Billy and I put our canoe in just before 7 a.m. at the Kidd’s Mill covered bridge in Reynolds and paddled downstream. It was our first time on this section of river, although we had talked about the trip for years and had float-fished several times on other stretches of the Shenango.
The early June air felt cool and damp, and mist rose off the brown river waters, which were discolored by the previous two days of rain. But we didn’t care. We fancied ourselves as explorers that morning, in search of outdoor discoveries.
We steered through some shallow rapids and soon encountered the first of that day’s many sharp bends in the river, which made our planned passage down to New Hamburg take longer than expected. The river pulled us downstream on its winding course, and we paddled along for the ride.
The Shenango seemed much smaller here, compared to the Big Bend area only eight or nine miles downstream, and we were surprised by the stark sense of wilderness all around, even though we canoed only a few miles from town. The narrow river was completely shaded most of the way by lush green overhanging trees. Sycamores, with their odd, mottled silver trunks, sent branches reaching far out over the waters, along with the beech and maple and dark green oak.
Now and then a weeping willow dropped its curtain of sad limbs out over our canoe. We saw no roads, no houses and no signs of civilization during our entire five-mile float.
One mile down from the bridge, something slammed my Rapala lure, and I set the hook on a large and powerful fish.
“Catfish,” I told Billy, because so many times in the past we’d hooked what we thought was a big gamefish and later had to stare down at the wide whiskered catfish head of disappointment.
“I don’t think so,” said Billy.
The fish surged upstream three times before I rolled him and brought him to the surface. The best I’d hoped for was a good-sized smallmouth, but this fish turned out to be a 22-inch walleye, hefty, darkcolored along the back, and sharp-toothed.
That surprised me so much I almost lost the fish, but I managed to boat him and pose for two quick pictures. That walleye was our one fish and only bite of the morning. We decided later that it was the discolored water and not any lack of angling skill that had limited our success.
Another mile downstream we encountered the surprise of the day. The river suddenly split into two small branches that rushed around a large, wooded island. We could see that fallen trees and traps of netted brush and branches partially blocked both channels, but we quickly chose the left branch for no reason other than good luck. After we’d paddled and battled our way a half-mile down that channel, the river rejoined itself, and we looked back up the opposite fork and saw that it was cluttered with downed trees and impassable.
We watched wildlife constantly during our five-hour journey. About halfway along, we spotted one deer and a short time later another, both feeding along the shoreline and sporting their light red summer coats. We rousted ducks off the surface several times — mergansers mostly, but also a few mallards — and caused flotillas of Canada geese to meander downstream at our approach. Three different red-tailed hawks skirted the treetops during our canoe trip, and, near the end, a mature bald eagle lifted off a hemlock crag not 40 yards away and winged lazily downriver against the clouds.
Toward the end of our morning, we paddled aggressively toward our take-out point, since both of us, sadly, had afternoon commitments.
We took our canoe out at noon in New Hamburg and talked all the way home about our adventure on the river.
“The Evening Campfire” from The Herald, June 14, 2009