December 24th, 2007

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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My Christmas Trout
By Robert Romano

The current is surprisingly strong as I wade through the headwaters of the little stream. The water is clear, achingly cold. I can see through to the bottom, which is comprised primarily of cobble and rock that this late in the season are covered with a layer of sunken leaves. The once bright rusts, reds and yellows have faded as the leaves begin to decompose.

Although it's nearing the end of December, I am hoping to find one last trout willing to rise to a dry fly. I have been casting a Royal Wulff, its body a cheerful combination of red silk and iridescent green peacock hurl, its wing a shock of white calf's tail. What better fly to bring a Christmas trout to the surface?

It has not yet snowed, but today the air is damp and still; the sky overcast, dull. I am wearing a flannel shirt with a fleece pullover. Enough rain has fallen over the last few weeks to saturate the leaves that crunched under my boots during October and November. This afternoon there is no sound as I make my way through the forest.

I have been hiking along the side of the small stream for the better part of an hour when I spot a brook trout, my first of the afternoon. The six-inch fish is finning in place. At first it's no more than a shadow, but then I detect movement as it slides an inch to one side, a shadow slipping through shadows. Then there is the white of the fish's maw as its mouth opens to take a nymph or perhaps a caddis larva drifting in the cold current. I bend closer, about to cast, but the shadow evaporates.

In a way, my life is like this mountain brook, a stream of consciousness hurtling down from the headwaters of my youth. Like water cupped from the current, the moments of a lifetime slip so easily by. Perhaps that is why I fish. For trout, like memories, are elusive; but with skill, some luck and a good deal of patience they can be held, if only briefly, cool and damp before sliding back into the darkness. A poor substitute for stopping time, but I make do.

While searching for my Christmas trout, I have been wading back through my recollections, trying to recall again that first fish that rose to my fly. I remember the huge carp with metallic-like scales that inhaled a dough ball from the muddy bottom of the Saddle River, the stringer of perch taken from the pond behind a restaurant in our town using garden worms and the largemouth bass that chased a Hula Popper skittered across Lake Sebago; but it's that first trout taken on an artificial fly that I seek.

Walking beyond a set of shallow riffles, I come upon a short run, deeper than most others this high up the brook. There, in close along the far bank, under the exposed roots of an ancient hemlock, I find the memory that I hope to entice to the surface.

It's the year after college, and the Vietnam War is burning its way through history like a controlled flame started by the Fire Service, now unexpectedly leaping out of control. Drawing a high number in the lottery, I am immune from the draft. My father, a veteran of World War II, does not share my disillusionment with our leaders, and we have had a rough number of years.

We declare a truce, and on a weekend in late May, leave my younger brother at home, driving to the Catskill Mountains where we stay at the Atrium Lodge in Roscoe, New York. Having fished with flies for only a year without taking a single trout, I hope that this pilgrimage to the hallowed waters of the Beaverkill will improve my chances.

My father does not understand why I choose to give up my spinning gear for this "new" form of fishing. To him it is as foreign as my long hair, bellbottom jeans and the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I have not yet learned the names of mayflies or their imitations, but I search my fly box for something that looks similar to the many large, dun-colored insects that are struggling to rise from the river's surface.

My father is downstream, dead-drifting a worm into a deep run, a deadly form of fishing and one in which he is adept. He is wearing his dark blue baseball cap, the one with the red-and-white daredevil lure hooked to the bill. A cigarette is clasped between his lips, the smoke rising in a thin ribbon toward the overcast sky. I watch him raise the bail on his spinning reel and cast the worm effortlessly back into the run. The little lure on his bill glistens as the sun momentarily slips out from behind a crack in the wall of clouds.

Wondering how many trout he will catch, I make a sloppy cast, the fly slapping the surface, putting down a fish that rose only ten feet away. My father catches my eye and waves. My anger builds as my fly becomes tangled in an overhanging branch. The water is now boiling with trout. I resist the urge to look downstream, assume my father is catching his limit. On another cast, a trout rises, but I strike too soon, snapping the line backward where it lands in a pile at my side.

I abandon any hope of catching a fish, when my fly is suddenly lost in a boil, the hook holding fast to a Catskill brown. I look down once more at my father, but the brim of his cap is shielding his eyes. Over the course of an hour the bushy-hackled dry fly entices six more fish to the surface.

Snow begins to fall along the little mountain stream, big soft flakes that vanish as they touch the surface of the brook. For a moment those browns were once again mine, yet I linger. Bending to one knee, I watch my father. He is younger than I remember, younger than I am now. I watch his worm sweep in a graceful arc toward a pod of fish, which on that day, in that river, are all looking toward the surface, selectively taking the dun-colored mayflies, ignoring worms, even one drifted with consummate skill and patience.

The snowflakes are smaller now, beginning to stick to my sleeves and the forest floor. I am about to rise when I see my father wade out of the run. He finds a boulder on which to lean his rod, sits back against an oak, and watches his son. I look closer and am startled as a smile spreads across his lips, a smile which had been hidden for all these years by a dark blue cap with a daredevil lure hooked to the brim. ~ Robert Romano

About Bob

More of Bob's writing, including information about his book, Shadows In The Stream can be found at his website: Forgottentrout.com


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