landscape of emerald forests and untouched lakes.
I remember the feeling of waking up that morning—stomach in knots at who I would be meeting—those with transparent fins and spiny backs or the infamous "blue halo bellies" of the Northern brook trout. I slammed the door of my Jeep and cut out of my drive towards the Trans Canada (17). I was on a mission to meet the creatures of the North—a mission only completed once I had become one myself.
As I drove past signs of welcome, a couple of black bears and one yellow-eyed eagle, I turned off Trans Canada (17) in Thessalon, Ontario, and glided right into the parking lot of an inn just steps away from the off-ramp. Nestled beautifully into a crook of Lake Huron lies Carolyn Beach Inn, a stunning and expansive destination for anyone looking to relax, adventure, or enjoy homemade cuisine along the shores of a Great Lake. I was greeted by the family who owns the inn with warmth, kindness, and curiosity. Was I an angler on a mission? Yes. Was I desperate for authentic butter chicken for dinner? Oh, yes. At sunset, I sat on the picnic table overlooking the panoramic views of the lake and wondered how much of that delicious food I could possibly stuff in my gullet to keep me going for the next day. Turns out it was quite a lot. I slept.
The sun had barely crested the misted canopy when I spotted our guide, Adam Vallee of Angling Algoma leaning against his truck with enough coffee to last us several days, let alone just the one. As long as I was twitching that rod tip, I was happy to get the caffeine shakes. I thought a nice Cray pattern would be that perfect pairing: twitch, stop. Twitch, stop. Coffee sip, sip, twitch, stop. Laughing at our hilarity, Adam and I geared up into our waders and entered the river that would flicker glimpses of blue halos and white-tipped fins—they were there, and so were we.
Armed with a 6wt and intermediate sinking line, Adam and I maneuvered around slick boulders and rushing rapids. There was a deep cut through a sandy bottom in the middle of the river, and as all great guides do, Adam had stalked the rivers the day before in order to find where the brook trout lie.
They are hunters, movers, and chasers - they seek the food and the currents to fatten up for spawning season, and we wanted to meet them halfway. He knew that the magnitude of the ugly pressured weather fronts moving in would crush these fish to the bottom of the pool, so it was imperative we lead with heavy flies and a slower retrieve. It only took about 3 casts for me to feel a hit, and when I finally set the hook I shouted for Adam and nearly exploded with frustration when I pulled out a stick the size of my arm. He laughed, I doubled hauled.
“Take a step down Alyx, and put it right on the seam where the trench begins. That’s where they are”.
Eyeing Adam, I did as he said and layout a cast that may have been the ugliest of all time. The one where you pick it up again and hope no one saw, type of cast.
“LEAVE IT,” he said.
Feeling that urge to toss up the line and cast it again, I fought like the dickens to do as he said. Two twitches, a breath, and a raise of the rod tip (to begin another cast) were when I was struck - a strike so complete that the feeling emulated the final ‘clunk’ of a hole-in-one.
“THERE!” Loud, with a strip and trout set.
When a creature that you wait for, cast to, and cannot see finally hits your fly, the moment becomes surreal. For some reason, you become nimble, able to dance around the rocks and structure, moving backwards and forwards to complete the meet—two of you waiting to see what is on the other end. This fish was strong, hungry, and angry. The blackened face of a brook trout is almost frightening until you gaze into those blue halos surrounding the red specks of its silken body. When Adam tossed the net and cradled the trout, it was then that dropped my rod and slowly edged towards it.
The water was 46 degrees celsius, and I had my arms deep into that net. Making sure it never left the water, I lifted and tilted the back of this fish to reveal itself. It was then that I did the same, in the form of total and complete surrender. This is why people spend hours and hours waiting for a grand 3 seconds of ‘...wow’.
“Adam, this is my personal best brook trout,” was all I needed to say.
A careful release and I felt myself go, too. Into the cold waters of the North, following that creature around like it was the last thing I would ever do, ever wanted and ever needed.
A huge thank you to the Carolyn Beach Inn and guide Adam Vallee for an exceptional experience in the District of Algoma.