In working up posts for Rivertop Rambles I try not to repeat myself (much). I try to cover my home ground and its streams to give you fresh perspectives on each outing, but on some occasions you may scratch your head and wonder. In the following, for example, you may note that there are no photos of fish or water.
I remember in Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America the anecdote of 6th-grade boys getting into trouble after they quietly scrawled the words “Trout Fishing in America” on the backs of shirts worn by innocent 1st-graders. The reading of such insubordination will never help you catch more trout, but it’s still rather amusing and, by a stretch, it does have something to do with fishing.
I was helping young students learn the ins-and-outs of fishing through a tale called “Devil’s Bridge,” about striper fishing with environmental consciousness off Martha’s Vineyard. I extended one lesson on the ethics of catch-and-release by instilling the idea that a gamefish should be killed, when legal, only for food, and never for fun. Then we took a fly rod and reel to an emptied classroom and hallway and invited nature to be our guest. An empty classroom became the coast of Massachusetts (for stripers), and an empty hallway gave itself up for a mountain stream in Pennsylvania (with native trout).
I met up with Jim, and his sons (aged 13 and 15), to fish upper Kettle Creek on a recent outing. At one point, Jim was wading on ahead of us into the willows; I was hanging back, curious how the boys were doing at a deep pool near the forest. I guided the younger one to the far bank of the pool and told him to gaze down into the stream below a sunken log. Several large trout were hunkered in the depths, and I suggested that he switch his dry fly for a weighted nymph and, keeping a low profile on the bank, to give them a try.
I went upstream with the older son to give the riffles a shot. Twenty minutes later we heard a shout. The younger boy, Jared, was runnng toward us on the bank. He cradled a large trout at his chest, and yelled, “Have you got a net, or something?” I raced over and congratulated him while dropping the trout into my net. We placed it in the water for a couple of photos then a quick release. An impressive brown! Jared was excited, to say the least, and thankful for the recognition. He was even more thankful that his fish had survived, had come out of the blue, to pause, and swim away.
…Pale blue eyes/ Gazing down/ From your ivory tower/ Through the haze/ All broken and bruised…
The weather had cleared wonderfully on my birthday. In the evening I decided to fish the Genesee River for a first time this season. Arriving at the river, I realized my mistake. The water was high and muddy for some reason. I missed one rising trout, but was more absorbed by the problems I saw– muddy water pouring from a trib called Cryder Creek, eroded banks, and the growth of that invasive plant called Japanese knotweed.
I was getting the birthday blues, just tacking on another year of wrinkling age. I thought of Bert Jansch, my favorite English folk musician, playing his acoustic blues with grace and rawness. This was not what I expected. It was like going out to buy a pint-sized cake with a candle on top, to light the thing in solitude then blowing out the flame to let the nighttime in. I needed Dylan Thomas, with his poem of rage, to carry on and cast a line against the darkness.
My wife had thought I was glum that evening because I’d received no special gift or recognition from her. That may have factored into my plaintive behavior, but there was more to it.
I had come of age with Sergeant Pepper and the Beatles (I can still remember)…”Will you still feed me/ Will you still need me/ When I’m…” Yeah. Way back then, a premonition had entered that would resonate forever. Eventually, age would grab me by the nether parts (if I was lucky to make it that far) and cause me to reflect. Okay, but otherwise? How about some cake and ice-cream, honey, or a kiss to make me smile?
Then: out of the blue (next evening) came an automobile. Holy Caddis! A brand-new Nissan in the driveway, an Altima with a birthday balloon attached! Was it my wife’s new car for work? (Traditionally, when she and I snagged a new vehicle, I was given the old one for my work and fishing jaunts, no matter how decrepit).