Snapshots

Wispy morning fog, sodden turf, earthy aroma, no deer, not far. I had been playing with a doe and her yearling the previous two mornings, fun. Drawn by the fresh, tender, tasty green stubble sprouting under the brown hayfield, they’ll be back.

But it’s not like there was nothing else to jack up Lily and Chubby on our short walk through the small sunken meadow leading to that big red rock poking out of the Green River. At the base of a lip descending into the lower level, the dogs stopped to sniff at something. Upon closer inspection, fresh coyote scat. Then, maybe 35 yards ahead, skunk odor permeated the damp, still air as the low, filtered, eastern sun cast a blinding glare. The dogs picked up their heads and immediately chased the scent, sprinting for the thin riverside woods, taking different routes once they broke the tree line on a freakin’ mission. Maybe that coyote ate the skunk. Then again, maybe the skunk released a burning, stinging stink-bomb before waddling off to the safety of a brush pile. I lean toward the latter. Never know.

Back to that big red rock that’s captured my fancy lately. I’m convinced it has Native Pocumtuck significance. Don’t ask me why. I can just feel it. Wednesday morning, it was mostly submerged by turbulent water, the river rushing around both sides, a major eddy swirling under the south side, no doubt holding trout. Swollen and ebullient, that river was begging for a juicy nightcrawler or, better still, a weighted nymph, maybe an Early Brown Quill, a Woolly Bugger or Montana. I always had good luck with those Montanas, even here, three-quarters cross-country, probably because of the little yellow throat patch, an attractant on straight retrieves or fluttering, erratic ascensions. I do hope to teach my grandsons the joys of flyfishing — knots, connecting tippets, the double-haul, shooting line, roll-casting, mending line, setting the hook on loose-bellied slack line, the fly ahead of the loop in fast water. I’ll show them how to lift the rod ever so slowly and wait for just the right moment to flick the wrist back gently; a challenging finesse game. I collected many graphite and bamboo fly rods over the years that I can now share with the boys. Who knows? They may even re-invigorate my own flyfishing passion, once overwhelming, now dormant after long hibernation. My work schedule doesn’t line up with my fishing tastes. I have always said that if the birds are singing when I arrive, it’s too late, not interested. In retirement, I’ll make my own hours.

I’m sure no one wants to hear me wail but — who cares? — it’s been a brutal week. After procrastinating for more than a month, I finally started my annual, tax-preparation, accounting chores, the ones I most dread, worse than raking leaves when I could be banging away at cackling, ring-necked roosters. It’s true that I thoroughly enjoy playing with words and language. Numbers are different. They drive me bonkers, make me cranky, and right now I’m actually looking forward to getting out in the yard, picking up fallen sticks, raking, trimming, moving cordwood piles from that destructive October snowstorm. It can wait, will still be there tomorrow. I have to keep reminding myself it’s not May, that we’re way ahead, not your typical March. Ask the maple-syrup producers if you don’t believe me. They are the lords of spring. Enough of that, though. Let’s talk about local fishing on two major rivers, reviewing feedback that’s crossed my path since last week, when I led with fishing, specifically current pre-stocking Green River trout-fishing prospects. We’ll begin with good news, then bad; by chance, the way it came to me.

Although I do come into daily contact with the neighborhood river Natives called Picomegan, I have not actually wet a line there in years, since the old days of bumping elbows with Marshall Denison below his family’s East Colrain sawmill at first light, to me, the best hour. Now out of touch with this beautiful stream, I asked readers to chime in with interesting observations. Well, a couple of responses appeared in rapid fashion, one from Hatfield the day the column hit the street, the other from Colrain the following day. Both sang praise of the fall fishing and sent color photos of nice, healthy Green River rainbow trout to support their claims. Aren’t those tiny digital cameras and the ones in cell phones great? The shots from Hatfield were dated Dec. 4 and 28; those from Colrain undated but showing brilliant fall colors in the background; October, I assume. Interesting comments accompanied the snapshots.

“Everyone (at the Deerfield River Watershed Chapter of Trout Unlimited) is raving about the quality and quantity of holdover trout that are being caught in the local waters (sans the Chickley of course … but that is another matter entirely. Too much human intervention.),” wrote the Colrain correspondent, a female artist I have known for a couple of years. “There is even a large number of trout being spotted breeding, and breeding in newly enlarged small creek-beds that are Deerfield tributaries as well. Flooding was a giant flush for the system, and while some things will take time to flourish again — it did do wonders in other ways.”

The Hatfield respondent was in full agreement, and his photos backed him up: “Green River is well-equipped for holdovers. Flyfishing from Thanksgiving and up through Christmas was fantastic! Well after the October storm and earlier Hurricane, fish were everywhere, but mostly off the beaten paths and far from the swimming pools ’skinnies’ frequent all year. There are fish to be had before the trucks start rolling, but it will take a little effort. I will try wetting a line there maybe later next week to get a more recent appraisal.”

When I answered his email, he shot right back the next day to assess the post-Tropical Storm Irene flood damage. One observation was particularly relevant in light of this week’s Recorder coverage of Pumping-Station dam and retaining-wall reconstruction. The spot took heavy damage.

“My concerns for the Green are from the covered bridge down,” he wrote. “I saw first-hand the massive machinery in the river restoring the banks. Those track monsters were scooping out goodness and flattening it out all over the landscape. Earthmovers were grinding the north bank. Unfortunately, we  haven’t had any high waters this winter or early spring to correct the manmade mess. I didn’t traverse farther down the meadows of your ramblings to see what damage occurred there.”

So much for the good news. Now the bad, which came from a devoted South Deerfield angler I’ve known for years. He called noontime Tuesday, wanted to speak about the Deerfield River and validated his outspoken opinions by claiming to know the river better than he knows his wife. Don’t doubt it. He wisely insisted he remain  anonymous. No problem. I wouldn’t do that to a man, anyway, but can confirm that he loves to fish the Deerfield … well, at least he used to. Nowadays, he says it’s a waste of time.

“I’ve been out almost every day and there’s no fish,” he said. “I was there again today and the river’s color was disgusting. There were fishermen at Stillwater and the Twin Bridges but I didn’t even bother stopping. I knew what they were catching: nothing! I don’t believe trout can’t survive in that water. It looks terrible. It’s been muddy much of the time since August. I don’t know what they’re going to do. They say the ugly brown water is coming from upstream construction around Rowe. At least that’s the word down here.”

As it turns out, he was correct, according to Western Wildlife District aquatic biologist Dana Ohman, who confirmed river disturbance created by big equipment working in the upper Deerfield. Complicating matters are open sores called “bank slides,” which let loose during Irene along the main stem and tributaries and continue to contribute harmful siltation. “Right now (those washouts) are bare earth and the dirt’s getting washed into streams by rains,” she said. “There’s nothing we can do. We just have to wait for vegetation to re-establish itself and hold things together again. It’ll all correct itself over time.”

Ohman substantiated another rumor from my South Deerfield buddy. Indeed, just as he said, West County’s Chickley and Cold rivers and lower Clesson Brook will not be stocked this year. The notice posted on the Western District’s page of the MassWildlife stocking website says it all: “Due to the dramatic physical changes from the Tropical Storm Irene event in August 2011, the Cold River, Chickley River and the lower section of Clesson Brook have been temporarily removed from the trout-stocking list. Stocking will resume in future years.”

Although Western District stocking is idle, not so for the Valley District, which sent stocking crews out and about this week, hitting brooks and streams. So, if anxious, you may want to give it a shot this weekend at such waters as: Shattuck Brook in Bernardston; Poland Brook in Conway; Mill River in Deerfield and Whately; Mill River in Hatfield; Roaring Brook and Sawmill River in Leverett; Mill Brook in Northfield; West Brook in Whately; and Cushman Brook, Fort River and Mill River in Amherst.

Which reminds me: I bought my sporting license online Tuesday, with the same additional stamps and permits as last year, and the cost increased a whopping 30 bucks. Imagine that! Thirty bucks in one year. Do they call that inflation? Terrible news for a week when I’m a little ornery to begin with, in the midst of irritating tax chores. I guess I should just let it go. Why get all worked up? Not worth it.

So, off I go, back to “Quickbooks” insanity. Soon the tedious chore will be in the rear-view for another year. Never soon enough for me, even if the hourly wage does blow away my real job’s.

I learned long ago that a well-paying job isn’t necessarily a good one. Money isn’t everything.

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4 Responses to Snapshots

  1. Good to hear, Chris. I could not believe Deerfield River trout were gone but often print the observations of those I suspect to be mistaken. To me (and I think I said this somewhere in that or another column), if fish couldn’t survive natural events like Irene, then there would be none. I know they find refuge along the banks, in eddies behind fallen trees, up the tributaries, and “get through” such events. Honestly, I am out of touch with the Deerfield these days but once fished it regularly between Bardwell’s and Stillwater and used to catch at least one “Deerfield River brown” in the 5-pound class annually, either at the run and ledge-side pool across and downstream from the mouth of the South or at the upper of what I called the “twin holes” up above that abutment and the inflow of Hawks Brook. The last time I went to the mouth of the South, by walking down off the RR trestle along the west bank, I found two small tents, two couples and trash everywhere before the crack of dawn. The guys who came out to talk were a sight for sore eyes. I have not returned, used to have it to myself in the 70s and 80s. Not too much later that morning, the yahoos started coming downriver in plastic kayaks and canoes and rubber tire tubes, making noise and creating quite a noisy scene that was new to me. I also used to fish in the area of the Bear River outflow with good success and would imagine they’re still there. Problem is, you can no longer drive along the RR tracks as you once could without any worries about fines. Anyway, off I go. Thanks for chiming in.

  2. Gary, I dont want to sound cocky but the lower Deerfield is and has been loaded with holdover trout and wild fish through the winter. If you cant catch them book a trip and I’ll show whomever how to catch them. People measure the fishing by how many dumb stockies they take and assume that there’s no fish in the river because of their lack of success- I love those people! They leave me to catch dozens in solitude! All of the tribs sans the Chickley were lights out all winter and I have live video to prove it!
    Yes there were instances of fish kill thoughout the river system( natural selection for genetically inferior hatchery fish, they cant take much of anything) and the benthic macroinvertabrate number are greatly reduced, yet the wild fish are thriving and the bugs have high fecundity so the river is going to be fine. What we need now is some rain! Regards, Chris Jackson

  3. Yes, I know I should do it monthly, and convince myself each year that’s the route I’ll take. Then I don’t do it and get saddled at end of year with a task I hate. … As for squaretails, now you’re hitting on a subject dear to me. Look at it this way, Bill: If they couldn’t weather serious storms, there wouldn’t be any. They find a way, slip into little pocket, eddies, pools created by fallen trees. During the whole discussion period following the August storm, I kept thinking back to the Hurricane of 1938, the one my father, then 10, remembers well. As a boy I saw the pictures of my old street under water, also houses along Deerfield Street swamped, much worse than this past event, so there had to be some serious destruction along interior streams from that storm and many before it. I liked Rhonda’s comment about a giant flush from which came good and bad developments. I we let nature sort things out, it has a way of solving problems far superior to the being at the top of the chain, the one that creates governments and parties and factions and wars and oppression, then laws to enhance selfish private interests. Sound familiar? Our Old Revolutionaries warned of this. Then in came the Federalists and the rest is history.

  4. I, too, hate accounting. I have learned, though, that using Quickbooks once a month to keep abreast of the financial biz stuff, makes life easy this time of year. About an hour a month, and hit print Profits and losses for the accountant and taxes in February. Much easier than the old days and a box of receipts and checks.

    I’ve been seeing a lot of native square tails in the local brooks. Something that I did not anticipate. Considering there were whole trees that fell into the brook on my property and had all of the bark stripped off them from the raging August waters and boulders the size of VW beetles were rolling down the stream channel, it is incredible that these small fish survived. I still wonder about the vernal macroinvertebrate populations, will it be enough to support healthy levels of brookies?

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