Lighter Side
January 29th, 2001
Big Water
by John Engels

Excerpt from: Big Water
Published by Lyons & Burford, New York, NY
We thank Nick Lyons for use permission!

My brother and I never caught
one of the big rainbows for which the Soo
was famous, though he hooked into into something once
that smashed his rod with one run,
and left him swearing
like a sonuvabitch. Oh it was exciting
just to know they were there, the big fish,
and when the water was low

and the light was right you could look down
from the top of the dam at the head
of the river and see them, long
gray shapes lying easy in the water,
almost sill, maybe once in a while
a little curl of a fin. One year
we heard of a local had been arrested
with a thirty-three pounder
that he'd speared. That kept us coming back
five years more at least, though between us
we caught exactly nothing, half
of nothing apiece,
my brother said,
and we worked hard for it. We'd cross the locks
and fish all day in the tail race below

the powerhouse, edging out into
the heavy water to where
we didn't dare take another step, or turn
around even, and had to back
into shore over stones round and smooth
and slippery as you'd imagine
skull bones might be. Or we'd fish

From the spit of land beyond the tail race, in the rapids, bells
ringing behind us, horns bellowing and whistles screaming
from the ore carrier warped in to the big bollards
on the locks, men in foreign-looking caps
yelling up messages
to the crews on the deck: If you see Georgie McInnis
in Duluth, tell him Oley
is working at the Soo.
Other men

on the approaches to the locks
fished for whitefish with forty feet of line, and two
large mayflies on the hook, and you could look down
and see shining schools of fry, thirty yards
across, and suddenly
they'd melt away as a big trout
came cruising by only ten
or twelve feet down. It was good times, that's for sure,

when my brother and I
could get together at the Soo, big trout
on our minds, we'd be together at the Soo,
where we stayed at Mrs. Letroureau's Boarding House
every year in August for fourteen years
because it was cheap, and there was a tub
set on lion paws, and long enough
for a tall man to straighten out his legs, and deep enough
to bring the water to his chest - stayed there

in spite of the bugs. I remember
the first night there, I dreamed
I was cover with specks
of fire, woke up, there was a bug
working on me, I jumped up and pulled
the covers off the mattress, there they were,
half a dozen things big as potato bugs crawling up
the bed board, and I woke up my brother

in a panid, I said "There's bedbugs, the place
is crawling with bugs," but in the war he'd served
in India with the Brits, with kraits and cobras and bugs
that could swell your balls
to the size of cantaloupes, "What of it,
go to sleep!" he said. So what the hell, I went out
to the car and spent the night
in the back seat. Every year for fourteen years

my brother and I went back to work
the rapids, our heads aching with what
it would be like to hand into one
of those fish. Never did. Last year I went
back to the Soo alone, stayed one day, first time

in years, everything changed, my brother
dead, wife and daughter
dead, nobody talking

about big fish, the whitefish
long gone account of the lampreys, likewise
the lakers, everybody's mind
on something else or other, though lots
of guys out fishing on the docks
because of not much work,
and nothing much else to do, sitting there
waiting it out, bored and cold

in a sheeting rain that day, water pouring
off their hats and down their necks and into the sleeves
of their jackets every time they raised
their arms, and to top it off
the day I was there the turbines
were shut down, and the slots closed, the race
no more than a series of riffles and runs
between pools - though in the taverns

the proof was there, up on the walls behind the bars, over the mirrors,
in glass cases, there they were, the big fish, some of them
a little the worse for the years
they'd hung there, dusty, varnish peeling, paint
pretty garish in some cases, nevertheless for all
the bug-eyes, cracked and missing fins
there they were, mounts
of twelve- and fifteen-pound rainbows
came to the fly out there
in the rapids, the guides
straining at their poles trying to hold the canoes
upright and steady, the canoes
still pitching and rolling plenty, the sports
rolling out their heavy lines, the flies
floating down the feeding lanes
of that demented water,

And the great trout coming
to the fly, breaking water, suspending themselves
over the rapids, an outburst, a levitation
of high-leaping rainbows, striped scarlet, striped
cherry-red, green-
gilled, brilliant
in the ripe, sun-smelling day! ~John Engels


About John Engels


John Engels has taught English Literature at St. Michaels's College in Winooski, Vermont for many years. He is the author of five books of poetry, including The Homer Mitchell Place, Vivaldi in Early Fall, and Weather-Fear, for which he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is recognized as one of America's finest poets. He lives in Burlington, Vermont.


Other Poems:

River Bed by Dave Motes
Canyon's coming -- Gunnison by Dave Motes
The Flyline by Dave Motes
Rising Spirits by Dave Salamone
Shadow Jungle or Pike? by Dave Motes
The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop
The Ongoing Saga of Castwell and Ladyfisher by Randy Fratzke
Not My Own by Dave Salamone
Plunge Pool Brookie by Dave Motes
Breaking by Dave Motes
White Miller by John Engels
A Fisherman Reflects (A Tribute to Lee Wulff) by Bob Jacklin
Fly Box by H. Wheeler Perce
When Dreams Are Cast by Dave P. Salamone
Upon the Morn by David Salamone
The Disconnections by John Engels
Damselfly, Trout, Heron by John Engels
Why I Fly-Fish by Ernie Harrison
Oh, what a Day by David P. Salamone
Memories of More than One by David P. Salamone
Mudtrapped by John Engels
What I Leave Behind by David P. Salamone
The Way It Was by Ernie Harrison
Awakening by David P. Salamone
Eros Tyrannos by James Armstrong
Genesee River by David P. Salamone
There Is More by Ken Abrames
New York by David P. Salamone
Reflection by David P. Salamone
Last Waltz by David P. Salamone
Equanimity by Ken Abrames
Deadpool by John Engels
Fly Fishing by Tony Grenier
This Earth by Gwen Frostic
On Waters' Edge by D.P. Salamone
Truth or Tale? by D.P.Salamone
When Rod and Line Again Appear by D.P.Salamone
Too Soon by D.P.Salamone
In Golden Light by D.P. Salamone
The Switch by D.P. Salamone
At Night On The River by John Engles
Rainbows False-Spawning by John Engles
Hatch by John Engels
My Choice by Geno Loro
Falling In by John Engles
The Guardian of the Lakes at Notre Dame by John Engels
Foote Brook by John Engels
Looking For Water by John Engels
Gutting Bluefish by John Engels
The Storm by John Engles
Muskrat by John Engels
Thunder River by John Engels
Forever by D.P. Salamone
Aquarium by John Engels
Bass by Fred Mather
The Crows by John Engles
To Love a Stream by F. Thomas
Opening Day, 1997 by F.Thomas
Pewter River Haiku by Louis J. Wentz
My Highlight of Fly Fishing by D.P. Salamone
So Complicated But Simple Life by D.P. Salamone
Fly Fishing by W.J. Mallory
Here's to the Girl - by Sherman Ripley
Age Lessening by D.P. Salamone
Spring Fever by AF Westervelt
FlyTying by W.J. Mallory
FAOL Fish-In Friendship by D.P. Salamone
Acronyms by D.P. Salamone
Signs of a Highway by W.J. Mallory
Drift Fishing by W.J. Mallory
A Hunters Poem unknown
In Flander's Fields by John McCrae
Lonesome Coho by W.J. Mallory
The Marshes At Suamico, Wisconsin by John Engles
East Middlebury by John Engles
The Raft by John Engles
Eternal Father (Navy Hymn)
Pilgrimage by John Engles
Testament of a Fisheman by Robert Traver
At Night On the Lake In The Eye of the Hunter by John Engles
Indulgence on the Wharfe by Gordon M. Wickstrom
G     n Creek by W.J. Mallory
The Song of Wandering Aengus by William Butler Yates
The Au Sable by W.J. Mallory
You're On the Miramichi by William T. Griffin
The Photograph by John Engles
Flye Fishing by L A Garcia
Green Bay Flies by John Engles
T.R.O.U.T. by DP Salamone
Beyond The Fly by DP Salamone
Hemingway, You Old Bear by Joseph Heywood
Individuality by Gwen Frostic
Wa'al I'll be Durn by Francis H. Buzzacott
The Salmon Leap by Francis H. Buzzacott
The Old Bass Ground by Francis H. Buzzacott
When the Bull-Heads Bite by Francis H. Buzzacott
A Photo of My Mother and My Grandpa Lighting Out by John Engles
The Last Day by Deanna Lee Birkholm
The North Branch by John Engles
A Military Christmas unknown
Calendar-spring by David Motes
The Fly Box by John Engles
Game Warden's Lament
author unknown
Big Water by John Engles
The Best Kept Fishing Secret by Andy Hogan
While fly-fishing by Brian Nerney
On Common Water by Andy Hogan
The Last Cast by Andy Hogan
(unknown) by Alfred Lord Tennison
A Good Fight by Andy Hogan
The Bonny Red Heckle North Country Fisher's Garland
This Here Hat's Fer Fishin by Andy Hogan
Un-named By Westwood
Potomac Water Gap by David Motes
More Beyond Time by Gwen Frostic
Grasshopper-hands by David Motes
When Did We Go To The Michigan Woods? by Anna C. Brackett
Behold the Fisherman! unknown
Freedom Isn't Free unknown
From: Beyond Time By Gwen Frostic
Legend of Glooskap By Arthur Wentworth Eaton
Rainbow Rising By David Motes
Fly With A Gull By Gwen Frostic
Self-Knowledge By Kahlil Gibran
The Invitation By Percy Bysshe Shelley
Untitled By Charles Cotton
A Pleasant Time Out By Stoddard
The Brook By Lord Tennyson
Unnamed By W.Pinkerton
The Auld Fisher's Farewell to the River Coquet By Thomas Doubleday
Excerpt from Beyond Time By Gwen Frostic
Words You Never Tell a Guide By Joseph Haywood
Mind Farts & Memory Exercises By Joseph Haywood
First Night at Camp Fish Head By Joseph Haywood
I Am the Flag of the United States of America
Untitled By Whitier
The Fisherman By Jack Schweigert
Retail Night Before Christmas By Al Campbell
Splitting Oak on Motherís Day By Joe Heywood
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Fly Rod By Eugena Pilek
In Flanders Fields By John McCrae
Fisherman's Luck By Edward R. Hewitt
Happy Turkey Day By Al Campbell
The Story of The Christmas Guest By Helen Steiner Rice
Fishing By Edith Andrews Sturgis
August 25, 1971 - Jocko River above Arlee, Montana By Brian Ahern
Mr. Cortland By Cole Martin
Fishing By Edith Andrews Sturgis
A Midwinter Reflection By Russ Larsen (Bassbugg)
Christmas Bells By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A Trout Angler's Prayer At Christmas By Reverend Daniel P. Adams
An Old Scottish Poem
Voices in the Wall, Requiem 3 By Stev Lenon
In Honor of Memorial Day 2006
Little Brown Wink By G.E.M. Skues
In Flanders Fields By John McCrae
The Little Things By Richard A. (Dick) Taylor


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