Streams of Spirit
St. Paul's River - Quebec
Atlantic salmon fishing was strictly for the aristocracy until my wife Penny and I changed all that. We'd fished the St. Paul's for several years, but it wasn't until last July that we were invited there during prime time. Penny was high rod for the week, beating out seven Canadians who fish this lovely stretch of river. Like steelhead, Atlantic salmon are terrific fighters, though a big fish make take the fly as gently as a a six-inch brookie. But when he feels the iron, my friend, stand back!
Collins Brook - Connecticut
This is where it all started, not only my love for fishing, but my painting as well. I was seven years old in 1943, when I fished Collins Brook for the first time. I'll never forget that year because two of my uncles, who were both a little crazy, had just returned from fighting the Japanese at Quadacanal. Anyway, my brother Pete and I were given exclusive rights to fish the stream, which was loaded with native brookies. For years we fished for those bright little jewels on each opening day of trout season.
Mr. Collins painted wildlife, and I was fascinated by his work-so much so that I decided to try it myself. I saved up my nickels and pennies for some watercolor paints, and by age nine I was doing my own paintings of deer, ducks and other wild creatures that lived on his wooded estate. That was over fifty years ago, and I'm still painting and still fishing, though I'll probably never return to that wonderful little stream.
St. John's River - Florida
The St. John's, I believe, is the longest northward-flowing river in the Lower Forty-eight. It starts around Melbourne, then parallels Florida's eastern shore for about two hundred miles before emptying into the Atlantic at Mayport. The scenery along the way is magnificent, and its dark, swirling waters are home to more wild creatures than any river I've seen, including manatees, alligators, tarpon, bass, bream, ducks, deer, raccoons, possums, all kinds of water birds and, of course, largemouth bass. The fishing was great years ago, and I guess it's still good in some of the more remote spots.
I enjoy creating scenes like this, which may incorporate a mix of particularly memorable sights and sounds from a week of fishing. A spectacular thunderhead, a beautiful stand of palms, even the loud splash of a bass as it shatters the glass-like surface - all somehow find their way from memory to canvas.
North Platt River - Wyoming
A few years ago I was a guest at the Old Baldy Club, which has about five hundred members, all nice folks who share the same love for the North Platt River. You can either wade or drift to catch the river's big browns and rainbows. the stream meanders through prairie country near Saratoga in south-central Wyoming. But in many places it's lined with towering cottonwood trees that appear like giant pillars at the gateway to something of profound grandeur. Evenings on the North Platt are especially peaceful calm, and free of other fishermen, and with only the sounds of insects and tumbling water.
Piney Creek - Wyoming
Some of Penny's relatives owned a ranch near Sheridan, and lucky for me, Piney Creek ran through it. I was real friendly with its average-sized trout, but I never met one of the lunkers that hang out beneath its brushy, undercut banks. I've fished many of the big-name rivers in Montana and Wyoming, but I always came back to the Piney. It tumbles through a soft, green canopy, much like an Eastern stream. Only the locals fished it, so I usually had things to myself just me and its feisty rainbows.
This particular spot is one of my favorites because it's so beautiful and secluded. On sunny mornings the dappled light plays across the water and streamside vegetation to form a sparkling mosaic that I was challenged to recreate on canvas. And besides, the pool just past the old beaver dam is always quick to give up a fish or two.
Alsea River - Oregon
West Coast steethead rivers have their own special character. Many of them roar through lush forests and steep-walled canyons where the mist and fog rise and fall, creating an almost oriental atmosphere. The Alsea was once filled with big, bright fish, fresh from the ocean. Other Oregon rivers like the Deschutes, North Umpqua and Siuslaw still have good steelhead fishing, though you have to work hard to catch your share of these magnificent fish.
Whale River - Quebec
If you jet almost straight north one thousand miles from Montreal, you will come to Fort Chimo, now called Kuujjuaq. Eskimos and caribou live there all year long, and in July and August you'll find big Atlantic salmon in rivers like the Whale (below) and George. I've caught caught salmon up to twenty-four pounds in these maritime rivers, fish that will rip two hundred yards of line off your reel while you stand there slack-jawed and with your knees knocking.
Fish River Chainof-Lakes - Maine
The Fish River in northern Maine links seven different lakes, each from eight to twenty-five miles long. We started fishing and camping there in 1960, when four-to five-pound landlocked salmon and brook trout were common, with some up to seven pounds. The river was unsurpassed for its landlocked salmon fishery, but encroaching civilization and pressure from ice fishermen, and bigger and better angling gear have dampened things a bit. Still, Penny and I continue to go back, not so much to fish but just immerse ourselves in the stream's quiet beauty, though I confess that I don't camp out much any more. At my age I prefer dry, warm bedding; I'll leave the wood-smoke and drizzle to the new breed.