Fishing Fantasy

My mind started wandering on a fog-drenched Wednesday morning as my truck meandered home through the Greenfield Meadows, and for some reason it brought me back to my old footloose days, when I’d head for a hilltown stream on similar damp, grey days.

Back then, there was always a round, galvanized, two-handled washtub full of lively nightcrawlers in the musty cellar. The tub contained perhaps four inches of topsoil mixed with coffee grounds and covered by a deep layer of wet leaves from the previous fall.

Before first light, a common ritual would begin by descending five cement stairs into the cellar, forest-green metal bait box in hand. I’d pull the crawler tub toward me from the waist-high dirt mound supporting the stone fireplace footing, scoop in a light handful of the black soil, pick a few more crawlers than I’d need, and top them with a thin layer of moist leaves before climbing the stairs back to the shed. There, I’d pull my hat, vest, net, creel and hip boots from their pegs, grab my spinning rod and open-faced reel from their pegboard perch, throw everything in the vehicle and head out for a relaxing morning of trout hunting. Just reminiscing, I can still feel the invigorating freedom of those many trips to Conway, West Whately or wherever, alert to the countryside sights and sounds along the way. Noting like a slow daybreak country ride to soothe the soul.

Upon arrival at the stream, I’d pull my vehicle to the side of the road and go through my checklist: shoes off, boots on; fasten bait box and hip boots to belt before tightening; throw on vest and hat; grab rod and reel; lock car; walk to stream. Oh how I hate to think about the times I got halfway down the bank and realized I had forgotten something, forcing a return trip to the vehicle. But, hey, that’s part of the program, particularly on the morning after a night of misbehaving. Heathen penance, I guess.

The sound of the rushing water gets louder with each step, triggering an adrenaline rush that’s as good as any you can buy on the black market. Talk about a natural high. Then, when you arrive at streamside, you blend into the habitat, moving slowly, walking softly to disguise your presence. Along the way, you pass a clump of ferns, pick a handful and layer them on the bottom of the wicker creel to keep your trout moist and fresh. Stringers work just fine, but there was always something about a wicker creel that I preferred. Maybe the look.

As for the fishing itself, well, there are many ways to cover a trout stream, and my preferred method evolved over many years of youthful worm-dunking. I’d start by fishing downstream, sneaking up on the productive holes, finessing a delicate pendulum cast upstream from the target area and dead-drifting the bait into the pool, twitching the rod tip gently to keep the hook off the stream bed. Then, as the bait dropped into the darkened depths – bang! – a hard strike. If I rolled it over and lost it, so be it. I’d be back on the way out to get even. If I landed the fish and hooked it fatally deep, I’d snap its neck and throw it in the creel. Otherwise, I’d toss the lively speckled trout back for another day.

I always had a downstream destination from which my fishing technique would change dramatically. Once there, I’d bang a U-ey and fish upstream back to my vehicle, remembering every fish that had slipped my hook. The challenge of fishing upstream sharpens your senses, because it’s more difficult to control a line that’s coming at you instead of moving away. Not only that, but you’re always dealing with strikes on slack line that can create hook-setting issues. The way I always looked at it, the difference between fishing downstream and upstream was akin to the difference between hitting a fastball and a changeup. Free swingers tend to have problems with the off-speed stuff.

Finesse is the key to success when casting upstream and fishing with the bait returning to you in the current, often rapidly. It’s essential to keep your rod tip high and retrieve slack line quickly to avoid a tangled spool. You prevent the hook from snagging the bottom by twitching the rod tip and bouncing the bait toward you. It’s never easy or fool proof, but highly effective once you perfect it, especially in the riffles. And it keeps you sharp because you must pay attention, reading the water and feeling the flow. Not a lazy man’s game. Relaxing nonetheless

Time truly flies for the solitary angler fishing the shadows on a secluded stream. It seems like one minute you’re a mile downstream from your vehicle, the next minute you catch the reflection of the noontime sun off your chrome bumper.

I vividly recall catching that first glimpse of my vehicle after three to five hours fishing in the forest, feeling cool, wet and totally fulfilled. Mind relaxed and clear as a blue sky, I’d climb the hill to my parking place, take off my hip boots, put on dry shoes, pack up my stuff and head home. On the way, I was apt to stop at a convenience store for a coffee or something, briefly shoot the breeze with someone I happened to bump into and proceed on my way.

Once home, I’d unpack my equipment, hang it where it belonged and descend the stairs to the cellar nightcrawler tub. I’d pull back the leaves, throw in a couple pinches of moist coffee grounds, hand-comb them into the soil, dump in the leftover crawlers from my bait box, and cover them with leaves for a future day astream.

It’s sad that those joyous, carefree days seem like a fantasy when your free time vanishes during midlife. But you have to believe it’s only a temporary loss. And if you can convince yourself of that, you’re certain there’ll be another day.

A comforting thought.

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