Physically, the thin man isn’t really thin but, looking at a thread-bare autumn day, he felt that way– just basic flesh and bone, reduced to seasonal elements. His summer garments had been stripped away, replaced by heavy clothing to ward off the chill. Sure, he wore the usual fishing gear and entertained a stray thought or two, but if anyone else was haunting the hills nearby, he might have been seen, or not.
Two inches of rain, followed by powerful winds, had punched the region on Halloween, presenting a quick and frightening rise of water levels. Now the sky was blue, but the streams were still pushing heavy water. His fishing options? Well, those blue lines on the topo maps were always calling, but which one should he choose? He decided on a favorite tributary on the far side of Pine, but the larger water stopped him cold– it was high and turbulent, unfriendly to a wader.
He returned to the car and chose a small brook exiting the forestland nearby. The little stream isn’t noted for being much of a fishery, but at least it gave him an excuse for walking in fair weather. He hadn’t tried the stream in years, but he quickly saw a difference– even this flow had a white crest thick with run-off, and a scarcity of holding spots for trout.
He hiked for a quarter-mile then noticed an anomaly… One half of the stream was now quieter than the other half, consisting of a back-flow that accentuated a log-jam where he stood along the bank. Several large fish wove around the back-flow, probably spawning and, by all appearances, not the little natives typical of the stream.
This group of brown trout caught his interest fully. Years ago, Pennsylvania had a closed season on trout in autumn, even for places like this mountain stream. The spawning trout were not to be messed with. Today, the state-wide season remains closed for most of fall and winter, but special regulation streams and smaller tributaries managed as wild trout fisheries do stay open on a strictly catch-and-release basis. Out before him were some eye-popping brown trout in a brook where he did not expect them.
The biggest fish ignored his careful casting with a wet fly but got fooled, or totally irritated, by a Woolly Bugger. He stepped along the bank with his little 6-foot Fenwick arched and pumping as he tried to keep the large brown from the log-jam. Net-less, he attempted to hold and lift the richly colored male (with prominent kype) from rushing water in the log debris.
The event proceeded farther than he thought it might, especially since he got a good grip on the massive tail. Naturally, it all went south from there. The fish, perhaps close to 20 inches long, gave a head twist and a dive beneath the logs, returning the Woolly Bugger on its tippet, as if to say, “Wow, that was close, but I won’t get fooled again.”
The thin man stuttered, “Y’ you win,” amazed at the size and colors of the catch, at how it would have been a photo for the folks back home– a wild fish, probably, or, if not, then a long-time resident of the watershed, perhaps having traveled five miles upstream from the nearest stocking point on Pine. He thought about the catch and felt his ego bloating, adding unwanted weight above his shoulders, settling then into his waders. He imagined himself a fat man casting egg-sacs into a crowded Salmon River, gloating over his catches hooked up to a chain.
It was too much for a black-and-white day like this. The fish was gone. Its mate, a smaller female scooping gravel from the streambed, remained as before. He would leave her in peace, working to increase the number and range of her progeny. He had mixed feelings on discovering brown trout (even beautiful fish like this) in what used to be native brook trout water. Native fish across the continent are facing many problems today, with habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change. Nonetheless, an animal tango of this sort was special.
So, the thin man took himself out of the picture. He was slim again, standing on an edge between wildness and civility, unseen by anyone or anything that he knows, other than a big fish hiding in the jams. Its memory could be stored, of course, reserved for a special place inside his heart and brain. A sweet meat for the winter.