Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it.
– George Santayana
The first time I caught the biggest brook trout of my life, I was so excited that I felt compelled to write a how-to essay called—boldly enough—How to Catch the Biggest Brook Trout of Your Life. Although I thought I was doing the fishing world a great service, the reactions to my accomplishment and advice were tepid:
That’s the biggest brook trout you’ve ever caught? You have got to be kidding me.
I tried your method, I didn’t catch the biggest brook trout of my life, but my friend is pissed now because I drank two of his beers. Thanks for nothing.
I knew I shouldn’t have written that in the first place, and I swore I wouldn’t repeat my mistake, but then it happened. I caught the biggest brook trout of my life, again.
Dave McMillan and his boys Dave and Brian invited me for a weekend at their camp, which is actually a full service cabin with electricity, running water and a septic system, but people who live in the Upper Peninsula call places like that “camps.” I’m not sure why, but we do.
The camp is somewhere between Munising and Escanaba, and thanks to the “shortest route” feature on my GPS, I drove the last twenty miles on a two-track dirt road that passed by several camps that actually deserved to be called camps. Despite lacking any visible evidence that these camps housed anything that someone might want to steal, they were all protected by massive chains and signs that said “Trespassers will be shot,” or something like that. Somewhere along the way I drove by a van with no windows—the sort of vehicle that some people might call a molester van—and the two bearded men beside the van appeared to be burying a body. When I finally made it to Dave’s camp and said something about the van, he and the boys seemed to know who the guys were. When I told them about the body, they laughed and said that the men were likely burying a deer carcass, but, either way, it was probably a good thing that I didn’t stop.
Like nearly every part of the Upper Peninsula, the land around Dave’s camp is drained by a myriad of rivers, streams and brooks, and most of those hold trout. We fished one of them with poor results the first night I arrived, so we decided to explore some different water the next evening. Brian worked during the day, and Dave Sr. needed to meet with a logger who was cutting down a bunch of beech trees on his property that either had, or would soon have, beech bark disease. That left Dave Jr. and me to scout for new water, and that’s when I caught the biggest brook trout of my life, again. And although it didn’t work out so well last time, I once again believe I know something so important that I have to share it.
Just as with my first instructions, you’ll need a fishing partner because you can’t do this alone. I used to believe that it should be someone you hadn’t fished with before, but now I believe it is important that this be someone you have fished with before. Someone like Dave McMillan, Jr for me.
Next, pick a place that neither of you are familiar with. When you get to the river, play rock-paper-scissors, odds and evens, red hands, thumb war, or any other seemingly random way to decide which one of you will explore upstream and which one will explore downstream. You cannot make this decision in some nonrandom way. Think about it. If you could make nonrandom decisions that lead you to catch the biggest brook trout of your life, you’d probably already have done it. Right?
Once you’ve decided which direction each of you will go, offer to swap directions. Your friend will decline, but it is important that it doesn’t look like you rigged the game in your favor, especially when you later reveal that you caught the biggest brook trout of your life.
Because you’re scouting a river you’ve never fished before, and because you’d like to catch the biggest brook of your life (again), you should tie on a large, meaty streamer. Not too large for some of the smaller fish to chase, but large enough to move some of the big ones. A lot of different streamers would work, but I’d recommend a yellow Madonna, maybe in size 4 or 6.
You’ll want to cast your fly up tight against all the downed trees and other tangles, so it will help to have several streamers in your box. You’ll lose a few if you are doing this right, but be sure to have at least one streamer left when you come to a nice pool in a bend below a long, fast riffle. Cast to the front of the pool first, right where the riffle dumps its water. A nice fish will dart from the darkness and take a slash at your fly, but it’s okay if you miss that one. That won’t be the biggest brook trout of your life, but that fish will cause you to pay better attention, and when you cast a little deeper into the pool, tight against a large underwater log, you’ll know what happened as soon as the fish takes your fly.
The next steps are optional, and, though catching the biggest brook trout of your life should be enough, they really do add to the fun. Be sure to take some photos of any smaller trout that you catch before you catch the big one. Then, of course, take several photos of the big trout. When you meet up with your friend, tell him that you caught a few fish, but nothing spectacular. Once you are in the truck and driving back to camp, hand him your camera and tell him that he can check out the fish on the display. Try not to smile when he gets to the pictures of your big fish and screams “What the hell is that? That is the biggest brook trout I’ve ever seen.”