BEAVER SLAPPED


Word count: 697                                       BEAVER SLAPPED

According to Michigan state law, beaver dams cannot be built or maintained except by beavers. I find this fascinating. I have often wondered if by consuming grubs, berries, roots, rodents, and backpackers I could produce bear scat, but there’s probably a law against that, too.

In the past, the Department of Natural Resources would blow up problem beaver dams with Dynamite. I have often found pieces of detonation cord at these old dam sites; however, Lately they have taken to placing large rocks along the tops of the dams in an effort to adjust the flow of water going over them without removing or otherwise damaging the dam. I wonder if this policy of placing rocks on the tops of the dams extends the natural life of the dam and interferes with spawning fish. Beaver dams often get washed out during the spring runoff; for the fish moving into these drainages from lakes and reservoirs to spawn, the damage done to the dams during the runoff is essential.

In places overpopulated with beaver, the ponds can be very small. I often catch deformed fish (fish with large heads and long, snaky bodies) in these places. When Left alone, the beaver will periodically relocate their dams as they exhaust the supply of tender willows that they love, forming ponds throughout the whole drainage, changing the course of the stream, and creating new habitat for their riparian neighbors.

Beaver ponds are tough to fish. The commotion caused by the fly-line hitting the static water of the pond spooks the fish. This can be avoided by using a longer leader and a delicate cast, but I have found fishing a pond from above more productive. I let the fly drift down until the fly-line straightens out and then give it a few twitches. This method works extremely well with nymphs. When the nymph settles on the bottom, I begin to give the fly movement by stripping the line in slowly. I have stood in one spot and picked off five or six trout using this technique.

I often come across beaver slides (places where the beaver inter and exit the stream) that are big enough to resemble the mouth of a small feeder creek. I don’t know if these large slides are made by large beaver, or if they are the result of repeated use by small beaver, but they are big enough to give me the willies, and they get me to thinking about the stories I’ve heard of people being attacked by rabid beavers. I always stop and peer into the shadowy willows, expecting to see a giant beaver sitting there giggling and quivering with disease, waiting to pounce.

I have gotten close to beaver in the twilight of the evening with neither me nor the beaver being aware of the others presence—until the last minute.

Late one afternoon I headed downstream from my camp to fish a long stretch of creek that was located between two large beaver ponds. I found a shallow riffle marked by several rocks about the size of a man’s head sticking halfway out of the water where I was able to cross the creek and approach this particularly productive bend pool from below. The fishing was good and I had caught eight or ten fish when I realized that I had stayed too late and I would have to hustle in order to get back to camp before dark. In the twilight, I could barely make out the rocks that marked my crossing spot. I had made it to the middle of the stream when one of the rocks I had just stepped over slapped the water with its tail and shot upstream between my legs. When I came down, I came down on dry land on the other side of the creek, somehow managing a standing broad jump that would have easily qualified me for Olympic competition. (It’s wise to bring along fresh pants on camping trips . . . for emerge-ncies.) When I got my breath back, I finished marking my trail and headed on back to camp, glad that I wasn’t wearing chest-waders.

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