On The Trail: Fishing fantasy

  • This is the Eastern brook trout that’s native to our coldest waters and besieged by acid rain. This beautiful fish was once found throughout the Connecticut River watershed, spawning in small tributaries each fall. SUBMITTED IMAGE

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Wouldn’t you know it. Over the weekend, I dug out a Sewell N. Dunton & Sons Tonkin-cane flyrod I’ve never cast astream, attached an Orvis CFO IV reel of chartreuse, floating, weight-forward 6 fly-line and took a few out-of-sight backyard casts for old-time’s sake. I guess I was feeling it, seeing hints of green on lawns and hayfields. Now, here I sit, early Wednesday afternoon, brisk walk with the dogs in the rearview, Mother Nature’s wet, white fertilizer falling from the sky, accumulation or lack thereof to be determined.

Call it whacky New England weather, the clocks about to be turned ahead for warmer Daylight Savings Time, when shorts and T-shirts will replace pants and long sleeves, and the steady flow of hard-earned cash exiting our chimneys comes to a merciful halt.

The Dunton rod isn’t my best. I own better. But it’s not bad, either. In like-new condition with a spare tip to boot, I don’t even remember where I bought it. Probably at the Hadley outdoor flee market, where I used to find many treasures before sunup. I guess Dunton bamboo rods have become quite collectible in recent years. For me, its value is sentimental. Dunton was a Greenfield rod builder who lived on Green River Road a mile or so north of my current home when I was a South Deerfield lad, and had a downtown rod shop on Fiske Ave, down by today’s Mesa Verde. He salvaged Montague Rod & Reel stock, tools and machinery and continued pushing out rods until selling out to Thomas & Thomas in 1974.

Anyway, rod in hand out back by the brook — not in it, despite wearing knee-high rubber boots after walking — I found room for back casts and tried to recapture a rhythm I once had down pat. A low-hanging maple limb about 20 yards ahead was my challenge. The question was: Could I sneak the hookless leader underneath the branch tendrils without snagging them. The answer was no. Sure enough, the leader got hung up on the first attempt, even without a hook, getting tangled in the lowest buds and branches. Thankfully, I had my glasses on. Otherwise I could have never untangled the mini-rat’s nest, which wasn’t all that bad compared to some I’ve seen when younger when capable of freeing them along the stream without glasses. Oh well. My eyes were good back then, good enough to hit a baseball and tie blood knots with the finest of tippets. Today, I’m farsighted and need glasses for reading, but my vision has never been better. I can live with that. Then again, what choice do I have?

I don’t know what got me thinking about fishing and flycasting on a noontime whim. It may have been the swollen, green-gray Green River I had followed with the dogs. Down by the big riverside apple tree, it sure did look about perfect for fishing. But the impetus could also have that body of a Connecticut man found recently off South Station Road in Conway, where I caught many a nice trout in the gorge below the dam. Or, maybe it was that unlikely pre-midnight telephone call at work from old buddy Peter Mallet, founder of the Millers River Fishermen’s Association. I hadn’t spoken to the man in months and, not surprisingly, we touched on a familiar and dear subject: big squaretails, our native trout that we both happen to favor over all others. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned 15-inchers and he asked me if I could remember the last time I caught one. “Yes,” I told him. “I remembered it well because it surprised me on a thunderstormy summer afternoon, the roiled river colored milk-chocolate brown.”

Fishing a deep pool from a large overhanging ledge along the steep northern bank downstream from the roaring South Station dam, I was bait-fishing a nightcrawler backed up by attractant red beads and a silver spinner. Not my typical routine, I must have been pulling out all the stops on a slow day. I lobbed my first cast upstream into the head of a riffle and dead-drifted the bait downstream, allowing it to sink. Once the current tightened the slack, I mended my line and let it straightened before slowly retrieving it upstream, gently twitching my rod tip now and then to entice a strike. It’s the same way you’d fish a streamer on a flyrod, but I was using open-faced spinning tackle.

When I could see the spinner and bait coming to the surface below me, I raised my rod tip to make my second cast and caught the flash of a big fish following it to the surface before darting back under the ledge. “Hmmmmm,” I thought. “I hope he’ll come after it again.”

I rearranged the lively crawler on the hook and lobbed a shorter pendulum cast out into the current, carefully working it back toward me and lifting the rod-tip trying to tease the trout out of its lair with the shiny spinner. Bang! This time I was ready and the fish was on, running deep to its undercut refuge before racing downstream and making my drag sing in an effort to shake the hook. I fought and tired her, a female full of roe, netting her, snapping her neck, gutting her and baking her in aluminum foil for supper. If I caught that beautiful trout today, I’d likely throw her back. But that was back in the 70s, before I was married and slowly changed my ways.

Though I didn’t weigh or measure that fish, there was no need to. I had grown quite familiar with squaretail in the 14- and 15-inch class, and even bigger, from other sites I knew and protected with silence and secrecy. Brook trout like that weigh a couple of pounds, their pink meat moist and succulent. One can only imagine the type of native brookies the first colonial settlers found working their way up into Connecticut Valley watersheds for their fall spawning runs. They must have been incredible specimens — world-class squaretails.

It’s fun to reminisce, sitting near the woodstove in the deafening silence of a damp, gray, snowy March afternoon. And here I sit, falling snow peripherally visible out the kitchen window. I’m confident it’ll melt fast and sprout the most nutritious clover stubble of the year, drawing deer in need of sustenance after a long winter. I’m glad my idle kitchen thoughts were pulled back to that whimsical trip to the backyard with my Sewell N. Dunton bamboo rod and WF-6 floating line. I’m glad the elements got me thinking about flycasting and squaretails and free-flowing, free-thinking mountain streams that have always attracted human beings.

Hopefully, my Vermont grandsons will hear the same call of the wild I’ve passionately chased and will continue pursuing till my ashes are scattered in the wind. Maybe the boys will want me to teach them to catch trout to the soothing symphony of birdsong, babbling brooks, roaring rivers and cold, trickling mountain springs. If so, I’ll be there to introduce them to woodland magic, hooking them snugly through the upper lip and gum. The only way to escape that grip is to leap high, create slack, snap the line on the rebound and wave goodbye.

In the world of angling, there exist only those who have witnessed that escape ... and liars.

Off I go.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gsand53@outlook.com.