The water exploded as a heavy Brown pounced on my large silver spinner exactly between where Ed and Steve were standing. “You missed one!” I told them as I steered the fish into the bank. I had stopped fishing in order to clean a large trout that Ed had previously caught, I was about thirty feet behind them and even though they had waded the stream to take positions on either side, I had cast the Silver Super Bow just ahead of them and made my retrieve almost dead center between the two, falling further behind with another trout to clean. “There’s no way you would have got that fish if we had kept fishing in the clear water where we started!” yelled Steve. Steve was referring to my choice to start out on the North Branch of the Whitewater River at the southern end of Elba.
This adventure had started with a phone call from Steve earlier in the week. There has been rain almost every other day for the last month, and by all indications the only chance of improvement would not come until Thursday. Except for a few of the smaller creeks, everything south of I-90 was at flood stage and muddy. Our best hope would be to the north in the Whitewater area which had so far dodged some of the worst rainfall, so I told Steve that I would scout out the streams Wednesday and get back to him in the evening. Late Tuesday night we received another downpour with the St. Charles and Elba area getting its fair share of the water. It was still raining Wednesday morning when I drove out of Rochester towards Elba. Every ditch and creek I passed was flowing high with muddy brown water. I knew exactly what I would find long before I entered the Whitewater Park area. The Middle Branch of the Whitewater was high to its banks and moving fast with dark muddy water, and the South branch feeding from St.Charles was just as bad. When I came to the bridge that crossed the North Branch I was very surprised to find that part of the river fairly clear. The area around Elgin which feeds it had missed the heavy rains, so the North Branch was miraculously in very good condition. The point where the North Branch joined with the main branch of the Whitewater looked like ginger ale flowing into chocolate syrup. Since the North Branch of Whitewater was going to be my first choice in witch to fish, I was excited to get home and tell Steve that it was a definite go for Thursday fishing.
We decided to invite Ed, a long time buddy to both of us, he accepted and with that the beginnings of this outing were set into motion.
Thursday was as beautiful as predicted, and 45 minutes after meeting up Ed, Steve, and I were in my old van heading for Elba and the Whitewater River. Driving through the park I was amazed at how much the Middle Branch had cleared up overnight. The water color was still slightly muddy and not quite the golden hue that I consider prime, I commented to the others “I wouldn’t be afraid to give it a try; my largest fish have come from golden water”.
We decided to stick to the original plan and started out on the clearer waters of the North Branch. The water was clear, 62 degrees and the weather was made-to-order perfect, sunshine and high 70’s. Ed tied on a Gold/Silver Super Bow, Steve selected a Copper/Silver, and I started out with a solid Silver Super Bow, as great as everything was, the fishing seemed to be somewhat off, we made casts into several “never-fail” pools without so much as a follow.
Ed broke the ice when, after about a hundred yards of wading and casting, a sizable Brown trout appeared on the end of his line, a while later I rolled one and played tag with a couple others, than Steve landed a fair sized Rainbow.
For the remainder the North Branch proved to be fun and ok, but not great. We were entertained by the antics of a young fawn that was startled by our exhibition of fine angling skills, as well as encountering a couple of more trout.
We went back to the van for a short break. The overall lack of action combined with a nagging suspicion and memories of past golden water experiences, led me to comment about trying the more colored water of the Middle Branch that flowed from the State Park through the campgrounds. We could try a hundred yards or so and if it proved bad we could always come back to the North Branch. Both Steve and Ed thought that this was a sound idea so just a few minutes later we had parked the van at the second bridge south of Elba and were making our way down to the dirtier water of Whitewater’s middle branch.
My theory is that during high waters and floods, trout, both large and small, are moved out of their normal places of shelter and forced to battle the powerful currents for hours and sometimes days with very little rest or food. During this time these fish expend a lot of energy, and as the floods start to subside the trout are going to need two things; Food and Rest, and the first order of business is food! At the first dawn of clearing (golden water) displaced trout will attack almost anything that would seem to satisfy a voracious appetite, the larger the better! Large displaced trout will want to satisfy their hunger in a hurry and find shelter before the water gets to clear, leaving them exposed to predators. It is at this period of golden water that large flashy spinners and baits seem almost magical, with trophies landed, and daily counts of +100 fish per angler very common.
My first impression of this portion of the river wasn’t good; the water seemed to be muddier than it had appeared from the road, and when we got down under the bridge there were children swimming in the river. The river was only about 20 feet wide and large stones lined the bottom. We were doing a lot of stumbling and making a lot of bank shots into the shrubbery.
I was beginning to have my doubts, the van was still in sight, and I was just forming an exit plan when once again Ed saved the day with a dandy Brown that easily stretched the 14” mark.
Shortly afterwards Steve added to the excitement with another Brownie even larger than Eds. A few moments later I locked into a large Brown of my own, and from there on the action got wild!
The magic of golden water had us in its spell, Ed and Steve were battling large trout and I was doing what every guide loves to do best, unhooking, photographing and field dressing.
The action was fairly fast and it was hard to determine what color and style of spinner was doing the best, but it seemed that overall that silver blades had a little better production.
On a suggestion from me Steve went to the Hot Pink Super Bow and for a while he looked to be out producing what Ed and I were using. In order to handle the powerful current and to gain a little more visibility I stepped up to the larger Silver Big Bow spinner. At more than double the body size and weight, the Big Bow give me more casting control as well as much more distance. I had to increase my retrieve speed and raise my rod tip a little, but in the deeper faster runs my production seemed to increase greatly.
As the action continued and the creel filled, personal counts were lost and the anticipation of catching trout slowly took a back seat to laughter and regaling the stories of blunders and wonders of past adventures.
Someone catching a trout was an ok interruption and the quest to land a trophy was probably an underlying goal. Eventually both the distance from the van as well as the passage of time seemed to be greater than we wanted to extend, so we exited from the river and with more jokes and stories we plodded back along the hard black surface of highway 74 to the old van and to home.
In angling as in many things in life we often spend too much time searching for diamonds and overlook the gold...
There are times when the privilege of guiding becomes more of an outing than any resemblance of a form of business. In these special times the act of holding out ones hand for gratuity pales in comparison to that of extending a hand and grasping that of a great friend.
Barring any heavy rains the Whitewater River and area streams should remain fantastic to very good for a couple of weeks and if the weather holds off look for the streams south of I-90 particularly the Root in the Forestville area to go gold around Wednesday June 30th after that as the water recedes, great fishing should take hold all the way down the Root to Rushford and beyond.
Until we wade again!
Keep it slow low and with the flow, and don’t go without your Bow!