It’s 4:30am, it’s dark, I’m dragging a rolling a camera case, over my shoulder is a bag full of audio gear, a rod tube is under my arm and squeezed against my chest, on top of it balance two fly boxes and a reel, my free hand carries a large thermos cup full of hot coffee and all is well, except for the coffee which in spite of a lid is slowly dripping hot black liquid onto my hand. A skunk appears at the corner of the car, coffee drips, drips, drips and while I play freeze tag the skunk waddles by until the white stripe disappears into the darkness of the garden.
Brad’s house is twenty minutes away. He has already packed his camera bag, rod, reel and his coffee is in his car’s cup holder. Mine is upended and finished knowing that I’ll need to pee in two minutes.
Austin is an hour away and I know two things: the boat will be in the water and he’ll be wearing sunglasses.
Brad and I booked this trip for a number of reasons; to fish with Austin, to film some fishing sequences and for the photo ops that come when you’re cruising down a river in a drift boat.
I know, it’s Illinois and we’re cruising down the Kankakee in a drift boat fishing for smallmouth bass even though Brad’s first fish of the day is a pike.
But before we get to that pike, you hire a guide for their expertise. I don’t know of a more knowledgeable fisherman about the K3, or fishing in general, than Austin. He’s fished the river all his life and if you want to have a good day with an excellent guide and here’s the commercial part of this: go to his site, www.grabyourflycharters and book a trip. Also, Austin isn’t prejudiced, if you throw hardware, he brings a selection of tackle and recommends what you need to bring, if you’re a fly fisher, Austin has flies, leaders and Scott rods.
Brad and I also know the back story, about the nay-sayers and poo-poohers when Austin said, “The Kankakee is perfect for a drift boat,” so you see, this is why Austin is such a good guide, he was right; it is perfect for a drift boat.
We unload gear. Austin’s driver has gone back to school and Brad takes off to follow him to the take out point, sitting on lawn chairs just up from the boat are two black guys who have been friends and fished together for forty five years. It’s Sunday and so I ask, “Why aren’t you in church?” Without breaking stride, they look at me and say, “Man, this is our church.”
Brad and Austin roll up and so I ask Austin the question every guide gets, “How’s fishing?”
“Fishing has been, well, crappy.”
And because I love honesty, I go ahead and ask, “How crappy?”
“Some days we get a boatload, some days we get four hits, a miss, and maybe a few small ones.”
“What about today?”
“Can’t tell till we start fishing, or at least you start fishing.”
Brad was in the boat, relaxed and digging through his fly box. I was on shore zipping up a camera bag and wondering where my rod tube had rolled off to. Austin had already assembled it, swapped out a leader and tied on a fly while I was still digging through the audio bag looking for a microphone.
I am certain that it seemed like an hour before we pulled out into the main channel and Brad and I started casting, casting and casting and between casts I start to wonder. If we were to sit and analyze why we fish, would we all buy coats with arms that tie in the back? Think about it for a minute, we catch fish and put them back, few of us are sustenance fishers, most of us know that we could retire on what we’ve spent on gear, boats, trips and beer. And yet like an insane person, we continue to repeat the same actions over and over and over.
In all fairness and why we’re not in padded cells, is for a number of reasons; we want to solve a mystery of sorts, well a couple of them; what’s in the water and can I fool it into biting? It of course, is a fish with a pea sized brain versus us with the large well developed brain. (Not according to some but if you notice, they don’t fish.)
Yet, if you go slowly and quietly down a river you realize that that it’s not always about fishing, it’s about being in the same flow as nature. That is, you move at about the same speed as the river, you pull off in slack waters, you slowdown in eddies and you discover the rhythm of nature. In talking with Austin, the K3 has it cycles, “You see that line, that’s where the ice was, where it scraped the banks and pulled trees down.” He points to where the spring rains pushed the water up and over the bank. “It’s low now, been that way for a good part of summer.” He points at a trough and we discuss the difference between slots, slits and troughs. “In spring the big gals are here and we catch a lot of them, as the water heats up they move to deeper pools and get tougher to coax out and we catch a lot of smaller fish, then fall comes and the feedbags go on.”
Austin didn’t pick up a rod that day with us and in part I get it, a good guide doesn’t fish with clients and what he had to say, makes good sense for all guides.
“I think what makes it great for me is watching someone make a good cast, get a hookup and land a fish, especially if it’s their first time on the Kankakee. For me, it’s about that moment. I still remember being a kid and catching fish. It was fun. I take pleasure in making sure my clients and some become friends, have a good time, have fun fishing on the river.”
So instead of a white coat, the part of the mystery is having fun, the challenge and rewards and having a good day on the water with friends who eat a diet high in fiber.
“Slow down your retrieve.” (poot)
“Cast over there. Let’s try this fly.” (poot)
“Look an Osprey. Look a Buzzard. A Beaver…” (poot)
“My wife is into organics.” (poot)
Austin rows, tells us which side to cast out of and farts and guides the boat down the river. I tell him that I had to get married, couldn’t hold the farts in anymore.
He slows the boat and points to a dark section of the river.
“We usually pull a fish out of that hole over there…stop casting to the stern of the boat, you know Brad’s back there, right?”
I cast to the front, till Brad misses a fish and I forget, Brad’s back there.
Brad sets the hook and has a fish on. It’s a small pike.
“There’s pike, some gar, drum, crappies, gills, largemouth as well stripers and gar but the K3 is predominately a smallmouth bass river.”
Austin slows the boat and has us cast to a weedy section. I miss a fish. Brad misses a fish and of course my next cast goes to stern. “Hey!”
Yep, back to casting to the front.
It’s been a nice day, a good row. Not a lot of fish but a lot of talking about fishing, about the difficulties of making your living being a guide. We also talk about raising kids, marriage, friendships, and I always ask for an obligatory guide story to round out the day. So Austin talked about his experience fishing way up north on Beaver Island. If you want to know it, you can book him and ask him about the lesbian gal at the Beaver Island bar.
And cast where he tells you.
So here’s the site again: www.grabyourflycharters.com
Stuart Van Dorn