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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
titles to view the images.]
old farmhouse that became Camp nestled on the shore of Rondaxe Lake.
Brass Ring--Hooking one's finger on Camp's back door screen and opening
the door led to a world of relaxation and fun.
Spot--The beauty of the Independence River minimized the importance
of catching trout, but a lunch or dinner of pan fried brookies always hit
Day--Catches like this were common on the Independence River . . .
not monsters, but put there by Mother Nature . . .