|Whitefish feed upon crustacea, small fish, and aquatic insects. When they're feeding in the water of the Edison Sault canal where it pours out of the dam from tunnels made of boulders and concrete, they're eating insect larvae that get picked up from the canal floor and washed down. Thirty-seven tunnels allow water to pass through the dam. Each tunnel houses two generators. Each generator has two turbines. Each turbine spins at about 180 rpm, and the dam, with all of its parts, sounds like a humongous beehive.
Of the 37 discharge tunnels, two offer superb fishing for whitefish. Why or how this may be is a mystery, and as Drost explained it to me I thought he must be kidding. I looked at the length of the dam—all 1,340 feet—and couldn't believe that a ten-foot-wide stretch about a third of the way in from the west end could really be that different from any other.
Yet Drost was adamant enough in his beliefs that here we were at three in the morning, not to fish, but to hold his spot at that particular tunnel so that we'd have it to ourselves at dawn. This seemed extreme at first, but once we were tied up to the wall of the dam, it seemed like a great idea. When it started to drizzle, it seemed a tad extreme again. Then Drost started the motor, gunned it, and drove into the tunnel to get out of the rain, and the trip turned scary for a moment. If we weren't in the dam's bowels, we were definitely in its rectum. When I turned out my flashlight there was darkness. I could feel the turbines spinning only feet away. It was very warm. I dozed off.
When I woke, a faint light was breaking outside the tunnel. Two old men in a new Starcraft fishing boat pulled up to our tunnel, the most coveted spot along the dam. The man in front was standing, brandishing a grappling hook over his head, preparing to hook to the stone wall. He looked triumphant about getting the spot. Drost called out, "Hey there, fella, we're fishin' this one." Drost's voice nearly knocked the guy over, and he peered into the tunnel like the generators were talking to him. Without saying anything, the men motored over a few tunnels. We backed out, hooked ourselves to the dam, and let out ten feet of rope. The cathedrals and industries across the river were becoming visible. I could just make out the rolling mountains of the Canadian Shield.
I rigged my line with a few pieces of lead split shot, tied two feet of tippet to the leader, and tied to that a small white fly made from the fur on a snowshoe hare's rear foot. Drost recommended a maggot on the fly. I cast into the tunnel. Before the fly had sunk far enough to tighten the line, it was already out past the boat. This can hardly work, I thought. I added weight to my line and tried the cast again. I shot my hook five feet into the tunnel, the weight pulled the line tight, and it swung like a golf club in reverse. I followed the line with my rod tip about ten inches over the water. The progress of the fly halted beneath the boat; I set the hook with a jerk and was into a slab of concrete on the bottom of the run. I snapped the line off, re-rigged, and cast again.
Drost, who was stretched out in the back of the boat, lazily putting his rod together, told me to use less line, because sometimes the fish lay suspended a few feet down. I cranked up some line, threw into the tunnel, and the drift stopped before it left the tube. I lifted up. A fish was there. It dove deep and I gave it line. It shot out past the boat on the current, rose near the surface, and popped off the hook.
"A whitefish has a soft mouth," Drost observed. "You can't hog them around like that."
"Like what?" I said. "I was giving him line." Drost shrugged.
After a few more casts, I hooked a small one, played it gingerly, and brought it to the boat. Drost netted the fish, thumped its head over the gunwale, and handed it to me. I sat down to enjoy the sensation of having just caught my first whitefish. I looked at it until I became self-conscious about my infatuation with the fish, and then slipped it into the cooler. In a few seconds, I cracked the lid to have another look.
Drost made a few casts off the other side of the boat. He hooked something that went zinging along the wall of the dam, heading east, and then dove out toward Canada, raced back in, and jumped three times about 40 yards from the boat, turning almost complete somersaults in the air. It was the size of a fence post.
"Shit!" Drost yelled. "It's a damn Atlantic salmon. All right! Hell, yeah! Shit, he's gone!"