Fishing for browns — or were they crappies? — at the falls
John Harney (the younger) sidled up to me at LaBonne’s a couple weeks ago, like a guy with a hot tip on a horse.“You gotta go fish below the Housy dam.”The what dam?“I mean the falls.”He went on to say a friend of his was pulling big brown trout out of the water under the Great Falls, above the power station and the iron bridge.“I think she said browns.”This is how it goes when people know you fish.Anyway, on Friday the 13th, I went over. The water was very low from the bridge upstream, and the going fairly treacherous — not the wading part, but the clambering.Once you get past the initial section of rapids upstream from the bridge, the terrain changes — broad reaches of stone, with occasional patches of super-slippery slime that bruised my ego — and fundament.The water has carved channels in the rock, and I finally got a fish in one of them.It was not a trout, however, but a crappie. I think. Like a boring bluegill. Same little mouth, same sideways swimming when hooked. The fish leaped out at my fly — the rather rococo Madame X caddis pattern — as if he hadn’t had a square meal in a week.Which might have been the case, if he was marooned in a spot that would normally have a lot more water.Moving upstream, I made it to the big basin underneath the Great Falls.You really have to hike in there to appreciate how dangerous it is when there is a lot of water — 10 or 15 feet more water than normal.Big, jagged rocks, logs, gnarled trees, assorted river junk — and caves, practically, carved out of the cliff by the swirling water.Even the kayak maniacs won’t go in there at high water.It was a sobering experience, and I cannot stress this enough — it is not safe to jump off that cliff, into that water. Ever.I returned Memorial Day, in time to watch one of the strangest exhibitions of fishing I’ve ever seen.I was standing on the first of the rock shelves, dropping small bass poppers from above on a mess of crappies, when I noticed these five guys making their way upstream from the bridge.Two of them had spinning rods. They were whipping the rods straight up and down, rapidly. This is either a new technique or the sign of advanced cluelessness.Two others had nets, which they shoved under boulders, perhaps looking to surprise somebody. It was the fishing equivalent of a home invasion, except nobody was home.The fifth man just jumped up and down for no apparent reason.This crew didn’t stay put very long. They dashed about with great energy and no results. And then they were gone.And to complete the weirdness of the day, I got a good look at the giant carp that patrol this stretch of river. They are big. A yard long, maybe. And fat. And mean-looking.So much so that standing in the water just below the bridge, I started to wonder about the question of carp and teeth. Treacherous slime notwithstanding, it suddenly seemed much safer up on the rock shelf.So I went.