Friday, November 11, 2011

A North Woods Haunting

            As a fisherman, all my life I have been intrigued and haunted by waters.  And as far as my angling career has taken me, I have been haunted by fish lost.  A summer trip to Northern Vermont brought me home and my hopes up.  My yearning for trout in a mystic place made my most recent loss much more important.

My twelve-year- old brother and I were staying with our grandparents in their bed and breakfast cabin in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.  We had the whole month of July to adventure and fish at our own dispense—a dream of mine a long time coming.  While most of my days were occupied filling the seemingly endless woodshed, I was still left several hours each day to spend on the water.
            It is this time of year that the warm, summer air in Vermont brings about the swelling of blueberries, and it was to these tasty berries that the grandparents were devoting the latter half of their day to.  As for my brother and I, we grabbed our fishing gear and peddled our bikes down the road to the nearest glacial pond.  The sky was clear, and the temperature was in the seventies, and even though the trout probably wouldn’t be very active, the canoe seemed to be begging for use.
            My brother in the bow shoved the craft from the rocks on shore and I pointed us in the direction of the piece of shore near a small island we usually fished for Smallmouth and Yellow Perch.  Over the course of an hour, many scrappy smallmouth bent our rods.  We were hunting for table fare though, and were only keeping the tasty Yellow Perch.
We fished South, down the rocky bank, until we reached the shallow, rocky southern end of the pond, where we slid a few perch onto the stringer.  We hung around there for a while, fishing the flat thoroughly, adding still more smallmouth to the ranks of fish caught.
            It must have been past noon by this point, because the two of us were getting hungry.  So I pushed us off from the sandy shore the light, north breeze had pushed us onto, and pointed the bow of the canoe down the shoreline towards the camp where we tie up.
            As we emerged from the shallow south bay, and the rocky lake bottom slipped out of view, I wedged my medium weight rod in the canoe and opened the bail to try some trolling.  Finding the speed of the canoe too fast, I relieved my younger brother of his paddling duty, and towed the lure myself.  I had never caught a trout out of the pond, but I hoped to on my white Roadrunner on the way back to the camp.
            A few minutes passed—uneventful.  My brother broke the silence with a criticizing query.
“Do fish really swim out in the middle of the pond?”
As I attempted to answer his question, my lure lodged in something solid and the rod steadily started to bend.  I threw the canoe in reverse to retrieve my lure from the snag when the rod tip throbbed.  The events that followed were surreal.
            The initial throb of the rod tip wasn’t enough to convince me that anything in the pond was large enough to bend the medium rod double.  The first powerful surge brought me to my senses, and as I tried to guess what kind of fish I was tied into, ruled out every fish I knew to inhabit the pond.
In what seemed like hours, I got no view of the hefty fish.  The line headed for the surface, but I prevented the jump, intending to keep the hook in its mouth.  In another fit of rage, the fish bored down on the lake bottom, turned, and started to rise just as fast.  I thought to myself, “Here she comes.”
A half second later, a gray-green missile cleared the water by feet, showing just a narrow view of its flank and its snow white belly.  Adrenaline shot through my body as the long fish sliced back into the dark, clear water like a loon after a fish.
I put more pressure on the fish as he entered the water, pointing his head towards our craft, spinning helplessly at the mercy of the fish.  It was almost under the canoe now, and I realized that the size of the hook and the fact that I didn’t get a true hook-set put me in a position to land this fish as fast as possible.
With the fish just feet below me in the stern, tension was easing up on the rod, and I prepared myself, clearing space at my feet, to boat the magnificent creature.
My eyes probed the clear water beside me, hopeful and expecting as ever.  Just as I was making out a different texture in the water, my query turned and dug his nose down into the rocky bottom.
At this moment, the rod straightened abruptly, my spirit flattened, and the fish wiggled back into the unknown.  Just as the fight seemed to be a dream, the twirling Roadrunner returning to the surface from the unknown depths seemed to be a harsh reality.  A familiar feeling began to set in.
My mood soon rebounded, as my knees and hands began to tremble, and a smile replaced my gaping mouth.  I called to my brother in the bow, asking him to indicate on his paddle how long he took the fish to be.  Without hesitation, he lifted his paddle, with his hands glued in the paddling position, indicating the neck of the paddle.
“That’s what I thought,” I said, admiring my paddle.
I began to study my lure and line for signs of teeth, but none existed—not even chipped paint, or tearing on the plastic grub.  A soft-mouthed fish had engulfed the lure, and it was at this moment that I realized I had just lost the biggest trout of my life—a good thirty inches, maybe eight pounds.
We paddled back to camp in excited conversation.  The water that swirled around my paddle now carried an utterly different meaning.  Once again, my head swam with thoughts of my experience, and the dreams and attempts to reproduce the fish in the weeks that followed all seemed to push me towards the harsh realization that I may not get another chance at the fish I now wanted so badly.
“This is why.” I thought to myself, “This is why I’m here.”

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