Al Campbell, Field Editor

July 5th, 2004

Rainbows, Rest Stops, and Deadheads
Charlie Place

Publisher's Note: Al is taking a couple of weeks off - a well deserved holiday from his weekly column. We think you will enjoy Charlie!

It was a clear, cool, early spring morning. Potential fly tying materials were sitting high in the tree branches in my front yard cheerfully singing bird songs. My daughter Kate's extreme cat, Ginger, was lounging on my temporarily green front lawn, snubbing a fat gray squirrel that was complaining of her presence. I took in a deep breath of brand new, spring air. "A perfect day to go fishing," I thought to myself, as I stepped off the front porch and walked across the driveway toward my car. The only problem was that I was headed for work. On the drive to work, I began to think about the Hendrickson hatch that was due any day now. I thought about caddis flies and their erratic flight that seemed to lead them nowhere in particular. I thought about hungry trout sticking their noses out of a clear, fast-moving stream and eating those early spring treats. All of these fish thoughts were too much for me, and I began to slip into a bad mood. My mood worsened as I continued the drive to work. "Why do I have to go to this stupid job? It's not fair, a nice day like this. Move that wreck you jerk!" Suddenly I remembered something. I glanced over my shoulder, hoping my sudden flash of memory was true. There in the back of my jeep was my fly fishing stuff. I didn't put it away after I had gotten home last night. There it lay, tempting me.

I don't know exactly how it happened, but I was already feeling better as I eased my car up the ramp and onto the highway that leads to the Willimantic River. It had something to do with a cell phone and a cough, though. I hadn't gone far when I noticed that the other people, the poor guys going to work, had improved their driving.

I parked at the full-service rest area just off the highway. I put on my waders, fishing vest, and lucky hat. Then I rigged up my fly rod. I was about to leave my locked car and head for the river, when a noisy, brush-painted, florescent green van pulled into the parking space next to me. I could hear the 1970 hit song "Truckin," reverberating through the rust-eaten holes in its side. The clacking engine was shut off and sputtered to a stop that ended with a gasp. A sliding door scraped open and out stepped a tall thin man wearing a tie dyed t-shirt with a peace sign drawn on it. His gray unwashed hair hung to his shoulders. He had a long gray beard to match. I felt like I had just stepped back thirty years in time. Bell-bottoms would have convinced me. I looked at him a second too long. Our eyes met. "Goin', fishin' man?" the obvious deadhead asked.

"Yup," I answered.

"Where do you fish around here?" he said.

"Right down there." I pointed over the hood of my jeep with my fly rod.

"What are you fishing for, man?" the gray man asked.

"Trout," I replied.

"There's trout this close to the highway, man?" he asked grinning.

"Yup," I answered, hoping another one word answer would stop the fishing story that I knew was coming. Almost everybody that ever wet a line has a fishing story to tell.

"You know," he said, "my father and me used to go cat fishing..." We were five minutes into the story and just getting to the super-secret, smelly bait recipe when another deadhead stepped out of the van, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands. He was wearing a tattered, yellow t-shirt with a hand-drawn picture of a plant on the front. Pale white knees glared through gaping holes in his soiled jeans. As he rubbed his eyes, I noticed that there was a single letter tattooed on the knuckle of each of his fingers. "Trou--tBum" I think it spelled, or it could have been "Truc--kin'," His fingers were hard to read as he rubbed his eyes.

"Where are we, man?" he asked deadhead number one.

"Rest area," number one answered.

Just then a limousine pulled up and a well dressed young blonde woman got out of the back. She noticed me in my waders and asked me if I was fishing for trout. I told her I was. "Rainbow trout?" she asked specifically. I told her there were plenty of rainbow trout. Her face lit up and she smiled from ear to ear. "Thank you," she said. Then she turned and walked toward the restrooms. Later I was sorry that I hadn't asked her about the rainbows and why they were so special to her.

The two leftover hippies were watching the young blonde women walk away so I quickly said, "See you guys," and bolted for the river. Well, as best as one can bolt in waders. Anyway, I made it without having to hear the rest of the secret, smelly bait catfish story.

I walked down the grassy hill, opened the creaky gate and as snow-white felts pressed against last years fallen leaves, I wondered about the "deadhead" and the well dressed woman and how fishing had touched their lives, even though they were obviously on different paths. I continued upstream, passed some nesting geese, and waded half way across the river. I stopped at my favorite place just below "The Island." From there you can still hear heavy trucks rumbling by, car doors slamming, and concerned parents shouting, "Be careful!" at running children.

As I pulled some fly line off my reel, I looked back up the grassy bank toward the busy rest stop and I wondered about the thousands of travelers who hurried through there every day, their lives locked in overdrive. I wondered if they would ever know that only a few yards below the vending machines and the wall of colorful brochures, a once-dead river now lives. That strong brown trout hide behind submerged rocks and in the shadows under dark banks, or that the bright, pink-striped rainbow dine in the fast choppy current, or that the silly red-spotted brook trout now thrive there and nip at everything that washes by. Would they know that a tough four-pound rainbow lives in the deep boulder-scattered run, just to the right of "The Island" and if the cast is not too sloppy, and the right fly is drifted into the crafty trout's view, you could catch her?

I think to myself, "Probably not," as I make my first cast. ~ Charlie

About Charlie:

Besides hosting the FAOL Chatroom on Tuesday nights, Charlie Place writes a monthly fly fishing column called "On The Fly" for On The Water magazine which covers fresh and salt water fishing in New England. In February 2004 Charlie's column won The New England Outdoor Writers Associations 2004 writing award; Best column in a magazine. Often his stories are about fishing with Ernie Boutiette and Jerry Wade his two best fishing buddies.

Previous Al Campell Columns

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