A KINGDOM FAR AWAY (part 6)
|Part 5 can be found here|
I caught a couple more brook trout from that little pool before Joe suggested that we move on upstream. The little creek continued through a series of riffles and pools, each one producing a couple more brook trout. As we went farther upstream I began to hear a noise that sounded like the rushing of water coming over a big waterfall. That did not seem likely on such a small stream, but the farther up the stream we went the louder and more pronounced the sound became. We came upon a place where a dense growth of willows nearly obscured the stream, and the noise of falling water seemed to be immediately behind this bushy curtain. Pushing through the willows I was confronted by a large pile of sticks and mud and along the top edge of log jam water was flowing over the edge and plunging down into the stream at its base. I had never seen a beaver dam before although I had read about them and seen some pictures of them.
"What's this?" I asked.
"It's a beaver dam," Joe said. "Come on, let's get up on top."
We worked our way around the end of the dam and pushed our way through some brush before we broke out on the top of the dam. The dam was about 50 feet long and the beavers had backed up a sizeable pond with their industry. At the far end was a beaver lodge just like ones that I had seen in pictures. The surface of the pond was pockmarked with the rings of rising fish. Joe motioned me to follow him and we slowly picked our way along the top edge of the dam until we had worked our way to about the middle of the dam. Here the dam was about three feet wide and we could stand there without having to balance ourselves on the edge.
"Well, let's see if we can catch some of those trout that are rising out there. We need a few more for dinner."
Joe and I hooked and landed a few more brookies that were similar in size to the ones that we had been catching downstream, and our stringer of fish was beginning to be pretty respectable.
"Let's catch a couple more," Joe said. "Then we should be headed for home."
Just as Joe spoke my fly disappeared in a swirl and as I raised my rod tip I was suddenly aware that this was a fish that was more substantial than the small brookies that we had been catching. Joe noticed the bow in my rod tip as the fish headed for the bottom.
"Wow, looks like you've hooked one of the big boys." Keep your rod tip up and let him run."
I watched my fly line slice through the water and listened to the high pitched whine of the reel as the fish ran against the drag. The fish boiled to the surface and then dove again. I gingerly raised the tip of the rod and the fish thrashed on the surface again.
"Tip your rod off to your right," Joe counseled, "and see if you can reel in some of your line."
I tipped my rod off to my right and began to turn the handle on the reel. The fish turned and began to come our way and then he turned and tried to run the other way.
"Let him run," Joe said. "He's still not quite ready to give up."
Joe instructed me to tip my rod tip in the opposite direction and begin to reel again. Each time I got the fish a little closer until he rolled over on the surface and Joe reached out with his net and slipped him safely inside. Suddenly I realized that I had not been breathing and I let out a gasp as I saw the fish slid over the rim of the net.
Lying securely in the mesh of Joe's net was the largest and most beautiful trout that I had ever seen.
"Now that's a brook trout to be proud of," Joe said. "Let's see just how big he is."
Joe lifted the trout out of the water and pulled a tape measure out of his vest. With the trout still in the net he slipped the hook out of the corner of his jaw and stretched him out so he could measure it.
"Twenty-two inches," Joe said. "This is probably the grandfather brook trout in this pond. He probably weights over three pounds."
As I stood looking down on what was the largest fish of any kind that I had ever caught a rush of emotions swept over me. On one hand I wanted to keep it and take it home to show my parents. This was the day before anyone carried a camera in their vest and if I let it go the only ones that would ever know that I ever really caught it would be Joe and I. On the other hand this was a big trout and it would be a shame to kill such a wonderful fish. How long had he lived behind this beaver dam? Were there anymore like him or was he the only one that had survived long enough to reach that size?" I ran my hand down his broad side and felt him quiver under my touch.
"Let's let him go," I said. "He deserves to live."
Joe said nothing but he lifted the fish out of the net and lowered him back into the water. He worked the fish back and forth forcing water through his gills and suddenly, with a swish of his tail, he shot away into the depths of the pond.
We picked up our stringer of fish and made our way back across the dam and began walking back to Joe's car.
"I'm proud of you," Joe said. "I know you would have liked to keep that fish, and I wouldn't have blamed you if you did, but that was a noble thing to do. You'll make a good fly fisherman."
I think I blushed a little, but I was very proud that Joe thought that I had made a good choice and that I would be a good fly fisherman.
Back at Joe's cabin he showed me the proper way to clean our catch. He made a slit just in front of the gills on the underside of the jaw, stuck his thumb into the slit and pulled down toward the tail of the fish. In one move he removed the gills, the front fins and all the insides. Then he ran his thumb down the backbone to clean out the dark colored material that runs along the backbone. Later I would learn that the dark colored material along the backbone was really the fish's kidneys but to a twelve year old kid it looked like a glob of blood. Joe then tossed the cleaned fish in a pail of clean water. Later that evening Joe fried them in an old cast iron frying pan with lots of butter, and along with my family I enjoyed my first meal of fresh caught brook trout.
|Part 7 can be found here|