"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
About Bayou Bill
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Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

This is a story about Camp, the late Uncle Harold, the even-later and fictional Uncle Remus, some very nasty deer flies, and some native brook trout that lived in Upstate New York’s Independence River.

Where does one start in telling such a story?

Perhaps I should simply say I married a girl whose dowry included Uncle Harold Smith.

Uncle Harold, an uncut brook-trout-fishing diamond, and Aunt Edith, his wife, who was equally famous for her blueberry muffins and other culinary capers, lived at Rome (NY variety). He was the maintenance department for that city’s fire department. She was a schoolteacher, undoubtedly one of a kind.

Uncle Harold (who would become Harold to me as one brook trout fishing outing ran into another over the years), drove one of those old U.S. Army Jeeps that was painted fire engine red and would master the meanest of old logging roads in the Adirondack Mountains.

Uncle Harold and Aunt Edith, with much foresight in 1943, purchased for a pittance an old farm house that was situated on the southwest shore of Rondaxe Lake (right next to the lake’s outlet into the north branch of the Moose River). 

That old farm house, and the 24 acres that went with it, were hardly more than a stone’s throw (if you had a good arm) from the colorful town of Old Forge, a k a The Forge. This alone would have made their purchase a steal at several times the price they paid, even if Rondaxe Lake had not been there with its Bottle And Cork Mountain perched on the east shore--just waiting to show off its shadowy wonders at dusk on calm days.

Well, my wife, Nancy, was one of Uncle Harold favorite nieces. Thus, when it was determined that we would wed in the fall of 1954, an invitation was forthcoming for us to spend our honeymoon at “Camp,” which the old farmhouse had come to be known. Not The Camp, just Camp, pure and simple.

Uncle Harold, who never saw a job he didn’t want to tackle, and Aunt Edith, in a few short years had transformed the old farmhouse into a delightfully homey hideaway where they, and other members of their families, could recreate completely and unequivocally.

We did not get to honeymoon at Camp. But as Uncle Harold learned more about my occupation--a newspaperman (police reporter and outdoor columnist for a big-city daily)--there was no way we could have vacationed anywhere else the following year.

Several years later (after Uncle Harold and I had melded as a pretty good fishing team) my wife’s father told me that one of Uncle Harold’s first comments, when he heard I had set a trap for one of his favorite nieces, was: “So Nancy is going to marry a big city boy.”

Thus, though I didn’t know it, I may have been somewhat stigmatized as an angling greenhorn before our initial trip to Camp.

However, my wife’s parents had sent Aunt Edith and Uncle Harold clippings of my outdoor columns--one about George, a free-flying pet robin of their family--I appeared to be accepted; or so in seemed, when one of Aunt Edith’s letters indicated that Uncle Harold was looking forward to fishing with me. He even suggested that I probably should have a fly rod and chest-high waders, which had been parts of my chattel for several years. He would have the other items of angling paraphernalia I would need to fish the Adirondacks streams for native brook trout, her letter said.

So it was that my wife’s parents, her sister, and another brother of Aunt Edith’s, and his wife and daughter, were to converge on Camp in July of 1955.

My wife and I were last to arrive, having driven straight through from Indianapolis; winding up the ordeal with a 2 a.m. (Sunday night) stop at an all-night pizza shop at The Forge. I would not even attempt to explain why a pizza shop would be open all night at such a sleepy little town in the summer of 1955. But that stop put us at Camp about 3:30 a.m. with two lukewarm, loaded pizzas (including anchovies).

Getting people to eat lukewarm, loaded pizza (with anchovies) even several hours after one of Aunt Edith’s din-dins would be somewhat akin to offering a super-loaded, foot-long hot dog to the winner of a hot dog-eating contest at the awards ceremony.
Amid the hugs and handshakes with my new relatives (bleary-eyed, as we all were), I was not unduly concerned that the aforementioned super-loaded, lukewarm pizzas (including anchovies) were hardly touched. I was more concerned that Uncle Harold, whom, by this time, I was dying to meet, was conspicuous by his absence.

No sweat, my bride informed me, Uncle Harold would be there by noon the next day (a Monday) and he would be there the rest of the week. We would have ample time for fishing for those native brookies that roamed the Moose, the Independence River to the north, and some of the little pockets of deep water below beaver dams on their smaller feeder brooklets.
Prospects were bright as I went back out to the car before turning in to make sure my little Heddon Thoroughbred split bamboo fly rod (eight foot, three-piece with an extra tip) had made the trip without mishap. It was a little like making sure one’s new little bird dog puppy is okay before turning in at night.

Uncle Harold and his fire-engine-red Jeep pulled in shortly before noon the next day.  After the customary greetings and a lunch that included Aunt Edith’s specialty (homemade blueberry muffins, made from wild berries picked almost within the shadows of Camp), we relaxed around the perimeter of the living room for more family talk. I kept wondering when we would go fishing, but I did not know how to broach the subject.
I didn’t suffer long.

At the first lull in the conversation, Uncle Harold looked across the room at me and asked: “Want to go fishin’?”

It was like waving a red flag at a wounded water buffalo. But I tried to be cool.

“I’ll get my stuff,” I said calmly, as Uncle Harold headed for the cellar where he kept an old wood box of decaying grass, a little damp earth and a goodly supply of wiggly night crawlers.
He fixed up two of those little curved, green-metal, half-moon bait boxes with belt hooks, then went to the Fibber McGee walk-in closed off the back door entryway. 

As Uncle Harold went through the closet, which doubled as the wood shed, he found his well-used fly rod--an early fiberglass . . . Conlan, I believe--and two wicker-basket creels. But there was only one of those egg-shaped landing nets with the short handle and the stretchy cord by which it rested when not in use around the angler’s neck.

With everything out of the closet, and still no second landing net, Uncle Harold’s search centered on a small shed in the back yard. It, likewise, failed to fetch a second landing net. 

“Well,” I opined aloud, “I won’t need a landing net.”

“Oh! Won’t you?” Uncle Harold countered, and in a minute upturn-twitch at both ends of his mouth I could see the slightest tinge of disbelief in the city boy’s woodsy credentials--outdoor writer or not.

The unsuccessful search for a second net ended there.

Soon we were on the dusty road, as Uncle Harold explained that the trout we would fish for were not big, but they were natives . . . no stocked trout . . . which seemed to lend an aura of down-to-earthiness to our venture.

A short distance beyond Carter Station, a crossroad of a defunct railroad, the road seemed to peter out. Soon it was two tracks. Then, to my momentary consternation, there was a padlocked gate. 

No big deal for Uncle Harold. He simply put the Jeep in neutral, unlocked the lock with a key he fished from his watch pocket, and closed and locked the gate behind us. We were off again, but slower this time as we went up steep grades and dodged boulders almost as big as the jeep in the middle of the . . .uh . . . road. 

I later learned that when we crossed the river on a “bridge” that consisted of two 6-by-14-inch planks with some supports here and there, we were 14 miles past the gate. The crude bridge was no problem for Uncle Harold.

Here the river was only 10 to 20 feet wide at most points as it slipped between steep, rocky ridges covered with a great variety of spruce, pine and other conifers.  There it meandered through little meadow marshes of aquatic weeds. Now and then we would come to long stretches of deep, quiet, dark but clear water, made trouty-looking by the undercut banks and the trunks and limbs of huge fallen trees that appeared to have been there for hundreds of years.
Invariably, at the lower ends of these holes, we would find fast water riffling through narrow necks. At a point just above where the water smoothed out in the next quiet pool, there would be a little depression gouged out by the current.

One of Uncle Harold’s first lessons came at such a spot. As we approached the fast water, Uncle Harold took a stand behind waist high weeds and paused to quietly tell me about the little pockets, and how they often hosted a brookie or two . . . maybe more.

Then he whipped out two or three false casts and dropped his bait gently at about the middle of the fast water. His bait was a small piece of night crawler on a No. 7, short-shanked wire hook. He also had crimped a small strip of lead on the leader six inches above the hook.

Uncle Harold wasted little time in getting started toward his limit of 10 brookies (7-inch minimum size limit). It was not as easy for me. I had never caught a native brook trout, or even fished for them.

Uncle Harold and I were only 50 feet or so apart when I hooked my first brookie. It was a nice little fish, maybe eight inches, certainly a keeper.

I played the fish carefully and thoroughly to be certain that I would get it in the creel. But when I scooped it up with my free left hand and unhooked it, the fish flipped and squirted out of my hand like a slick bar of soap in a tight shower.

Uncle Harold did not laugh at me. But I did notice his lips curl upward at their ends again. And, though he uttered no word, I seemed to hear someone say, “Oh! Won’t You?” 

Undaunted, I flipped my offering back to the same spot, and it was scooped up by the twin brother of the brookie I had just lost.

I played this one carefully, too, in what I deemed a pivotal performance. But this time (standing in water above my knees), rather than trying to pick up the fish with my left hand, I put a little extra pressure on the little rod and banked the trout off my chest while pulling out my loose-fitting waders at the top with my left hand. Bulls-eye!

Uncle Harold still did not laugh. But the upward curl of his lips at both ends was more obvious. 
I likened my performance in making do without a net, to hearing the nine ball click in a corner pocket after kissing three rails . . . under my guidance and at my call.

After slipping his second or third fish into his wicker creel with a couple of handfuls of wet grassy weeds, Uncle Harold switched to a little gray artificial fly, which he called a nymph. Actually, it was nothing more complicated than some frilly, gray yarn tied on a #10 or #12 light wire hook. I think I still have a few of them. They work just as well for bluegills.

Soon Uncle Harold was snaking in those little brookies with fire-engine-red bellies like it soon would be going out of style. But he took time out to tie one of the nymphs on for me.
Uncle Harold, who preferred fishing for the little brookies with the nymphs, used the night crawlers for “insurance.” He explained that the brookies can be “finicky” at times, but that they almost always would take worms, or pieces thereof.

Some time, he told me, if you pinch off a very small piece of night crawler (say a piece as big as two match heads) with your thumbnail and thread it onto the hook of the nymph, trout will respond well.

“I guess trout are a little like men,” he said wryly, “at times they want meat with the potatoes.” 
It had been almost mid-afternoon before we started fishing. We must have been half a mile upstream from the Jeep when Uncle Harold announced that he was close to his limit and would fish his way back to the Jeep.

“Go ahead and fish . . . there’s a good stretch of water just above here . . . up in the trees” he told me, knowing that I was not having the kind of luck he had enjoyed.
I fished on, but just didn’t seem to have the skills the little brookies required. Oh, I caught some fish and I was having a ball, but most of them were not keepers.

Finally, as the sun sank lower beyond the mountain to the west, I headed back downstream, more or less resigned to the fact that mastering this kind of fishing might take some time. Soon I came to a wide spot in the stream. It appeared to have a fairly deep hole at about the middle. I remembered that I had found some action there an hour or so before with some smaller brookies.

I cast the little nymph into the pool and there was action immediately . . . my second keeper.
While I was slipping that one into my wicker creel, I could hear Uncle Harold whooping for me downstream, apparently at the Jeep. I couldn’t understand everything he was saying, but the end of the airborne communique indicated that it was getting a little late.

Another cast into the pool produced another keeper and I knew somebody, in addition to the fish, was getting hooked. It was I (as in me). I fished on. I couldn’t quit.

Soon the fishing was so good, and my surroundings so beautiful in the gathering dusk, that I looked up at the sheer mountainside, halfway expecting to see God smiling down on me and saying: “They’re hittin’ pretty good, aren’t they, Bill!”

Uncle Harold’s intermittent communiques continued to urge me to “Come on . . . Let’s get out of here . . . It’s getting’ dark.” But I fished on until I had 10 brookies in my creel. 

It was a personal brook trout fishing experience that will be paled by none . . . not even the 7-pound, 2-ounce red-belly male that graces my den wall, via a wild river of northern Ontario.
As we prepared to head back out, I was telling Uncle Harold about the hot spot where I had hit pay dirt, and how I had expected to look up on the side of the mountain and see God sitting there watching me fish.

“Well, I hope to hell he is still around,” said Uncle Harold, dryly, while firing up the engine of the old Jeep. “We may need some help getting out of here in the dark!” 

Over the years--Uncle Harold died in 1985--there were many trips to the Independence--at least one every year--in addition to the Moose River, and numerous smaller creeks. I learned something about fishing for brookies on every trip we took. But the trip that stands out most vividly in my mind was a solo.

It was a bad year for fires in Rome and the fire fighting equipment was demanding more of Uncle Harold's time. In addition, Uncle Harold had undergone a colostomy a few years before I met him, and that was slowing him down some although he never gave up.

It must have been in the '70s because the car we drove to Camp that summer was a Jeep Wagoneer Limited--fancy, but it would go just about any place.

Uncle Harold had been at camp several days and we had enjoyed some fishing trips on the Moose and some of its small tributaries fairly close to Camp.

We planned a trip to the Independence, but it developed that Uncle Harold’s services were urgently needed back in Rome.

The night before he had to leave, we commiserated that we would not be able to go to the wild country together.  But Uncle Harold, knowing how much I loved that county, opined that our Wagoneer certainly would make it to a point no more than two or three miles from the good fishing water. He refreshed my memory to “bear to the right” any time the road forked.

He said I could park before I got to the really tough parts of the road, and from there I could ride Shank's mare (my feet and legs) over the old logging roads to the river.
Going it alone was no great shake for me. As I slithered through what many of the older folks called a misspent youth in Southern Indiana, my hunting/fishing mentors were older men (my father, the late Jacob W. Scifres, and numerous other older men of my old hometown, Crothersville).

Older men, even in those post-depression days, were prone to have families and faced the necessity of having jobs. Thus, I often was cast alone in my outdoor world to apply the things the older men taught me. Things like shooting squirrels in the eye with the little Springfield bolt-action, single-shot .22, which I still have, or getting a bass to smack a Jitterbug just after daylight on the Muscatatuck River. 

No! Going it alone was no big deal for me. Anyhow, our time at Camp was winding down, too. So I decided to do it the next afternoon . . . I would leave Camp late in the morning and drive in as far as I could.  Then I would hike in along the logging roads to the makeshift plank bridge and fish upstream from there, catching the mid-afternoon and late-afternoon fishing. It was a bright, still, and warm day.

In the 20 or so years Uncle Harold had been taking me to the Independence, I had gotten a pretty good grasp of the situation. I was eager to try it, solo . . . and to try some of my own theories on brook trout fishing--especially the ones that revolved around my thinking that those brookies might like grasshoppers and other insects just as much as they liked pieces of night crawlers.

Yes, I would do it . . . without night crawlers . . . just the things I could scrounge up for bait at the river, and (of course) Uncle Harold’s nymph.

There was one hitch. Nancy, Aunt Edith and our daughters also had an agenda, and theirs would require wheels. It appeared that I might have to forego my afternoon with the brookies on the Independence that year.

With rain and thunderstorms predicted for the next day, and our homeward trek coming up the day after that, I had an idea. I would not drive in quite so far, walk a little further, and Nancy could drop me off and pick me up again before dark.

We were all a little reluctant to try it, but Uncle Harold had stressed that the old logging roads were not as bad as in years past. We would give it a whirl.

With the Wagoneer in four-wheel drive as soon as we passed the gate at Carter Station, I drove in, pointing out what could be trouble spots for Nancy on the way out. 

When we topped a little foothill, I decided this would be my jumping-off place. I turned the Jeep around, collected my fishing paraphernalia, and bade my bride a good trip back to camp . . . and another one when she came to pick me up. 

I watched until she was out of sight, then picked up my gear and headed over the brink of the hill amid a virtual swarm of deer flies. Knock 'em off one arm and they would be on the other, on my neck and even my cheeks and in my hair and eyes. 

I told myself I would take care of those rascals in short order with my trusty insect repellent. But when I checked the first pocket of my “fishing” vest, the repellent bottle was not there. The same with the pockets on the other side. I must have looked like I was doing a double time hula (more clothing and probably knobbier knees than the Hawaiian girls wear and display on TV) as I vainly slapped at the pockets of my fishing vest, shirt and trousers, hoping to find the slightest hint that the bug bottle was there--all the time trying to escape the snapping jaws of my tormentors. 

(Actually it was a hunting vest pressed into service as a fishing vest because a newspaperman in the '60s and 70s did not have a lot of money to spend on the luxury of two kinds of vests. It was a little like modern-day baseball caps, one vest worked for both hunting and fishing, if I were not fishing with some of my snobbish, purist friends, which I tried to avoid).

After slapping and emptying all of the pockets of the vest, my shirt and trousers, it became patently apparent that I had placed the little repellent bottle on the rear floorboard. In my haste to get to those brookies, I had failed to pick it up when I exited the Jeep. 

In a middle-of-the-trail conference of one, it also became the same ilk of apparentness that even if I gave up fishing for the afternoon, and simply hoofed it out of there, it would be close to time for Nancy to pick me up by the time I could get back to Carter Station, and that even there I would find no relief from the marauding buzz bombs.

My analysis: Why not go ahead and fish? That was, after all, the thing I had set out to do. Maybe I would get lucky and the wind would pick up to help me find relief from the bugs. 

Walking fast, while swatting and scraping deer flies, I made it to the river, learning on the way that the deer flies were bad everywhere, but not quite so bad in the sun as in the shade. 

Once at the river, I started looking for bait. Anything that looked like a grasshopper was in deep trouble. I wasn't catching a lot of trout on those critters, but I was pleased with the fish I had--considering that it was the brightest part of the day, and that I was under relentless attack by the deer flies. 

As I fished upstream, my thoughts were on the old millpond pool, which was 50 or 60 yards wide and a little longer than wide. The river flowed into the millpond through a narrow neck that featured ankle-deep water and a gravel bottom. I knew the spot well from past experiences, and I knew I would have a good shot at catching some brookies there. 

By the time I got there I had given up on natural baits, mainly because they were hard to find and difficult to catch. I had tied on one of Uncle Harold’s nymphs because this kind of fishing allowed me to cover more water. Uncle Harold’s  “little piece of night crawler technique” would have been welcome, had I opted to bring some crawlers. 

For a short time I just stood there in the weeds and brush at the upper end of the millpond--sort of getting the lay of the land (water), swatting and scraping deer flies, while I admired the beauty of the spot. Then, still screened by the weeds and brush, I laid the nymph down at the middle of the fast water and watched my fly line and leader as they flowed into the pool below. 

I was a little disappointed at the lack of action, but fished the spot for several minutes before wading slowly into the fast water where I would have more room for a back cast. This would make it possible to work my nymph further down into the pool over potentially deeper water. 

To reach the flat water at the end of the riffle would have been impossible without a shooting taper and more fly-casting skill that I possessed, then or now. I guess it would be safe to say my loops are not real tight, and that my double hall probably could stand an overhaul. But as I explained to the membership committee when that august body was considering me for membership in the equally-august Indianapolis Fly Casters Club: “I am a fly fisherman . . . not necessarily a fly-caster.  But I do enjoy fishing with the magic wand.” 

There I am, standing in the fast water casting my nymph as far down the moving water as I could, and paying out extra line to increase the amount of water I could cover--all the while slapping deer flies into the water and mean-mouthing them as the current carried them away. 

Although I concede that God probably loves deer flies--why would he have created them if he didn’t think kindly of them? --I am not dead certain that there is anything good to be said about them. At that moment, I couldn't think of anything benevolent to call them, although a good feature of deer flies lies in the fact that once they start biting, you can just pick them off with index finger and thumb and crush them. I think I could catch them with tweezers.

SWAT! "Take that you ornery bugger," I said a few times, I think, reveling at the way the current carried them away. Maybe "bugger" was not the exact word I used. It could have been a stronger word. I own a few . . . maybe more than a few.

Standing there in the sun with a slight breeze now stirring, I must have been just about as free of deer-fly problems as I had been all afternoon. But the problem still existed.

I wasn't catching any fish, but I was having fun trying.

In a few minutes I noticed a fish rising within my casting range. I tried the spot, but I still wasn't getting any action. Before long there were fish rising everywhere at about the point where the fast water met the quiet water of the pool. But there still was no action on Uncle Harold’s nymph.

Could it be, I asked myself, that in smashing deer flies and scraping them off into the swift water, I was creating a hatch of sorts . . . a smorgasbord for the brookies?

“How absolutely neat,” I thought.

The next deer fly I picked off my arm was impaled on the hook of the nymph, and then cast as far as I could send it down the swift water.

"WHAMMO!" I was in business!

By slapping, scraping and picking deer flies off my arms, neck and face, and punching them onto the nymph's hook, I created some of the fastest brookie fishing I have ever know.

It was, I thought, a little like discovering that one’s back-yard beehive is infested with bee moth. It is a terrible thing for the bees, not to mention the fact that it could limit the supply of honey for hot biscuits smeared with real butter for breakfast on a frigid morn.

Still, treatment will rid the hive of these beggars . . . and, if the amateur apiarist uses his head enough to save some of the larva, he can gain a measure of retribution by feeding them to slab bluegills through the ice after said breakfast on said frigid morn. Little hooks in the larva, of course. 

I don't know how long it took to fill out my 10-fish limit, but as the sun started dropping, the action tailed off.

I stopped to count my fish as I headed back to the hilltop where Nancy would pick me up. Looking back at the millpond pool, and the riffle at its upper end, the philosophies of both Uncle Harold and Joel Chandler Harris' beloved old Uncle Remus flitted through my mind: 

Uncle Harold: " . . . at times they want meat with the potatoes . . . "

Uncle Remus: “It's what you do with what you've got that pays off in the end . . . "

So much for retribution.

Camp Photo Gallery

[Click titles to view the images.]

Camp--The old farmhouse that became Camp nestled on the shore of Rondaxe Lake. 

The Brass Ring--Hooking one's finger on Camp's back door screen and opening the door led to a world of relaxation and fun. 

Good Spot--The beauty of the Independence River minimized the importance of catching trout, but a lunch or dinner of pan fried brookies always hit the spot. 

Good Day--Catches like this were common on the Independence River . . . not monsters, but put there by Mother Nature . . . 



All stories and columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Scifres Family, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038

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