Sometimes when I
think back to an incident that happened over thirty years ago, I wonder if it
all really happened or if it was just the vivid imagination of a young lad lost
in the magic world of fishing. About a mile from my home, I often fished a small
brook that wound its way lazily through the pines and cedars of the woodlands
in the shadow of Whiteface Mountain. It was a bubbly little brook with lots of
character, containing many deep pockets and undercut banks among the cedar roots
that in turn created protected living quarters for the many brook trout inhabiting
I would usually make one or two excursions a week during the summer
vacation to fish and explore my private little stream. I was particularly intrigued
with one deep pool below a little falls that was created by a series of boulders
positioned across the stream. There was a large dead birch tree that leaned out
over the pool and cedars overhanging the far side. A large boulder about four
feet in diameter sloped down into the water at a slightly reverse angle, creating
a sort of overhanging roof under which a fish could hide.
It was a perfect
spot for a large trout but in my many trips to the stream, I had not once caught
a fish from this pool, whereas I had taken fish from nearly every other section
of the stream.
My Father had taught me that when you come to an especially
productive looking hole that fails to produce when the rest of the stream is producing,
it is usually because a large trout is hiding there. I was persistent, but without
results and my curiosity remained unanswered until one day in mid-June during
the height of the blackfly season. I had fished about a mile up along the brook
and had taken two or three brookies about ten inches long. Since it was nearing
noon and my Mother had cautioned me to be back by twelve, I was hurrying back
down along the brook.
Perhaps it was the nagging persistence in a young boy's
personality, but instead of taking a short cut through the woods to my home, as
I usually did after fishing, I decided to go back to the pool once more. It had
rained the previous night and the stream was now beginning to rise, its waters
starting to color slightly from the runoff. I approached the pool and leaned up
against the large dead birch tree to study the water. As I did, I heard an unusual
Just below the tail of the pool, there was a small backwash
in the shallow water between two rocks. Wedged into this tight area was a brook
trout about fifteen inches long, his head facing downstream. Almost at the instant
I saw the fish, I sensed it was in trouble. The water was rushing in behind its
gills and the fish was drowning. Even as my mind and eye took in the scene, the
fish turned on its side and started to turn belly up in the stream. I splashed
wildly into the brook and gently lifted the nearly lifeless form of the large
fish. I could still feel life in its body and I decided to try a little mouth
to mouth resuscitation in an attempt to revive the fish. After a few seconds of
breathing air into its mouth, it moved and I gently placed it back into the water,
holding it facing upstream into the current until it regained its strength, and
then it swam back to its place beneath the large boulder.
I don't know how
the fish had gotten into such a predicament, but as I hurried home that day, I
carried with me my own little secret and a sense of pride in having saved that
big brook trout's life.
For the remainder of that summer and fall, I would
always make it a point to stop off at that pool and lean against the large dead
birch tree and look for that big fish. After a minute or two, he would appear
from his hiding place beneath the boulder and swim over to the side of the pool
where I was standing. I could detect a definite signal of greeting in the wagging
of his tail slightly back and forth in the currents as we acknowledged each other's
presence. The thought never once occurred to me to try and catch that fish. He
did not insult me by trying to stay hidden, and I in turn could not attempt to
deceive the fish by hiding a hook in his favorite food.
Our friendship continued
through that summer and the next summer until the last weekend of trout fishing
in September. It was a cool and very windy day and I decided to make one more
trip to my favorite stream and bid farewell for the winter to my good friend,
whom by now I had given the name Sal, short of course for salvelinus fontanalis,
from my newly acquired knowledge of the Latin name for brook trout. Instead of
stopping at the pool on my way upstream, as I usually did, I cut through the woods
to a point about a half mile upstream and began to fish my way back down the brook.
Even in the shelter of the pines and cedars, the air was cold and the wind was
blowing the tree tops with a force that sent ripples of cold air down, taking
much of the enjoyment out of fishing. It only took about an hour to fish the better
pools before reaching my friend's abode. I had taken only one small brook trout
about eight inches long and had returned the fish to the stream where it might
continue growing throughout the winter. As I leaned against the big dead birch,
a feeling of nostalgia came with the realization I'd be saying goodbye to my friend
for the long winter.
I gazed intently into the pool waiting for the familiar
flash or ripples against the water to indicate Sal's emergence from beneath the
boulder when I heard a swish from above and heard the familiar sound of wood snapping.
I turned and started to look up, but it was already too late.
About four feet
of the top of the dead birch had snapped off and was falling straight down at
me. A section of the top hit me on the side of the head and sent me sprawling
beside the stream. I saw a galaxy of stars before I passed out. It must have been
only for a few seconds because the next thing I knew, I felt water being splashed
in my face and opened my eyes to see my large friend swimming a few inches from
my head near the edge of the pool and slapping his tail - splashing water onto
my face. At that same instant, from the corner of my eye, I saw the tree swaying
and then another large section of limb came crashing down. I rolled sideways a
millisecond before the huge limb crashed to the spot where my head had been.
shuddered at the closeness of my escape from serious injury or death and slowly
picked myself from the ground and stood, wobbly, staring at the retreating shadow
of the large fish as it swam back to its domain. I had not been injured badly
by the first blow, but the side of my head was skinned and bleeding.
my face and head with cold water from the stream and made my way back home. The
events of the day were inconceivable, but I knew the fish had saved my life by
splashing water in my face and at that instant had repaid an old debt. I did not
tell my mother what had happened, merely saying that I had fallen and hit my head.
The next spring when I made my first journey back to the pool, the fish did not
appear. I returned a number of times after and leaned for many moments each time
against the stub of the old birch but my friend never appeared again. In the many
years since then, I have fished that brook and sometimes taken other fishermen
with me, but I have insisted that this particular pool be left unfished. The pool
belongs to Sal.
The above story is from Fran's book entitled "Fish Are Smarter
in the Adirondacks" and can be ordered from his website at http://adirondackflyfishing.com