The Trout Addict


In the pre-dawn chill, he put on his old black hoodie and went to work. Three hours of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsleep had not been nearly enough to make him feel well, but he thought of his Big Year on the Streams– the year 2004, a full decade ago– and he wanted to celebrate the anniversary, as if this current year had made the Big Year all-important.

Rain had fallen overnight; the morning promised to be overcast and cool, perfect for the Trico spinners, the Blue-winged Olives, and even the beloved Slate Drakes. He felt an old excitement that 40-plus years of fishing had not erased.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt felt like the year 2004. The misting water of the stream pushed by at full-volume, slightly turbid and 59 degrees. Was he headed for a personal record on the waters this year? Would he tally a hundred-plus days of fishing, with close to a thousand trout and salmon captured and released?

No way. 2004 would surely remain untouched. Besides, he had long given up on writing detailed journal entries with statistics for each day he visited the stream.

“…But somehow I was seduced/ And my innocence reduced/ By a demon that became my own…” [from “Demons Dance Alone,” the Residents]

Rainy Day Tricos:

The expanse of foggy pools was dimpled by rising fish, wild trout that required an angler’s heron-like approach. He stepped forward, inch by careful inch, with long casts of a 6X tippet and a white-winged imitation.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He had been a coffee addict since his college days, and this morning’s caffeine worked his blood despite fatigue, helped him drive the fly line just above high grasses (for the most part), and helped him focus on the hatch– at first, a Sulphur here, a Cahill there, a few Slate Drakes…

And then it came in clouds of insect motion– vertical pulsations of Blue Quill spinners, and finally, the tiny Trico– the long-tailed pinpoints of a mayfly, thousands of them, aerial breeders, some of them with eggs, in a horizontal dance above his head.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“…Knowingly I followed it/ I took the hook and swallowed it/ Until I found it dancing in my home…”

All the brook trout were adult fish, wild and colorful, one of them measuring 10.5 inches against the smoothness of the small stream rod. A brown trout, massive, large enough to jolt him from the haze, swept out from beneath a fallen locust but stopped short of the drifting fly.


The next day he was far downstream, on the sprawling river where a decade ago, in the month of August, the fishing was unusually fine. That summer, like the present season, had been cool and rainy, excellent for trout. A change had to be expected, but why so dramatically different?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He’d brought along his ten year-old “Superfine,” the fly rod that was new in the summer of ‘o4. He brought along his vision of the Slate Drakes, the large gray mayfly that had hatched magnificently all through the afternoons and evenings of that magical time; he’d brought his memory of the large browns rising through the day as if the river had been some Rocky Mountain paradise…

But the river had changed its bed. The haunted pools and deep cold riffles had largely been replaced by scoured flats and shallows. There were few trout rising; there was nothing but disappointment for a catch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“… I had hoped to fill my years/ With more than melancholy tears/ But the demon makes me dance alone….”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe could go home and nap for a spell. He might even dream of a beautiful river he had missed. He might listen to a prudent angler who speaks to him directly, a ghost who says: “It’s true, you can’t go home anymore. You can’t  go home, but at least you’re free.”


The following video, with an addicting song about addiction in its more nefarious manifestations, is one I often visit for a touch of haunting beauty. The Residents (quoted above) are a group of masked, anonymous musicians who have been around since the early 70s and who must surely rank among the most bizarre and creative performers of this age.






About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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16 Responses to The Trout Addict

  1. Due to technical issues with WordPress, commenters originally had difficulty getting through, but hopefully the problem is resolved. Brent wrote, via email,

    “…it must be melancholic to have these lyrics in the post. I guess in some ways everyone’s chasing their version of that summer of 2004. It almost begs the question: Is any hobby or passion just a desperate attempt to regain the sense of possibility that filled us when we “used to do it”?

  2. It’s a bit melancholic, Brent, but the song is actually supportive in a sense– any addiction specifically represented in my writing is next to nothing compared to the kinds of addiction alluded to in the song, thank god. Your question is a stumper… Yeah I guess it could be true, regaining that possibility would probably be a part of any ongoing passion/hobby, but in my case, it wouldn’t matter if I never regained it (that would be highly unlikely). What matters is being there in the beauty of the present.

  3. There’s something about brookies that seperate them from browns and bows. They have a different personality and they usually require a totally different type of fishing to catch them.

  4. I’d agree that brookies have a different “personality” than the others but I wouldn’t want to have to define what that personality is. In the East they’re different by being generally wild and native, and inhabitants of generally wilder, less compromised terrain. I tend to fish for them with smaller, slower rods, and given their freestone habits (where the food supply is less abundant than downstream), they more readily accept a wider variety of flies. Thanks F. C.!

  5. loydtruss says:

    I agree with Kevin about the brook trout, in their uniqueness, Jason my son landed a 11″ brook on our guide trip on Sunday. The guide told him that the brook in that tailrace are rare and the one he landed was adult size, meaning, he seldom lands one larger there. The colors on the brook are in a league of there own. thanks for sharing

    • Thanks Bill. Was Jason’s trout a wild or stocked fish? I’ll assume it was a wild one, and in that case it was probably an adult with several years of age under its fins. The hatchery specimens can get very large (I’ve caught them close to 20″) but the wild ones (outside of the far Northeast) are significant at 10 inches-plus. The average size of adult brooks in my freestone waters range from about 4 to 9 inches, with occasional fish reaching 11 or 12. My largest wild brook measured 13. At any size, the brook trout is a beautiful creature.

  6. Alan says:

    Wonderful post Walt.
    I like the rod, almost as much as I like those brookies.

    • Thank you, Alan. I take it you’re aware of this graphite rod. It was my first new graphite (after fiberglass) purchased in 1991 and used often ever since. An Orvis Superfine, 7’6″ four-weight, “Brook Trout” model, predecessor of the current Trout Bum series.

      • Alan says:

        My Orvis Small Stream Special was purchased in ’92. It’s a 7ft 5wt, and a dream on a small stream. The finest roll casting rod out there.
        PS, I had the Brook Trout on my list but chose the 7 footer.

  7. Bob Stanton says:

    Maybe this is the year of the Big Water. Today, I caught a couple of ‘bows topside on water that’s usually done for trout by mid-June, before hitting a river top stream full of bright, healthy specks. Tiny stoneflies fluttered above the stream, while lobelia cardinalis bore witness to a perfect day. The Residents, eh? You continue to surprise me!

  8. Bob, There we have it, at a time and place when most everyone else has given up for the year. Glad you found good witness. Oh the Residents… Every now and then, when I want to go to some unknown planet for a spell, for a fresh look at an alternate existence, I book a flight with these anonymous folks.

  9. Mike says:

    Still haven’t come across a brookie but you here and Alan over at Small Streams sure do let me enjoy them from my couch!

    • Glad you’re enjoying those brooks vicariously, Mike, but maybe this fall, if you can get onto one of those smaller mountain streams, you’ll find them in their glorious spawning colors. As always, thanks for reading and commenting.

  10. Alan, I remember the Orvis Small Stream though I’ve never owned that model. A similar one that I’m enjoying now is the Orvis 4-piece Trout Bum, a SuperFine model, that is 7-foot and rolls a 4-weight superbly.

  11. Les Kish says:

    Uncase a fly rod, and it will tell you many stories. We just covered how many decades?

  12. Les, I once found a fly rod (w/ reel) underneath the leaves along the Slate Run Road, and you wouldn’t believe the stories that eventually were spoken by that rod and the connections that it made for me. I wrote about in once in River’s Edge. Every fly rod seems to have at least one story to be told, and it seems to come from around some mysterious bend in the stream.

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