Feeling boxed in with the changing weather, I walked into the sunroom to see Joey with an expression that matched my own state of mind — restless.
“Want to go for a hike?” I asked my ten-year-old son.
He perked up and immediately reached for a sweatshirt. “Yeah, Dad!” Joey yelled.
And we were out the door in five minutes.
“Let’s go somewhere a little different today,” I said to him.
So at the bottom of the driveway I turned left instead of right. Then at the bridge a few minutes later, I headed upstream instead of down.
We followed a road that parallels a no-name creek for ten miles. Joey peered across the fallow fields, through leafless branches of standing maples, trying to get a glimpse of the water. All the while, I talked to him about having the heart of an explorer.
Then as I eased the truck off the blacktop, into a soft gravely mud, Joey sat attentively, leaning forward to see ahead. And where the gravel finally touched the grass, we rolled to a stop.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Plum Grove,” I said. “I don’t think I’ve ever taken you here before. Right?”
“Huh uh.” Joey shook his head.
As the doors closed behind us, I told my son what I knew would peak his interest even more. “It’ll be a good adventure, buddy!” And it was.
When you first move to this area, the miles of river might seem endless, like you could fish for the rest of your life and never see it all. But given a couple decades of hard fishing, you may start to feel quite the opposite. The miles of twisting rivers and rambling streams become your home, and each one within the perimeter of a reasonable driving distance is mentally marked as either explored and fishy or explored and fishless. Until eventually, the list of the unexplored disappears.
And to sustain a sense of adventure, your urge to reconsider the marginal water overtakes your parallel urge to go for the sure thing. Hunting for places beyond the obvious marks on the map becomes part of what you do, not only on fishing trips, but on your days off too.
So as Joey and I navigated the deer trail adjacent to the river, I noted the ice.
This limestone region is awash in spring water, seeping from the ground in places large and small. The biggest springs here have names and draw attention. The small springs are known only to locals — and only to observant ones at that. You see, in addition to the well known limestoners written about in the guide books, we have a host of freestone streams. And some of them are marginal at best. They are places that hold a few trout for the exploring fisherman — for the wanderer — for the adventurer. Plum Grove warms in the summer and freezes in the winter — but not all of it. And I know it holds trout that grow, let’s say . . . larger than average.
I’d fished these few miles of Plum Grove for years, with intriguing but spotty success. This piece of river was an unsolved mystery in search of more leads. And today was just the right day to gather that data.
Joey and I stopped at the river’s edge. We slid rocks across the shelf-ice for a while, playing our redneck version of shuffleboard. In the slowest pools, the flat icy sheet stretched all the way across. But even in the faster runs, slush formed at the edges.
Far downstream, though, the water was wide open and ice free.
“Hey, do you see that huge sycamore that’s fallen in the water down at the bend?” I asked Joey.
“Yeah, let’s walk down there,” he nodded.
So we did.
Joey walked ahead as I lagged behind to scan the river. And he was the first to see it. Just a hundred yards below our shuffleboard game, Joey pointed to the far bank and asked, “What’s that little stream called?”
We stopped, and I smiled.
“It doesn’t have a name, Joe. In fact, it’s not really a stream. It’s a spring. Look. There’s hardly a ditch where the water comes in. But with all the rivers so high this winter, that spring is overflowing, enough that we can see it pouring into the river like that.”
“Wow, that’s cool!” He said. Then he turned downstream. “Hey, look at all the green stuff down here . . .”
Joey ran ahead to find another spring, this time on our own bank. The water seeped from an undercut, a nondescript piece of riverbank with spring water gushing into the main flow. The bright green algae was over-saturated, visually startling against the dull whitewash of winter.
“Nice,” I said. “So here’s another spring. And there are probably more springs that come up right in the middle of the riverbed.”
I pointed back upstream a bit.
“And look, Joey. This is where the ice breaks up. This is where the river is warmer than the rest. This shot of spring water changes the temperature and the chemistry of the water below it. It’s warmer now, and in the summertime it’ll be . . .”
“Colder!” Joey finished my point. “So this is where all the trout will hang out during droughts and in August and stuff.”
“You got it.” I nodded. “And when the water is at normal levels, you can’t see these springs, or this green or any of it.”
I stood beside Joey and motioned to the river above and below.
“I’ve fished through here a dozen times,” I said. “And I never knew about these spring seeps. But I do now. And I’m sure there’s water from underground coming into this section all year long.”
“Yeah, now we learned about it,” Joey said.
“That’s right, bud. And now we’ll return.”
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N