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