Lighter Side
December 18th, 2000
The North Branch
by John Engels

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

We took the train to Lakewood.
There'd been fires in the old days, swept
the North Branch country,
but over the years we fished there
most of the land recovered itself
in second-growth popple and wild
cherry, scrub maple
and birch. Blackberry
and raspberry bushes got thicker every year
in the clearings, and in the shadow
of this scrub, here and there, you saw

seedlings of hemlock from the few
remaining stands, even a few
white pine that came
from god knows where. And fern, may apple, winter-
green, coral mushrooms, russula,

and everywhere you looked
stood the charred stumps of the old pines,
some of them too big for the two of us
to join hands around. Make you wonder
what it must have been like

before the fires and lumbermen. It was
hard country
around that river
killing frosts
by the middle of September, in October
snow began, lasted
six months, by the third week
of April you might see
a little grass again. When my brother
and I fished those rivers

we found a farmer let us sleep
in his hay barn, we'd pull together
a four-foot mound of hay
and sink into it, and get waked up
by the mice stirring in the hay
and know by that it was daylight
and time to get up. No rats, thank god,
big pine snakes underneath the barn,
saw them lots of times
sunning themselves on stumps. Used to be

that river was something, read once
in the files of the old Green Bay Advocate
of a party took seven hundred
and eleven trout in three days
of fishing. This was

at the end of August, 1871. Another time
some years later four hundred
and sixteen fish that ran
a quarter pound to two and a half. Nothing
like that anymore, of course, and of course
that's why. But I tell you
it was still a beautiful stream,
the North Branch, in the upper reaches
wild, but lower down
a river for swans, maybe
fourty feet wide, in places, and running deep
between the banks, and a powerful

current, so that even in the glides
it was punishing to wade
upstream, and then below the highway
it spread out in
a still water, but still

with lines of drift that went
past us quicker than we could wade
or walk the banks. We'd come
to the stream with the wet brush
in our faces, and sometimes we'd stand

on the meadow bank below
the oxbow and see
little grayish blobs of insect shapes
bobbing to the surface and fumbling

themselves airborne, and twenty feet out
the neb of a trout showing and gathering
one in, and then a hatch or spinner flight
filling the air, swallows by the dozen
hawking among them, cedar waxwings
coming out of the trees to take
one fly, and every square yard
of the stream with a feeding
trout. Black flies
could be bad, especially around

the pilings of the cattle bridges,
crawled down your collar, into
your ears, up your nose, your cuffs, bit
like a sunuvabitch, I used to think we'd maybe lose

a pound of meat apiece to them
some days. But we'd stay at it
no matter what, until almost sunset,
when the chill at last got to us,
and we'd come off the stream
shivering, bleeding, exultant.
In those days that was a river
where unless hot prairie winds were blowing in

from Kansas, or the Fox
had opened the reservation dam
and sent down a head of muddy water,
we felt we could take fish

somewhere along it - even
on the worst days we used to take
a lot of brookies in the riffles, small,
but by god they'd brighten the 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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