My kids and I had the opportunity recently to volunteer some time and driving miles to help the NYS DEC stock our local streams with my favorite speckled species. A couple of weeks ago I had some vacation time while the kids were in school. After some hard wood floor and lawn care work early in the week, I decided that "hooky" was in order. What better way to get them outdoors in early spring, off the devices, out of school, and together with their lunatic trout fishing old man? An odd notion it seemed to all of us to take buckets of fish from a truck full of water and release them into the streams with the hopes of catching them in a couple of weeks on a hook, only to release them into the streams again. Oh well, there are stranger ways to spend one's time. Albeit not many.
Today after work and after a good steady rain, I took a drive to one of the said streams to try and take a couple of these "self" stocked fish. I arrived just after 5 pm and stood alone in it for a good few minutes before the first crunch of footsteps echoed in the woods behind me. A nice enough guy from eastern Europe, who made my acquaintance after he watched me hook and play a couple of small rainbows, had forgotten his worms, he reported, and wanted to know if I thought the shiny spoon he attached would bring him any luck. Yup, I said, of course it would, and within a few minutes he landed a beauty of a 12 inch brown with the help of my net. He was thrilled with the fish and released it immediately as neither of us knew exactly what the regulations were for this part of the stream. I told him that I was pretty sure it was one fish of 14 inches but I didn't pay it too much mind because I release all of the stream fish that I catch. He seemed disappointed but that was outmatched by his excitement of having had a good photo op of he and the trout. I told him that he could come back later in the summer and catch the same trout at 14 inches. Releasing it was good "Karma". What goes around comes around. He agreed.
More crunching of more footsteps, as if the whistle had blown throughout the small town, and soon enough there were two more fly fishers and two more spin fishers. The stretch was hardly long enough for the comfort of three, and, after catching my share of the same sized rainbow, I decided it best to relinquish my much sought after spot. After 6 or 7 fish, my new friend asked what magic did I have on the line. That gave me a good chuckle. A younger guy just upstream of me began to slide into my spot as I waded back into the shore. He asked me politely if I was certain I was all finished and I told him that I was, but was going to try my luck before dark at the stream located just up the road. They haven't stocked that one yet, he said. I smiled at him and nodded. That's good, there'll be no one there.
There was something very satisfying about leaving that stream that I had literally stocked with my own children. It had provided for me on this evening and it had provided for others. What goes around comes around I thought.
Up the road and getting dark, the sun glossing through the cracks of the rain clouds as I looked downstream and up to the southwestern sky, I knew I did not have much time. The kid must have been correct, this stream was not stocked yet. I noticed no other cars as I pulled up and no other fishermen as I made the hike to a spot that I have enjoyed in the past. I sank the tandem flies deep in the current that welled up past my knees. Once, twice. I stepped in further...there's nothing here I thought. Three times, four. Stepping out once more. Five. Stop. The indicator sank. A snag I thought. It felt like a tire. It moved but did not bounce. I would pull up slowly and it would sink back down. I think 30 seconds went by before I realized this was definitely a fish. A good one too. Maybe a sucker fish, I thought, as it definitely had some weight to it. And then it happened. The fish just took off. Zipping line off of my reel, my hand cupped around it, and the knob rolling over my palm. This was no sucker fish.
The rod arched to as round as I can remember as the fish went side to side trying to spit the hook. I followed the brute downstream for awhile but I worried about how deep the cold water might get on me. There were also some downed trees not too far off. I knew I had to keep this fish up around where I was. I believe I actually willed the trout back upstream and now he was really moving up. Great, I thought, he'll tire as he fights up the current. This up and and down, side to side, went on and on and on. The light was slipping and I kept telling myself to breathe and be steady. Breathe and be steady. Occasionally, throughout the battle, I would look up to the budding trees and the sky overhead and pause. Please, I would ask, please let me land this fish, and if it is not meant to be then I will understand. I felt that way too. I have lost fish like this on a fly rod over the past couple of seasons. Not sure why but it is a fact of the matter. They've just "popped" off and I've been left with slack line and a broken heart. I spoke out quietly that my heart would not break this time should the line. I told the universe that, no matter the outcome, I was here, in the present, just me and the fish and the the quiet fading sun, and that would be enough. We were the universe right now. The trout splashed its wide tail heavily on the top. It shone pink and purple and majestic in the dusky water. An absolute thing of beauty should there ever be one. This fish and I. Ten minutes. Maybe twelve. I didn't know in the end who was shaking more at the conclusion of our meeting.
Maybe I wasn't ready in the past couple of years to net such a fish. Maybe I needed to be there with my kids releasing these beautiful creatures into their waterways to truly be part of what happened this evening. What goes around comes around, I guess. Until we meet again.
My personal best trout on a fly rod. A just shy of 22 inch brown trout.