I arrived at the Crossroads shortly before 9:30 A.M. We were meeting at 10:00 A.M., so I had plenty of time to add ice to my cooler and fill my truck’s tank with gas. I had driven all morning under the cover of an overcast sky, but the clouds were now gone and the temperature was rising toward 90. Catching a trout on an afternoon like this in a shallow spring-fed pond would be nearly impossible, but that didn’t matter. Today was about people and place. Today, we were taking John Gierach to Frenchman’s Pond.
A week or two earlier, Bill Bellinger phoned Rivers North Guide Service owner Brad Petzke to see if Brad could take John on a float trip down the Escanaba River. Brad was fully booked with trips for Atlantic Salmon on the St. Marys River the week John would be in town, so he regretfully passed the opportunity to his good friend Matt Torreano. Mr. Gierach would be in good hands; no one knows the Escanaba River better than Matt. The week John arrived, however, relentless rains battered the upper peninsula, and the flow rate on the Big Esky tripled.
Matt and I talked about the predicament, and I offered to contact John Voelker’s grandson, Adam Tsaloff, to ask if we could take John to Frenchman’s Pond. Adam is an excellent fly-caster and fisherman, an absolute fanatic about bamboo fly rods, and a thoroughly good guy. He immediately agreed to my request and arranged for his uncle, Earnest ‘Woody’ Wood, to meet me, Matt, John, Bill, and Bill’s son Sam at Frenchman’s.
Bill pulled into the Crossroads parking lot with John and Sam at about the same time Matt arrived. After brief introductions, our plan was set. John, Bill, and Sam would ride with me into the camp. Matt had another commitment in the early afternoon, so he would follow in his truck.
I suggested we stash Bill’s truck near a small township’s community garage where an old snow plow, a retired school bus, and a beat-up tow truck were scattered throughout the gravel- and grass-covered lot. I wasn’t certain it would be okay to park there, but I was relatively sure that if and when the township towed a vehicle for illegal parking, this was the place they brought it. Either way, the truck should be there when we returned.
John, Bill, and Sam loaded a few rods and other equipment into my truck, and we headed off for the pond. I sensed an uneasy feeling from the group when we started, and they later told me that they half expected to be blindfolded before their escort into this secret and sacred place. I realized then that I had missed an excellent opportunity — I should have had three bandanas on my dash when I picked them up.
Woody met us at the pond, and, after polite and friendly introductions, John and Woody began a delightful affair of bamboo fly rod show-and-tell. Woody brought out a refurbished rod that Morris ‘the Rodmaker’ Kushner had made for Judge Voelker, and John respectfully admired the craftsmanship and history of that special bamboo stick. After Woody rigged the rod with a reel and line, the rest of us watched quietly as John cast with style and grace from the dock in front of the cabin.
After John finished casting the Judge’s rod, Woody graciously served a lunch of sausage, cheese, crackers and wine. Everyone knew at least one common friend or acquaintance, so, without the pretense of name-dropping, we shared a few stories about rod-builders, writers, and guides. Then it was time to fish.
John Voelker wrote about fishing on days when
“the surface of the water possesses a peculiar gun-metal sheen, a kind of bland, polished, and impersonal glitter, a most curious sort of bulging look, coupled with the aloof, metallic quality and cold, glassy expression of a dowager staring down a peasant through her lorgnette.”
On those days, the Judge advised, we might as well leave our “rod in the case and instead go chase butterflies.” This was one of those days, but, alas, we fished and left the butterfly chasing for Woody’s dog. And despite the gun-metal sheen on the pond, John Gierach had great success. No, he didn’t catch a fish. But when we loaded the truck to leave, John looked at the water, flashed a smile of satisfaction, and reminded us of the wise pronouncement of his good friend A.K. Best:
“We said we were going fishing and we did.”
© 2011 Timothy Schulz