Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Every year, around the same time, when the air begins to chill and crispen, and the leaves of silver maples and paper birches are consumed into a red-yellow blaze by the dying embers of summer in the Northeast, a steely character wanders south along the River Clyde into town for the season from his regular residence, Lake Memphremagog.

     His appearance is a phenomenal mystery to the townspeople, apart from lore that it began long before the river was dammed along its course; but the town takes note of his arrival, and succumbs to a feverish restlessness upon it.  He rolls in unannounced, like a shadow--deliberate, like a life-long local.  The habits he keeps are only attempted to be understood by those seeking to make contact with him, if only briefly; and still others simply observe him sulking in his regular hangouts in accepted ignorance.  Such is the alluring nature of salmon.

    He brings with him a posse of thousands from the mother lake to the north.  In years previous, there were others mightier in the River; but after a gluttonous summertime, this year, beautifully adorned with muddy-bronze flanks and dime-sized black spots, he emerged as the strongest in the order, entitling him to first choice in a lie.

    Salmon are a fish like in appearance but unlike in habit to trout, in that a trout’s lie and dining preferences can be entirely predictable, while salmon seem to act completely at random.  That is not to say that salmon are without character, for the opposite is true, particularly in the case of large salmon. 

    The Foreman, as he was called by the townspeople and familiar anglers, chose his lie in the belly of a meadow bridge pool.  The pool was really the tail of a much larger elbow pool, which moved slowly from the head, under the bridge, where a narrow band of current adjacent to relatively-still water cut down through a foot of bedrock and flowed into the limbs of a downed tree sweeping into the current, opposite the approach of most anglers, where he could retreat from danger.  Fifteen feet downstream from the bridge’s center, an orange traffic cone laid, opening upstream—an allusion to past road construction.

     A pillow of sub-surface current rolled on the mouth of the cone, creating a micro-eddy; and that’s where the Foreman held, motionless, save for the occasional subtle turn to take an imperceptible insect tumbling along the streambottom.  His 12-man crew flanked him, all much smaller than he, and would move upstream and higher in the water column to feed when tempted; but their overseer remained immovable.

    All of this was easily observed from the overpassing bridge which, apart from his size, was probably the reason the Foreman was regarded with such prestige.  If the largest in his crew went four pounds, the Foreman went 12.  Yet it was evident that he fed most sparingly and lazily.

    When one ambitious angler positioned himself to take his shot at the talked-about salmon of the traffic cone below the town bridge, the town’s population in full arrived to wish in his favor as if a silent alarm had been wired to each one of their homes.  To get a promising drift, because of the slow surface current and faster sub-surface current running along the streambottom, an angler had to make a long cast upstream with a fly weighted to allow it to drift naturally to the bottom without lodging in the shelf rock on the bottom prematurely.  If this was achieved without snagging the full-figured apple tree on the backcast, then a strong mend had to be placed upstream to prevent drag on the fly, allowing it to sink to the desired depth.

    It was rare this would happen, and when it would, perfection was rewarded by the Foreman simply nosing the fly to the side or allowing it to tumble over his nose without reaction.  After several hours of this—if the angler’s wits lasted that long—the onlookers crowding the bridge would return reluctantly to their homes, and the onlookers’ vigil would be reopened to vehicle traffic.

    To visit the bridge pool after fishing hours was enchanting.  When the water appeared black and the graying sky became peppered with insects hatching from the riffles below the tail of the Foreman’s pool, the town’s residents who perhaps understood the steely veteran best, and were often fishermen themselves, would emerge to take in the scene from the bridge strikingly empty in the pale evening light.  If it was a particularly special evening and the Foreman was in good spirits, the delicate rise-forms dimpling the tail of the bridge pool would erupt with an explosion of water and the august form of the Foreman enjoying the day’s concluding meal.  Such is the nature of salmon.

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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