John Clark bringing back something I wrote more than a dozen years ago, in the days when black flies, apple blossoms and alder leaves the size of a mouse’s ear all signified that it was time to go troutin’.
When you marry, you gain more than a partner. You acquire new relatives, different ways of thinking, new customs and family celebrations. All of these are more or less expected parts of a new blended life. If you are lucky, you gain some unexpected things as well. I gained new realms to explore, and I did; hunting and fishing through parts of Maine that had previously been odd names on a topographic map.
I got in the habit of sitting on the front steps with my father-in-law. He would talk about catching trout in a spot a couple miles in from a particular tote road or trolling for salmon just before dusk with a Rangely spinner below a certain dam. As we watched the setting sun creep across the hill on the other side of the road, I would share my own memories of fly fishing the Carabasset River with my father before it was lined with ski chalets, and trout were still plentiful enough to be fooled by eight year old boys. I’d reminisce about the gold nugget my grandfather found while fishing the North branch of the Dead River and how my father would hike nine miles into Spencer Stream to catch monster trout. These were companionable moments interspersed with the cry of hawks and the beckoning sounds of float planes on their way to Moosehead Lake.
I began to explore some of these inherited realms, sometimes alone, sometimes with my wife or friends. There was something magic about wading down the middle of a stream, chest deep in cool water, automatically casting streamer flies while lost in thought. Sometimes those moments would be pleasantly interrupted by the sharp tug of a hungry trout or the wary gaze of a deer caught in the act of drinking. By the end of the day, my body would be tired and my soul recharged.
Certain spots began to acquire their own lore; The overgrown blueberry field where a bear was surprised while eating grubs from an anthill, the streamside trail where a mother hawk maintained her uneasy vigil until satisfied that we were uninterested in her hatchlings, the remote pond where moose and deer ambled through the shallows together, completely indifferent to our presence, the springhole where I suddenly found myself chest deep in frigid water while ice fishing. Each became a part of a blended heritage to be shared with my children while sitting on front steps and listening to the sounds of summer.
One August, while fishing one of my inherited streams, I dangled a fly in a small pool below the remnants of a long destroyed mill. The spot had often rewarded me with dinner. To my astonishment a huge brook trout swam out of the jumble of old millwork to eye my offering. After looking it over with the contemptuous experience of trout-like wisdom, he turned gracefully and swam back into the rocky den from whence he had come. I was stunned! In years of fishing this brook, nothing of this size had ever shown itself, not had there ever been a hint a fish this big existed. Numerous attempts with different flies resulted in a couple curtain calls, but nary a nibble. I returned home to share my adventure. Over the rest of the season, I returned several times. Each time my mammoth friend would emerge, eye my offering and grandly swim back to his rocky hideaway. His pool was so small and his length so long that he had to use the entire pool to turn around. One evening just before the season closed, I brought Beth with me and she was treated to a command performance complete with a tentative nibble on the evening’s offering.
Summer slipped into fall, fishing was replaced by duck hunting and then by deer hunting. Winter brought holiday gatherings where I shared the story of my mammoth friend with those from ‘away’. Ice fishing became the prime weekend activity, with slow periods filled by meals cooked over outdoor fires and everyone remembering fishing tales from past seasons. More than once I shared the story of my friend and we all wondered how such a large fish had come to live in such a small pool.
As winter faded into spring, Maine experienced what was to become known as the 500 Year Flood. Heavy rains rapidly ate away the snow cover, creating torrents where small rivulets had been just the day before. River towns were evacuated and it seemed like entire forests were rushing madly under bridges. The events surrounding the flooding and the safety of loved ones erased all thoughts of my friend.
When spring once more passed its mantle of green to summer, I returned to the stream. As I approached the old mill site, I was saddened at the changes wrought by the flood. Pools I had fished for years were unrecognizable, with rocks pushed far downstream. The remains of the old mill were gone. After an hour of fishing in every possible spot, I realized my friend was gone. Smaller fish still lurked among the nearby rocks, but the big trout was just a memory to be shared with friends and family on summer afternoons when the siren song of float planes headed for remote ponds fill the skies.