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The promised trout

September 13, 2008
Joe Hackett, Outdoors columnist

I suppose it could happen to anyone, but as luck goes, it happened to me.

This season has been an incredibly busy one for those in the recreation business. Many local guides and outfitters are reporting increases ranging from 25 percent to 40 percent above previous years. It's understandable, since the Adirondacks can be accessed in less than a day's drive by over 70 million travelers.

And, when the economy is performing poorly and times get tough, people have a greater need for recreation. They need a diversion, a break or a change of pace to relax and get their minds off matters of the day.

As summer begins to wind down and children prepare to return to school, most guides get the call. It usually goes something like this: "I know it is short notice, but I've promised to take my kid(s) fishing, or hiking or canoeing or camping or just outdoors."

"I haven't done (any of the above) in years, so I thought maybe you could help me out," the pleading continues in a frantic tone.

Most guides get used to these calls. And we really feel for the parents, especially when Junior calls his father's bluff: "Are we ever going to go fishing, Dad?"

But, by summer's end, most guides are usually straight out. They are all trying to pack in one last trip, to accommodate one last guest so they can catch one last fish.

So, it was a most pleasant surprise when a last-minute cancellation last week left me with two days off, in a row. I could actually go fishing myself.

People just don't understand a guide's life. Most folks believe all we do is go fishing for a living, that we fish all the time and get paid

for it. What a great life!

The truth of the matter is that I rarely fish, and almost never when I'm out with a guest. The surest way to the unemployment line for a guide is to catch the one big fish of the day. Or any fish that is larger than the client's catch. Or any catch that humbles the client.

Although I'm on the water from sun up to sundown, it's a rare moment when I get to wet a line, cast a fly, or hook into a monster bass. I certainly see a lot of fish taken over the course of a season, but they're almost always on the end of someone else's rod.

Thus, you can understand my excitement at the prospect of having a day to myself, all alone on the stream of my choice. No guests, no timetable, no worries, just a fly rod, trout and the river.

Before setting off for the day, I called an old friend. He loves to eat small, pan-fried brook trout that are crisp and fresh. I promised him a batch of brookies, not too big, not too small, and so fresh they'd still be cold from the brook. "You can bank on it," I explained as I hung up the phone.

I loaded my little Old Town pack canoe and headed off to a small, local stream that I knew had been infested with beaver dams. Beaver dams create large, deep pools where brook trout gather as they school up before the spawn. By this time of the year, they are usually stacking up in numbers.

As I put the canoe in the water, I carefully arranged my equipment.

The seven-foot, two-weight flyrod-check. A box of my favorite wet flies-check. My digital camera in a waterproof bag-check. Cooler with a few cold beers on ice-check.

Paddling downstream, I could see brook trout swimming away from the boat, scurrying for cover as I snapped little roll casts ahead.

Ravenous for my fly, the speckled beauties couldn't resist. In a matter of minutes I had landed a half dozen trout, though few were big enough to brag about. I put them all back and continued downstream where I knew larger dams lay ahead.

After sliding the canoe over two dams in the making, I came to a very solid structure. The dam was almost two feet tall, with a large, deep pool where rising trout beckoned.

Quickly, I tied on a small, dry fly and sent it to the farthest reaches of the pool. Instantly, a fish hit and danced across the surface in an attempt to dislodge the fly.

It was landed and promptly released. I repeated the performance. Two, three, five, eight trout in succession; I had found the mother lode. It was brook trout Nirvana. They were catapulting out of the water for dry flies, like strange, speckled, multi-finned missiles. In no time, I landed nearly a dozen on consecutive casts.

Sitting in the canoe above the dam, I got the bright idea that I should try to capture some of the tremendous action. I could take a shot of trout rising to the fly, or exploding out of the water. It

would be so easy.

With the camera in one hand, and a flyrod in the other, I cast the fly downstream. It settled on the water. I raised the camera to my eye and focused on the fly. No strikes!

I cast again, raised the camera, and focused once more. Still no strikes. Again, I repeated the process without a strike. But just as I was readying to recast, a trout hit. I clicked the camera and instantly set the hook, hard.

Momentum carried me backwards as a tiny trout fingerling on the end of the line whizzed by my ear. These actions were followed by pandemonium in the marsh.

The canoe flipped, the rod followed and I lay half in the boat, half in the muck, with nasty smelling bubbles of methane gurgling from the bottom. I was covered in swamp slime as parts and pieces of my adventure floated nearby.

With the camera soaked, flyrod snapped, and my ego deflated, I slowly picked up the remnants of my professional paraphernalia.

Half laughing and half cursing, I hoisted the canoe overhead to drain it. I pointed it upstream and began paddling, mumbling, humbled and a bit humiliated. Yet, I still had five handsome brookies to deliver and a promise to keep. I cleaned up and drove to town, the smell of swamp muck still lingering in the air.

As I handed the fish over to my friend's wife, I told her the story was much larger than the trout.

From now on, if I have a day off, there will be no promises and no pictures, just trout in a dry canoe.



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