Matt Dickerson: Fishing for No. 31 in 401
There’s an old saying I just made up. It goes like this: “Don’t count your stories before they hatch.”
I began incubating this story a couple weeks ago. I imagined how it would unfold, and how I might tell it. I even wrote a few paragraphs in my head. It had a pleasant and even slightly surprising beginning, and I definitely liked the imagined ending.
The story began simply enough with a planned trip to Rhode Island to visit my son and daughter-in-law. They live in Providence near where Courtney teaches middle school science and Thomas is in his final year of graduate school at Brown. With 2018 expected to be his final year there, I pondered the fact that I’ve never caught a fish in Rhode Island. I’ve never even gone fishing in the state, despite having lived my whole life in New England and having made several trips to visit my son over the past five years.
I have, however, caught trout in 30 other states. It would be nice, I thought, if I could get that up to 31. And probably the lowest hanging fruit would be to add another New England state while Thomas and Courtney still lived in Rhode Island.
And then one evening I was glancing at some Instagram photos of fish and fishing, and I noticed that @401flyfish — one of the accounts I follow regularly, and who also often “likes” the photos on my @troutdownstream account — lives in Rhode Island. (Since 401 is to Rhode Island what 802 is to Vermont, I probably should have made the connection earlier.) So I messaged him out of the blue. Having only a vague idea of where I might fish for trout down there, what I was thinking was: “May I go fly-fishing with you for trout sometime this April at some top-secret success-guaranteed favorite location of yours?” What I actually wrote was something along the lines of: “I’m coming down from Vermont to Rhode Island. Want to go cast some flies together?”
To which @401flyfish replied something along the lines of: “You live in Vermont? Why on earth are you coming to fish for trout in Rhode Island? What would anybody ever give up fly fishing for trout in Vermont to cast for trout in Rhode Island?”
In fact, the weekend I planned my visit to Rhode Island, @401flyfish was going to be escaping his home state and coming up to fish Vermont. We chatted for a bit, and it turns out that he does a considerable amount of his fishing in the same local Vermont waters I frequent. He shops at the Middlebury Mountaineer and has even come up to compete in the annual Otter Creek Classic. So we planned a Vermont fishing trip together for July.
Meanwhile, though, I was still eager to catch that Rhode Island trout, before my convenient excuse to do so disappeared. So I went back to the original question asked by @401flyfish. I explained that I was coming down to visit family for a couple days, and thought I might go out and cast a few flies while my son and daughter-in-law were at work (or sleeping in). When I was willing to bump my visit back a weekend, he said he could take me to his favorite local river. And when he had to cancel out because of a last-minute conflict, he generously gave me very detailed directions about where I should go — directions that I won’t reproduce in print.
After eating breakfast with Thomas and Courtney, and then wandering some distance along unmarked dirt roads, I arrived at the specified location around 10:30 a.m. The river was a beautiful quiet wooded stream with plenty of undercut banks, deep pools and riffles. It was wide enough to make wading a good option, but narrow enough that the canopy could almost close overhead in many places. Indeed, it looked like many productive trout streams I’ve fished in more northern New England states. My expectations were high.
Except being in Rhode Island where there are very few such streams, it receives considerably more fishing pressure. Just as I arrived, three other anglers were pulling out of the pool that @401flyfish had sent me to. Plus, the sun was bright overhead, the barometer had been climbing, the air was chilly, and a stiff wind was blowing. Though I fished into the afternoon, the air never warmed enough for a hatch. Those were the reasons I had for not having caught any trout when I waded out of the water and headed back to my car three hours later, telling myself “tomorrow morning.”
The next morning I didn’t wait around to eat breakfast. It was Saturday. The “kids” would be in bed until 10 a.m. I was up at 5:30 and fishing before 6:30 a.m. And for a couple hours, I had the place to myself. There was no wind. The sun had not hit the water. But the temperature had dropped considerable. I spent quite a bit of the next two and a half hours melting ice off the guides on my fishing rod so that I could cast. I spent none of that time leading fish into a net or snapping trout photos for my Instagram account. Once again, the sub-freezing air had quieted any possible hatches. Just as I was walking out of the river to spend the day with my son, a few mayflies began to come off the water. As I walked to my car, I was imagining the fish behind me starting to feed.
I was also trying to imagine a different ending to my story than the one I had imagined earlier.
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