Fourth of July Fly

Fishing Stories Banner

Fourth of July Fly

Fourth of July Fly as told by Moose Track

One more northern on the stringer and I would have a limit along with my contribution to the annual Fur, Fin, Feathers, Friends, Fun and Fireworks on the Fourth of July Get-Together. Each year when summer temperatures are peaking and the city of Ely is hustling with visitors from all over the country, I would contact and encourage local friends and guides to dig deep into their freezer and clean out the wild game they acquired from the previous hunting season. After all, it was July and game stored any longer may suffer freezer burn not to mention it was time to start thinking about the upcoming hunting season. The annual wild game feed was not only an opportunity to watch some great fireworks and exchange mid-season guiding stories, but also a chance to taste some excellent wild game grilled to perfection. Included in the fur category were venison, bear elk, and antelope. Wild turkey, grouse, woodcock, and pheasant rounded out the feather section while a lake full of fish would be deep-fried to a crisp golden brown.

This particular year we were a little light in the fish category, so a few friends and myself decided it was the perfect opportunity (and excuse) to head out to a local lake and catch some feisty northern on a fly-rod. Not only are they great eating, but a challenge and thrill to catch when using a fly rod. Before leaving, I quickly tied some streamers, which would hopefully entice ol’ tooth mouth to strike. Since the Fourth of July was the following day, I thought it would be fun and patriotic to tie some red, white and blue streamers. I figured if the fish were not interested in them, they would sure be colorful flying through the air and being stripped back through the water. I had no idea how effective they would actually be.

Bobbing like a cork in my Bell Magic, it was enjoyable to just absorb the surroundings and not have the pressure of having to produce fish for customers who sometimes forget that guides are not ‘Fish Gods’. Fishing is always best when the fish are hungry. That is why it is called fishing and not catching. With two fish on the stringer using my new patriotic fly, my concern of not enough fish for the game feed was quickly diminishing. However, one more would put the icing on the cake and sure be fun to catch. One last false cast placed the steamer along the weed line with pinpoint accuracy. Strip, strip, strip it glided through the water flashing its American colors.

Like a hungry pariah, the northern hit voraciously. Line began peeling off the reel as ol’ toothy mouth headed for cover deep into the weed bed. Keeping pressure on him to prevent from becoming entangled in the tentacles of weeds, I managed to get him on reel and the battle began. It was not long before the nice chunky five-pound northern was almost boated which would conclude my quest to fill the stringer. Thoughts of crispy deep-fried northern pike danced in my mind. Not to mention all of the other tasty grilled fixings.

Satisfied he was tired enough to land, I grabbed and raised him into the canoe. Ruby the Reddog who always accompanied me on my canoe outings, appeared delighted that I did drop him into the bottom of the canoe which would get northern slim all over her auburn coat. Carefully extracting the lucky fly I tossed it into the water so it would not hook old Reddog and reached for the stringer. I think she was reminding me that I did not have a net which might make untying and putting the fish on the stringer a bit of a challenge. I told her not to worry and reminded her that I have done this numerous times without any incidence. With ol’ toothy mouth in one hand I began to untie the stringer with the other and prepared to put him on the stringer.

Suddenly from the depths of the remote lake, a giant snapping turtle decided he wanted to have his own Fourth of July fish fry and my stringer of fish were on his menu. The prehistoric reptile sank his jaws deep into one of the two northern on the stringer and started to head for the bottom. Things were about to get interesting. Ruby sensed danger, sat up in the canoe and prepared for a different kind of battle. Solo canoe, a five pound struggling northern in one hand, and a stringer of fish fry northern including a 30 LB snapper in the other. Oh yeah, no net.

The giant reptile was very determined and made several powerful dives towards the bottom, but I held my ground and would not let him prevail because I needed these fish more than he did. Somehow I managed to get the northern in the other hand onto the stringer which I felt was better than having him flop around the bottom of the canoe, thus causing Ruby any unnecessary stress. With three fish and a snapper on the stringer, I at least had one hand free and reached for an implement of help: my paddle. With all my might, I pulled the stringer of fish and turtle closer to the surface and bonked the old snapper on the head with my paddle. Not too hard, but hard enough to let him know these were my fish and I would appreciate it if he would find his own.

After a few thugs, he reluctantly let go. Thinking this was the end to my battle with the turtle, I thanked him for the fun. He had other ideas.
After he let go of the fish he swam along the canoe, mouth wide open and grabbed the lucky Fourth of July streamer still dangling helplessly in the water. Ruby again gave me a look of concerned as if she knew I was in for an interesting fight with this old mud runner.

Quickly, while holding onto a stringer of angry northerns I reached down with my free hand and grabbed my fly rod before it ended up in the drink (??). The turtle stripped line off the reel like a bonefish running for the flats. I kept pressure on him, but it was difficult to fight him with only one free hand. My only option at this point was to do something with the stringer of fish, so I placed it in my mouth and began a long battle with the turtle. While being towed around the lake like a new driver in a serpentine I contemplated breaking the line, but became determined to some how land this ancient creature. For not only the satisfaction and bragging rights for landing him on a fly rod, but mainly because I wanted my lucky Fourth of July streamer back.

The battle and free tow continued for what seemed 30 minutes until the old snapper began to tire out. Gingerly, I kept him on reel and was amazed that I was able to make progress on landing him. The stringer of toothy mouths were beginning to cause my jaw to tire and I wondered if this was what it was like to be on the other end of the rod. Sore teeth and a quivering jaw.

Now only 5 feet from the canoe I could see the flash of my streamer hooked deep into the corner of the turtle’s mouth. Again I considered breaking the line, but determination overwhelmed me. With stringer in mouth and Ruby supervising my plan, I eased the turtle closer and closer to the canoe. His little beady eyes stared at me as if to say ‘I give up’. I reached into the warm July water, grabbed his saw-toothed tail and attempted to lift him out of the water. The weight of the shelled creature caused the canoe to kilter severely to one side, but old Reddog pulled through a provided me with the extra counter balance need to stabilize the canoe. Using the blade of the paddle, I popped the patriotic streamer from his vice grip. Satisfied and ecstatic I actually “landed” him I released him from my not so vice like grip and watched him as he gracefully swam away.

Snapping off the lucky streamer, I immediately place it in the brim of my hat where it remains today. Noticing my friends on shore across the lake, I excitedly paddled towards them anxious to share the turtle story and to clean the fish for tomorrow’s wild game & fish feed. I pulled the canoe onto shore, placed the stringer in the water and began to tell them of my experience with the turtle. Not being positive they totally believed me, I assured them that this was no turtle tale. No sooner did I finish my story but to my disbelief, the old snapper was again attacking the fish on the stringer. Pulling with all of his might, he nearly tore the stringer from the rock it was tied to. Taking advantage of the opportunity to actually land the beast, I entered the water, again grabbed his spiny tail and lifted him for a picture of a lifetime. Not a bad day of fishing: beautiful July day, good friends, three northern pike, and a big old snapper caught on the Fourth of July fly.

Moose Track

Moose Track Adventures