Whispers and Roars

Although I stopped fishing many years ago, primarily because my schedule doesn’t permit it, I have not lost my love for running water — brooks and streams and rivers that in many ways symbolize life’s ebbs and flows and eddies, those random midstream pockets formed by natural obstacles disrupting the current and creating a calm, swirling refuge amid turbulent waters.

Haven’t we all taken shelter in such sanctuaries to avoid dangerous rapids or punishing winds? And what hip-booted trout hunter hasn’t caught plump fish at the backside of these gentle, foamy lairs, shaded by large, sturdy boulders. You visit them first from April to July, then during heavy summer rains that color the streams brown and make fish invisible? Those rains never came this year, not once to my recollection, and many small mountain spring brooks ran dry, according to those I’ve spoken to on both sides of the Connecticut River. One source, a cordwood vendor, took to feeding wild squaretails a month or so ago in a tiny stream near his Colrain home; found many dead, felt bad for them. Wouldn’t you think the fish would have migrated to a larger stream where they could ride out the drought? Yes, but some stuck around too long and got trapped in secluded tombs. I didn’t witness the sad sight with my own eyes but was told of it by more than one man. I believed what I was told, based on what I had seen of familiar streams.

Despite my fishing dormancy, I still often think of trout and the free-flowing streams they inhabit, my backyard brook a constant reminder. Named Hinsdale Brook after the family that built my fork-in-the-road tavern, it’s a Green River tributary whose centerline marks the northern boundary of my home lot. I stay in daily touch with the forces of nature by monitoring that stream’s flow, listening to its many voices. I watch it clog with ice in winter—distant gurgling muffled deep within—before melting into a roaring torrent with the first spring rains. It then settles down and drops to its dog-days trickle before refilling as the leaves burst into their brilliant fall glory, waltz to the ground and die. We are almost there now, the hunting season upon us, yet fishing did cross my mind. I thought of it the other day when the brook was audible through my kitchen window for the first time in months, rushing water sweeping away summer filth along the banks.

Prior to last week’s downpour, which deposited seven inches in my neighbor’s rain gauge, the backyard brook was down to a pitiful level, not enough to wash a cat in, never mind stock fish. Though it never completely dried up like some of its upland feeders, the brook was as low as I’ve seen it, similar to a southern Franklin County reservoir I’ve known for years and recently wrote about. It occurred to me as I listened to the rushing backyard stream from afar that it’s time for fall trout stocking, when our hatcheries annually unload surplus fish into rivers, lakes and ponds for the benefit of autumn anglers, potentially ice fishermen. My stream’s resurgent roar got me wondering if this year would be different due to budgetary constraints. Usually, by late September, some sort of fall-stocking announcement arrives in my inbox. Not this year; at least, not until a midday Tuesday e-mail hint from an old friend who had spotted a stocking truck in Conway. He later investigated and, lo and behold, pulled a couple of nice rainbows from a popular spot below a scenic bridge. Great timing; another 11th-hour reader’s tip to fill this space and satisfy the hunger of diehard anglers who enjoy fishing under flaming foliage and its muted reflection on smooth waters, the cool October air a perfect caffeine substitute.

I placed a call Wednesday morning to our Connecticut Valley District office in Belchertown, looking for confirmation that stocking was under way. Yes, the trucks have been rolling since last week, will finish soon. Local stocked waters include the Deerfield and Millers rivers, Lake Wyola in Shutesbury, Lake Mattawa in Orange, Laurel Lake in Erving and Warwick, Sheomet Pond in Warwick, Ashfield Lake, Upper Highland Lake in the Goshen State Forest, and Windsor Pond. For a list of all stocked waters, go to the MassWildlife website. Fall-stocked waters are underlined on the district-by-district lists.

This year, a total of 67,000 rainbow trout with an average length of more than 12 inches will be released statewide. The allotment is split evenly among the state’s five wildlife districts, including our Valley and Western, each of which received approximately 13,400 trout.

The two rainbows my friend caught Tuesday measured 14 and 18 inches. He was pleased. Me too. Once again, this weekly space got filled with a little help from a friend, this one a blast from the distant past. He’s been after me all summer, wants to show me his wooded Conway hunting camp. I’m anxious to see it. That time of year, my favorite.

Harvest time.

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