Wednesday, October 22, 2014

BONUS FISH ON THE CONNECTICUT RIVER

Photo by Matt Reilly
I sat in a quaint breakfast café sipping my sixth cup of coffee while the elderly waitress eyed me from inside the kitchen doorway as if I was a homeless man threatening to drink dry the kitchen’s supply of coffee facilitated by free refills and local hospitality.  The previous night’s temperature dropped well below freezing, leaving me feeling rather lethargic despite appropriate gear.  Coffee was bringing me back to life.

    This brought to mind the couple I met the night before when stepping out of the upper Connecticut River.  The wife, an endearing retired schoolteacher named Dixie, titled me insane for pitching my tent and actually intending to sleep in it while the frost fell overnight.  I could make no strong case for my sanity apart from declaring that I “just want to prove that I can.”  The like-minded husband, Dave, identified with me and offered to take me fishing the next day, nevertheless.

    I departed the café at half-past eight, and raced along winding, gravel roads littered with signs of direction for snowmobilers and ATV-ers.  The four-season destination of Pittsburg, New Hampshire, the smokestack of the Granite State north of the 45th parallel that marks the northern border of Vermont with Quebec, is a magnet for these tourists, who swap vehicles with the seasons.

    When at last I found my destination, Dave’s figure emerged from the ground floor of their red camp, having just finished breakfast, ready for the day’s adventures.

    I gathered my fishing gear and made two peanut butter sandwiches from the groceries in my car’s cooler, and we made off for the river.

    The Connecticut River is unique in that it is four different rivers in its regularly-fished length, and all are tailwaters.  Flowing out of Fourth Connecticut Lake, the upper river runs south on its course to Long Island Sound, beaded by Third, Second, and First Connecticut Lakes, and Lake Francis.

    We began the day fishing for about an hour above Lake Francis without luck before heading to the “Trophy Section” below “First Lake.”  In a few hours there, Dave tied into a large rainbow trout, and I landed several smaller, including one landlocked salmon parr.

Photo by Matt Reilly
Photo by Matt Reilly
    When morning turned into afternoon, we continued north in search of fish until reaching a spot below “Second Lake” where Dave was proud to have caught and released a 19-inch salmon the week before.

    The water was comparatively smaller, and fit the definition of “pocket water” better than did our last destination, as an abundance of relatively-shallow pools stair-stepped down the moderate grade of the mountain hollow.  Most pools held several brook trout and a few small salmon; and I was at home nymphing to the fish of my Appalachian youth, though far from home.

    Whenever I travel to a place where brook trout are present, I make a point of inquiring on what a “trophy” brook trout is locally.  Everywhere the answer is relative to a number of circumstances.  

    However, there are a few generally-accepted benchmarks.  At home, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the answer is 12 inches, as it is most places and, as I found, on the Connecticut.  In Labrador, the number is a factor of pounds.

    Density introduces another factor.  Whereas in Virginia, where one might catch a 12-inch Brookie every couple of outings, the same feat is readily achieved several times in one day on the Connecticut, if not in the same pool.

    It was upon this discovery that my expectations for the fishery were shattered.  After landing my seventh Brookie from one particularly-productive pool, I made another cast to a far current seam with my weighted nymph.  As the fly tumbled past a small boulder, the line hesitated, and my rod swept upward, bowed against the pressure, bringing with it the explosive form of a leaping salmon the length of my arm.

Photo by Matt Reilly
Photo by Matt Reilly
    As it struggled to find safety from the pressure of my arced Tycoon Tackle fly rod in the head of the pool, I, having lost my net to some Catskill underbrush some weeks before, stumbled into the center of the current, guarding the magnificent fish’s downstream exit with sidesteps and sideways pressure from the rod.

    The fish made two more silver leaps as I chased him about the pool, until a fourth and final leap brought my leader down hard on the boulder beside which the fish had emerged, loosing my fly from its jaws sans photograph.

    Dave caught up with me, and I relayed my story.  He smiled sympathetically, and we returned to camp for dinner of BLTs and home-friend potatoes.


Photo by Matt Reilly
    As I fell asleep that night, slightly warmer, under the stars, my eyes didn’t blink.  “These woods hide giants,” I repeatedly thought, inhaling the evergreen-tinted mountain air.  Just like that, I was once again haunted.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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