Friday, December 16, 2016


I caught a beaver once. Rather, I almost did.

Photo by Matt Reilly

    One summer evening I was bass fishing a small farm pond when I eyed hopefully a beaver hut in a few feet of water. I delivered a plastic worm to the doorstep, let it sink, and gave it a small lift off the lake bottom with my rod tip. Animated resistance brushed the hook and jumped through the line into my hand, and I set the hook with gusto. The hook didn’t drive home, but an ovular, chocolate mat of hair breached at the end of my line and slammed the door with its paddle tail—communicating its lack of enthusiasm for my housewarming gift and sending water a story into the air.

    A similar thing occurred another summer while dry fly fishing a promising run on the Moosehead Region’s Roach River. My gaze hadn’t yet found the hut on the far bank when a coffee-colored submarine (that would have quadrupled the state’s brook trout record) rose out of the center of the run towards my stimulator as I stood by dumfounded and struggling to react. It of course bypassed my fly and headed for cover, but not before I had time to reflect upon its bizarre choice of behavior. Had I been nymphing, I surely would have had him.

    Both occurrences are memorable and, I often think, might have been more so had I succeeded in placing a hook in beaver flesh. But I’ve seen—and heard at midnight in a swamp—what kind of power those oversized rodents can command with their tail, in a pinch—not to mention their infamous caramel incisors—and I count my lucky stars it didn’t end up that way.

    Surf casters know a kindred issue, especially if they’re doing it right. Birds and predator fish both chase bait, rolling in a dizzying tornado of adrenaline that the surf caster is charged with threading a weighted object dressed with treble hooks through from a distance. Thus the star-crossed gull occasionally finds itself smacked into a downward spiral by the spoon-shaped hand of God and subsequently skittered over the surface and sharks onto the beach to be toyed with by a herd of bumbling humans.

    I’ve known a handful of individuals to have completed the feat and released the seagull to return to its position as bowling pin of the surf—an honorable accomplishment given the general temperament of a hooked gull. And though it’s a conversation starter in some briny circles, it’s hardly a pleasant undertaking in the moment.

    Likewise, loons patrolling the more heavily fished brook trout ponds of Maine have decided their role in catch and release. As accomplished swimmers, they’ll dive from a safe spectator’s distance to nab the struggling brook trout produced by a canoe and a fisherman’s bent rod.

    This understandably incites some frenzy in the fisherman, and though I’ve never personally been faced with the task of removing a fly from the gullet of a loon, I can’t imagine them to be ideal canoe company.

    The snapping turtle would argue its superior displeasantry. It’s my theory that the Old Man was in the beginning stages of snapping turtle sculpting when serpentina opened its beak with an aggressive hiss and was flipped down into the farm ponds of the world pissed off.

    I have a grandfather who caught one measuring over two feet long with rod and reel, once, from a john boat on the lake in Tidewater Virginia where he built his home. It was “landed,” so to speak, and the shell promptly spray painted orange so as to be seen from a distance, and avoided at all costs.

    I remember it vividly, as I do the evening I spent casting dry flies to rising rainbows and browns on a very low Pine Creek in north-central Pennsylvania. The sun was dropping below the horizon and I was praying for a trout to have a moment of poor judgement. As I reached out further, to another rising fish, my backcast tipped a shoot of broomsedge on the bank behind me. Only when I turned to take stock of the situation, the perked ear of a black bear was frighteningly close to that waving grass shoot.

    I counted my lucky stars as the bear cursed my foul casting ability, and pondered the consequences of landing a #14 brown caddis a job as an earring. Today I tell that story with pride, though it could have ended in tragedy. And I go on my normal way, casting to trout and smallmouth, avoiding the oddities at all costs.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

1 comment :

Tom Adkinson said...

My best fishing friend had an otter remove a 10-inch rainbow he had hooked on a dry fly and was playing in a big pool in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The otter surfaced, trout in mouth, looked at my friend as if to say, "Thanks, sir!" and swam away. My friend was not amused.