The King Trout by James Taber
Memories, like a short film or snapshot in your head, some good some bad. I have many memories of my experiences as an outdoorsman and fly fishermen. I carry a disposable camera in my fishing vest to capture some of the scenes I encounter as I am stalking the elusive trout, mostly to share my experiences with family and friends. But the most vivid and vibrant pictures I have I carry around in my head, and try to share them with people through my writing. Memories that range from early childhood to the present. One of my earliest and clearest memories was of the little spring fed brook behind our cabin in Groton, Vermont.
It came from an underground spring across the power line behind the cabin, bubbling up through a rich layer of coal black silt that looked like black velvet, with a sprinkling of bone white sand disgorged from the underground source of the water. The brook draining out of the spring hole averages about 1 to 3 feet wide and at its deepest spots no more then 2 feet deep, its water ice cold enough to numb your hands and turn them bright red. It runs through a variety of terrain as it crosses the power line which is heavily covered in blackberry bushes and other cut over area growth then reaches the other side of the power line and sluices down between to big, wet, moss and lichen encrusted boulders forming a perfect natural spigot where we used to fill our water jugs as kids. Once when I was going to fetch water I saw two big Brook Trout laying half in and half out of the water by the boulders as they spawned, their brilliant colors slick and wet, and neon, like a new oil painting. From there it runs down through a pine forest, meandering and weaving its way between boulders and large pine trees until it infiltrates a thick, dark damp cedar forest. After running its course for a tumbling, gurgling mile or so, it reaches its end destination, a small very dense combination meadow and cedar swamp.
I did not know it until I grew up and became “educated” but the swamp is a wetland with an amazing variety of wildlife. As a kid it was a swamp full of turtles and frogs and rabbits and ducks. Best of all it was also full of trout. There are a series of small channels running through the swamp and over the years of grass growing up then falling over the channels they have almost become underwater tunnels. We used to quietly walk up to the channels and using our hands gently make holes in the grass so we could drop a worm down in the water of the tunnel. When we dropped our baited hooks down into the tunnel we would often have instant strikes from brook trout that were very unusual as they were a dark purplish black from living in the tunnels. There were a lot of them and sometimes they grew to significant sizes.
The same swamp was a favorite hotspot for running our beagles rabbit hunting in the wintertime and always a good bet for some partridge during bird season. One of my funniest and favorite memories of the brook is when I was 6 years old I was fishing the brook with my standard issue willow branch and about 5 feet of line.
I dropped my worm into a hole where the brook ran between 2 huge dark gnarled cedar trees making a waterfall and a small deep dark hole under their roots and got an instant bite and reared back like The Mad Fishermen, Charlie Moore on a 12-pound largemouth. The result of this expeditious application of force was the biggest Brook Trout I have ever seen to date from the brook came flopping up onto the bank and as I stood there in shock, flopped right back down into the hole whence he came from. It all happened so fast I did not even have time to try the desperate fishermen’s dive after the trophy, that every fishermen has tried at one time or another. After that experience I got up every morning before school and tried the lunker hole and every night bee lined there to try my hand at capturing the King Trout, with no luck at all, not even a nibble.
About a week after the initial engagement between the King Trout and I, I went back down to the brook to go fishing on a nice Saturday morning with my older sister Dawn. To this day I don’t know why she went as she never fished or hunted and doesn’t till this day. As we were fishing our way down the brook in the initial moments I was not watching her, as I considered her a non-threat for competition for the best fishing holes, unlike my brothers who were hostile, agile, and mobile. I was fishing and focused on the hole when all of a sudden I heard a scream and looked up and Dawn was at the lunker hole and had pulled the King Trout out of his hole and he was flopping on the bank as she threw her pole down on the ground and was screaming and crying Jimmy! Jimmy! I dropped my pole and sprinted over to the hole just as the King Trout flopped back into the hole, again, like an instant replay of the first time I hooked him. I think I yelled at her at the time even though she was older then me and used to beat me up pretty regularly at the time. I tried that hole for many years afterwards and never again saw or hooked the King Trout. And I have always had those memories, of the King Trout flopping on the bank, twice, and my sister screaming, irreplaceable and priceless, and 20 years later I still catch beautiful native Brook Trout out of the brook, and the very same hole I almost caught the King Trout out of.
In an odd way I think I know how the old fishermen in the Hemmingway book “The Old Man and the Sea” felt. When I was a kid I obsessed about catching the King Trout, now that I am older, I am glad I never did catch him, because now he lives forever in my mind.