Oct 1, 2008
By Roger Emile Stouff
5 a.m. Bugs splat and accumulate on the windshield, but I press the accelerator just a little harder, edging to the speed limit. I donít speed, but itís difficult to restrain the ache to cover the miles more quickly.
Iím driving and chatting with my pal, Pete Cooper Jr., author of Fly Fishing the Louisiana Coast and Redfish. Peteís been going this way a decade or so. Iím on my fourth trip, and even by 6 a.m., it seems farther away than the moon.
But at last we reach the turn into the forest, and itís still a good half-hour to the creek. The third member of our party, Scott Presley, is already there, rod strung up and anxious.
"Thereís not much water down there," Scott tells us after I make introductions. We walk to the edge of the bluff and sure enough, the creek is low as Iíve ever seen it. Pete commences to fussing: Someone has lined big rocks along the east side of the downstream flow to channel it into a stream five or six feet wide there along the sandstone terraces which, normally, are a gorgeous set of tumbling rapids.
"Well," I said of the diminished lateral expanse of the creek, "At least thereís less places for the fish to hide!"
You must understand that this is one of several dozen designated "scenic streams" in Louisiana, and is therefore carefully protected and is supposed to be left to its natural devices unless preservation intervention is absolutely necessary.
We head upstream just to the head of the rapids. I am fishing my custom bamboo fly rod constructed for me by Harry Boyd of Winnsboro, a rodmaker of national regard. A little overgunned for creek bass, which donít get as large in general as lake bass, but I wanted bamboo in my hand.
And it wasnít long before I cast an orange popper fly near an undercut bank, twitched it twice to make the pop and the water erupted around it, I lifted the rod tip and something pulled back. Before long I had a feisty little spotted bass in my hand. There, standing past my knees in cold, clear creek water on a sandstone terrace, all was right with my world. And I thought of Harry Middleton, of course, again feeling a brotherhood with that sad, elegant man:
"That first trout, the trout that rose from the depths of Karenís Pool, came up from a chaos of half-submerged, slick, moss-covered, gray-green stones near the head of the pool, left me trembling and smiling and laughing and inexorably hooked, addicted before I had even felt its full weight or seen its dark eyes or the blush of colors on its back. That trout left me breathless, then left me yelling, the shouts coming from deep in my belly. That trout filled my senses, my mind and imagination. When I finally saw it, it seemed like some strange blend of faded sunset and rising shadow, night winds, cloudy moonglow and vague starlight."
As I set the little spot free, I took the time to let the toils of the past few months wash away downstream. Thereís really no place like this anywhere else in Louisiana. Some of the trees were beginning to make fall colors, and the cold water was rushing behind me over sandstone steps, laughing like children, taunting each other in gurgling, giggling frolic. Upstream was a long, deep pool shaded by a canopy of trees, and beyond that, white bluffs as the stream turned eastward and into the unseen.
††††††††††† Here I am, I thought. All the waiting, all the festering unease all these months, anesthetized by cold water, sliced away from my body by the scalpel of the current rushing past me.
There were campers along the bluffs of the stream, but we hiked past the big pool after two or three more catches and to the slower water upstream, but did no good there. The creek is slower there, more thoughtful and careful, as if older somehow, more wizened. We took the trail back to the recreation area for lunch because the sun was getting high, and made sandwiches at the picnic tables before heading out in the trucks for the lower end of the stream where we crossed a forest service bridge that, last time Scott and I had been there, had no planking and we walked its tenuous girders to get across.
A couple hours there, and Pete decided weíd go to an out-of-the-way section of the creek midway between the two spots weíd already fished.
††††††††††† On the way, however, we stopped on a side road were the forest service had put a white PVC pipe into the side of a hill, and water flowed steadily from it. Pete filled up a half-gallon jug, took a swig and handed it to me.
"Thatís only been touched by the hand of God," he said.
It splashed into my mouth like earthblood, and I tasted at once the darkness within the stone from which it flowed and the sudden flare of the sun into which it tumbled out of the white pipe. Clean, freshÖwords fail me. It cannot be described, and I was instantly saddened that in more than four-decades of life on this wonderful old planet, I had never tasted real water. Forget that bottled stuff we buy claiming to be "spring water." It is a shadow reflection of this truth; a half-lie told in whisper.
We could only take my truck about halfway to the next spot, then we loaded all our gear into Scottís truck because itís four-wheel drive and made a bumpy, rolling ride.
Here the stream was as lovely as always, but I thought the water was colder there for some reason. It is spring-fed, largely, though drainage of the surrounding hills Ė some nearly 500 feet Ė contributes water to it as well. More fish, and along the way Pete noticed some black stones, some the size of footstools, along the stream bank. Near as we could tell, it was basalt, an ancient igneous rock. Itís unlikely the creek has cut that deep into the earthís crust there in central Louisiana, so there must have been some sort of geologic uplift that the stream cut into back when it was a raging river. And what a river it must have been! The bluffs around it are wide and high, tremendous antiquity in the weathered lines and cracks of their sandstone faces. Thousands of years ago, that raging river had cut low enough to expose the basalt forced upward like a sort of pimple in the earthís crust.
We ended the day just before dusk. Late evening neared and I lagged back, listening to the creek, listening for cousins naming themselves Talimali, Apalachee, Adai and Caddo. I took a small cigar out of my pocket, bit off about an inch of the foot, shredded and sprinkled it into the stream and lit the rest to share tobacco with old ghosts.
But then it was time to go. In all, we had 16 spotted bass between us. Not bad, considering by the second bass I caught I had broken my record for my other three trips there. We departed the stream and the forest, had a late supper and Scott made his way northeast for home, Pete and I south and east. I dropped him off near Lafayette, and made my way back to the reservation. Wading almost twelve hours in running water, across wet and dry sandbars, climbing and coming down bluffs and hills, I was sore and stiff and exhausted and the three-hour drive home seemed like six or eight.
It was 10:30 when I pulled up in my driveway, and I was unloading my gear when Suzie opened up the front door and Bogie crashed into me like a yellow, 55-pound package of exuberant welcome, and nearly knocked me off my feet. After I had him settled down, I sat down with Suzie in the house and she asked, "So howíd it go?"
I thought about it a split second. My lower and mid back ached to high-heaven. My knees were protesting the climbs and descents loudly, my shoulders throbbing from the weight of my fishing bag on them all day. The soles of my feet and between my toes were actually a little raw from the sand in my sandals. A splinter had lanced into the arch of my foot. I had a headache and was a little nauseous from car sickness, which Iím prone to on long drives. My hair was matted where I had been wearing my hat all day. I felt, and Iím sure looked, like I had been rode hard and put up wet.
But I said, "Wonderful. I canít wait to go back."