• Porcupine

    In the morning Gary and Jeff came up the driveway in Garyís old Studebaker. The little car had a heavy green canoe on the top, a wood and canvas canoe that had been covered in fiberglass after the canvas had rotted away. The spring fishing had been good in the streams, but now it was early summer. The fishing had slowed, and we were on our way to an exploration that we were sure would find us among heavy wild brook trout.

    The day was warm, humid, and solidly overcast. The rain had held off. It looked like it would be a good day for fishing. Gary and Jeff didnít get out of the car. They were anxious to be on the way. I stowed my fishing rod, my small pack with my lunch and tackle, my hip boots and my rain jacket in the back seat and crawled in and closed the door. Gary eased the car back out onto the asphalt and turned north toward the county forest land.

    We were traveling to White Rabbit Creek. I had fished the creek at the Stone Lake Fire Lane. There it was small and choked with brush. The tea colored water ran through the alders and over black stones. I found a handful of larger, shallow sandy pools with dark brook trout waiting in the currents. The fish were heavy and firm, with orange flesh. The state did not recognize White Rabbit Creek as a trout stream. This exploration was a secret and a promise.

    Stone Lake Fire Lane was the only road that crossed White Rabbit Creek. On the maps, two small tributaries and one large one joined White Rabbit Creek in the miles below the road. The creek entered White Rabbit Lake, and then wound slowly downstream to the Bigger River. With the canoe, we were going to approach White Rabbit Creek from below.

    Gary and Jeff were both a few years older than me. Gary was shorter than Jeff or me, with a strong back and a big canoe, and we needed both on this trip. Jeff was known for solving trout fishing problems. I was the navigator for this trip. None of us had ever been to White Rabbit Creek from below or to White Rabbit Lake, but I was the one with the sense of direction and I was the river guide.

    The car was heavily loaded under the canoe, and Gary drove slowly. We made it to the foot of the Stone Lake Fire Lane, and turned uphill, onto the gravel, away from the small farms. The road wound through the hardwood forest for miles, over low hills and around the steepest hills and ponds and swamps. We crossed the headwaters of the Pencil River, and kept on driving. Miles further, we came to the wooden bridge over White Rabbit Creek, and we stopped and got out to look at the water. It ran quietly under the bridge, promising a good day. Back in the car, we drove on to the Bigger River, and pulled over on a parking spot above the stream.

    Bigger River was slow moving and warm. The water looked clear with a green tint. There were lily pads along the banks, and long green weeds waving in the current in the middle of the river. It looked like water for suckers and perch and northern pike. The pullover was fifty feet above the water, with a muddy trail down to the water. Gary and Jeff untied the canoe and lifted it down to the ground. We got our tackle and packs out of the car, and we all put on our hip boots. With our shoes in the car, we locked the doors and we started to carry our equipment to the waterís edge. Gary shouldered the big canoe and he struggled against its weight on the muddy trail. When he had it in the water, Jeff and I followed with the rest of our gear. We stowed everything, fishing rods and canvas sacks and rain gear. Jeff took the bow seat and Gary paddled his canoe from the stern. I rode in the middle as we traveled downstream toward the confluence of White Rabbit Creek with Bigger River.

    The river appeared to be flat and slow moving, but it wasnít. The long weeds were flat against the bottom, pointing downstream in the current. It was an easy ride. When the paddlers pushed we moved faster than the current. I watched the black spruce on the low banks, and the birches and aspens behind them. It was warm and hundreds of dragonflies hunted over the water.

    As navigator I had memorized the shapes on the maps, and then left the maps at home. When the river made a long sweeping curve to the left about a mile below the car, I watched the low left bank and found the mouth of White Rabbit Creek, its tea colored water sliding across the sand to join the green Bigger River. I told the paddlers to turn in, and with some pushing across a sand bank the canoe cruised into the narrow water of White Rabbit Creek.

    The water here was wider than it was at the Stone Lake Fire Lane, but it was still a small stream. Alders hung over one bank or the other, and grass had grown high on the banks on the insides of bends. The water looked knee deep to waist deep. I could see the long weeds hanging in the current on the bottom. Gary and Jeff had trouble with the big canoe on sharp bends. We made slow progress upstream and the paddlers began to sweat, and then they began to swear. I trailed a hand in the water and knew that water that warm was not trout water.

    In time the water was shallower, sliding over a sand bottom. Gary and Jeff labored against the current, occasionally hitting the bottom with their paddles, then turning their paddles on end and poling the canoe upstream with the canoe handle against the sand in the stream. In two places we all had to get out and walk over shallows, and then climb back in to the canoe when we found deeper water again.

    About a mile above Bigger River we could hear running water, and came around a bend to a low beaver dam. The running water fell over the top of the dam to the streambed about three feet below. There was not a big pool above the dam, just a channel about a dozen feet wide, but the water would be held back for some distance upstream by the dam. We climbed out of the canoe and picked up our rods and cast streamer flies into the dark water above the dam. There were minnows in the water near the back side of the dam. We caught nothing in the warm water, and put our gear back in the canoe. After lifting the canoe overt the dam, we sat down for our first sandwich and a soft drink. Gary and Jeff were both tired from paddling and pushing the canoe upstream.

    We got back into the canoe and started upstream again. The valley here was narrower, and the spruce trees gave way to balsam fir and small birch, and aspens back away from the water. There still were plenty of alders along the bank and hanging out over the water. At times it was easier to reach for an alder branch and pull the canoe upstream by hand rather than paddle against the current. In another mile and a half we heard running water again, and came to the big pool at the foot of White Rabbit Lake.

    The pool was round and perhaps seventy feet in diameter. It was shallow where the water poured out of the pool, but most of the pool was deep and we couldnít see the bottom. There was something else here that I hadnít expected. White Rabbit Lake was an impoundment. A timber dam had been built across a narrow spot in the valley, and White Rabbit Creek fell from the top of the dam about twelve feet into the pool.

    We were several miles from the nearest road. The timber dam had been built, probably seventy years earlier, by the logging company that cut the old growth white pines from the forest. The logging occurred in the winter, and horses would be used to drag the logs to the creek or to the ice on the lake. In the spring, if there was not enough snowmelt to float the logs to Bigger River, a gate at the top of the timber dam would be opened to create a flood to float the logs. Some logs would hang up in the bends, and loggers would walk along the creek to push them back into the current. In just a week the whole winterís work would be floated down Bigger River, and then down to the mills.

    We fished in the deep pool below the lake with no success, and then we carried the canoe up the bank and launched in White Rabbit Lake. On the map it was a broad, oval lake of about a hundred acres. It was easy to see how the lake warmed the water downstream. It was a shallow lake that caught the sunís heat. And the shallows, both at the edges of the lake and in the middle, were covered with thick stands of wild rice. As we moved away from the shore, a mallard and her brood splashed away from the canoe and hid in a stand of rice.

    The rice was high and much of the time we couldnít see the lake shore from the canoe. Gary and Jeff paddled hard to the north northeast, but they had to detour around beds of rice. We stayed in open water as much as possible, but followed two long blind leads that dead ended in thick stands of rice. The lake was very shallow. We didnít realize how shallow it was until we heard a disturbance in the rice. We were a good hundred yards from shore. We paddled toward the sound and a large whitetail buck bounded off, his antlers just starting to grow in velvet. The water under the deer wasnít over two feet deep. We were in the rice and unable to find our way. We swore about our poor fortune and finally turned back toward the timber dam. We never found White Rabbit Creek above the lake. We never found the heavy dark brook trout that live in the creek.

    At the timber dam we climbed out of the canoe and carried it down the bank to launch in the pool below the lake. We finished our sandwiches and soft drinks on the bank. I had duffed the whole way on the trip, and I offered to take a paddle for the return trip to the car. Jeff yielded his place in the front of the canoe, we all climbed in, and started down the creek. It was quickly apparent that there was a current in the stream, and we went booming down the creek faster than was safe. The stream was narrower in many places than the canoe was long. We hit the bank several times on curves, and the impacts threatened to dump us into the water. I steered from the front and with Gary back paddling through the curves, we made it to the beaver dam in quick time. After lifting over the beaver dam we paddled and poled down the stream and I was tired by the time we shot out into Bigger River. Then we turned toward the car, and the real work began. We paddled hard against the river current, staying close to the banks as much as possible. It was a slow tiring paddle, but we made it back to the landing where the car was parked.

    At the landing Gary and Jeff carried the other gear up the hill, and I shouldered the canoe. The trail was short but steep, and the bow of the canoe wanted to dig into the hill in front of me. When I tipped the canoe up, the canoe wanted to pull me back down the muddy path. Jeff came back to help, and we carried the canoe to the car and put it on the canoe carriers on top of the car.

    We were all in, and we sat on the ground or leaned against the car and talked about our bad luck on White Rabbit Lake. Gary slowly tied the canoe down, and we loaded our gear in the car. While we were talking it started to rain softly. I climbed into the back seat and we started toward home.

    My shoulders and back ached from my share of the paddling. I leaned against the window and watched the ditch weeds as we passed them. Gary and Jeff were talking in the front seat, and I wasnít listening. When we were within a couple miles of home, Gary turned west on a side road. I asked him where we were going, and he said they wanted to look at a bridge. We drove slowly up Gleason Road and rolled to a stop at the steel bridge over Brady Branch. Gary and Jeff got out, and I got out too after some complaining, and we leaned on the bridge rail on the upstream side and looked down at the water. The rain had stopped and the road and the trees and rocks were wet.

    Brady Branch was one of the streams that Gary and I had fished all spring, and I had fished most of my life. Our poor showings there were a part of the reason we went looking for White Rabbit Creek. As we leaned over the rail, the afternoon sun broke through the clouds. Then we saw a rise in the riffle above the bridge, and then another one.

    I wanted to go home, but Gary and Jeff wanted to fish, if only for an hour. We all put on our hip boots again and brought out our rods. I volunteered to walk through the woods downstream to the red cabin, and fish back toward the bridge. Gary would come down halfway with me, and fish upstream toward the bridge. We sent Jeff upstream, and we agreed to meet back at the car in an hour and a half.

    The red cabin was about a quarter mile below the bridge. Thereís a fishermenís path along the stream, and the walking is pretty easy. When Gary and I came to the Red Cedar Pool, he offered to let me fish it, but I told him that he should start at the foot of the pool, and I would walk the rest of the way to the cabin. Gary waded into the water, and I continued down the path.

    Brady Branch is a small rocky stream with a good gradient. There are a lot of riffles and pools, and pocket water stretches. There is a riffle at the head of a pool at the red cabin. Two or three fish were rising where the water slowed in the pool, and I waded to within casting range and took a small summer caddis from my fly box. This is a pattern I developed on Brady Branch and neighboring streams as a low riding searching pattern to be used in July and August. I cast the fly to the nearest trout and he came right up to get it. The fish ran through the riffle and spooked the other risers before I was able to get it under control. In my hand it was a nice ten inch brook trout. I waded upstream to the pocket water above the red cabin. In an aspen on the right bank I saw a porcupine about fifteen feet above the ground, sitting in a crotch in the tree. I always thought a porcupine was a sign of good luck.

    The fishing was better than I expected, better than it had been in several weeks. In an hour I caught seven trout, including two of twelve inches, and lost a couple others. I had fished here many times and I knew where the fish would be, but it helps to find them when theyíre looking up and active. At the end of my hour I reeled up and hiked up the path to the bridge. I didnít find Gary on the stream. Gary and Jeff were both at the car when I climbed up to the road.

    Gary had caught five trout, and he was happy. Jeff, who had never fished this stream before, had caught eight fish, including a brown that was sixteen inches long. This last one he caught on a dark wet fly that he steered around rocks in deep pockets. We were all pleased with how the day had ended, and now we were ready to go home.

    It was almost supper time when they dropped me off at the house. I hung my waders in the garage to dry, and after supper I went over my rods and reels and fly boxes to make them ready for the next day of fishing. As I worked on my tackle, I thought about the porcupine.

    It was a big one, not paying attention to me, chewing on the bark of the aspen tree branch. I always have good luck when thereís a porcupine around. We donít have too many of them, and I donít see them often. I remember a time when I was fishing a clear stream in the early part of the season. The stream was small and the fish were very small, a mix of brook trout and browns. I had fished a half mile from the car. I wanted just one good fish for the day. A porcupine had managed to climb into the tangle of braches of a diamond willow, and when I saw the porcupine, I knew a good fish was close by. In the next pool I caught a brown of fifteen inches, a very good fish for this little stream. On another day I was a few miles from the road, and I was hiking back toward the car over a piece of ground I didnít know. I walked into a section of ten foot tall aspens and small balsams. I supposed the large trees had been logged off ten years before, and this new growth was thick, and hard to both see through and walk through. I found a porcupine on the ground, and it bristled at first when I approached, and then it waddled off to my left. I followed it for fifty feet or so, and it led me to the trace of one of the logging roads that were used to pull out the big logs, and the trail led me back to my car.

    At White Rabbit Lake, there was no porcupine. At Brady Branch, there was a porcupine. Itís all pretty simple, really, when I think about it.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Porcupine started by Ernest View original post
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. ksbioteacher's Avatar
      ksbioteacher -
      I've explored my own White Rabbit Creeks. Your words brought back lots of memories of disappointment, frustration doubt, exhaustion, sore muscles, mosquito bites, and eyes stinging from sweat. Thanks, I cherish those memories now.
    1. gusstrand's Avatar
      gusstrand -
      Very, very well done, as usual, Ernest. Front page.