- The Beauty of Brook Trout:A Salvation Story in Six Parts
I'd fished the pond for seven years without a rise, take, follow, or hit. Seven years of a hundred flies, fifty lures, and twenty baits. Seven years of early morning, mid-morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and night fishing. Weight and no weight. Sink tips and floating line. Seven years of sunny, rainy, cloudy, and snowy weather. Seven years of failure.
The pond is an old reservoir, long forgotten by its engineers who are likely forgotten themselves. The stream below the dam still holds native brook trout, but non-native brown trout have begun to make their way up from the valley. Above the dam, natives are the only fish that rise to hatches, interrupting time with tiny splashes in the riffles.
While I've often read that brookies are opportunistic feeders, I doubt the authors of those words fished gin-clear ponds in the wilds of Pennsylvania. I blame my lack of catching on the fifteen-foot bottom that I can see even on cloudy days, as well as the menagerie of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis that spin and rest on the surface of the pond in spring. [End Page 115]
My freshman year of college was spent stranded without a car. Unable to reach the trout streams near Pittsburgh, I was separated from their beauty. My weekends dwindled and blurred in houses where the smell of smoke mingled with whiskey and vodka. Young men, like deer in October, fueled by lust and fermented fruit, would holler at each other or the football game on TV, and young women, smooth and supple like fingerlings, danced outside on porches, despite the encroaching cold of December air.
While I laughed and drank under the speckled light of dirty bulbs, gazing at bleached hair and tight T-shirts, I felt a gap, a longing in the distance of what I'd come to believe was beautiful. Where the white bellies of trout held unswaying attraction, the flexing of biceps and the tightness of pushup bras faltered as nights wore on. In less than a semester of cold beers and shallow conversations, I'd lost my sense of beauty, my sense of wellbeing, my sense of who I wanted to be.
From my earliest memory, the only place I've ever felt truly right, centered, is in deep woods going orange and yellow, water cooling from September to October, or early in spring when fiddleheads break through the blankets of leaves, a winter-killed deer laid on the last remnants of snow, trout beginning to hunger.
When I returned home from college six months later for the summer, I was unfocused. Every trip to the stream or river resulted in a yelling match with my father, a detached silence filling the truck's cab on the ride home.
Before I'd left for school, I cradled each trout that came to my hand with care and watched as the bubbles of their breath rose from their gills to the surface. Now I dropped them back into the wash, neglecting to wait and witness their resurrection.
My father said he was disappointed in me. I hadn't partied in high school. He was worried about what might happen—arrested for underage drinking, my girlfriend pregnant, a car in the ditch, or worse.
I didn't want to admit it, but I was worried too. [End Page 116]
June sun threw shadows from the canopy onto the trail. At the first pool I caught a six-inch brookie that was returned to the legs of a root ball, water washing gently, offering oxygen and tumbling bugs.
I didn't cast again.
As I meandered up the seam, following the water to the dam, I stopped and eyed runs I knew held fish, waiting until one rose to a yellow sallie stonefly or green caddis struggling through the current. Once I'd seen what I had been unable to see, I was released to continue up the mountain. On and on I walked, scaling rock, until the sky opened above the pond.
I sat on the dam wall and...