Matt Dickerson: And then it struck
It had been a long day, and indeed a long couple weeks. Too much time had gone by since last I had stood beside a river and listened to its voice, looked for its creatures. Which is to say, too much time since I’d been fishing. I was feeling the need. Though less than an hour remained until sunset, I threw a couple rods in the car and drove down to Frog Hollow below the falls in Middlebury.
There are days in the summer when I can wade close up below the falls and cast my flies right into the plunge pool. Even in May, there have been days I could wade out and fish the island. This was not one of those days. This evening, the island barely had its head above water. Its little cluster of trees stuck their long trunks up from the water’s surface looking more like mangroves in a cay than hardwoods in Vermont. Getting to the island wasn’t really an option, and even had I made it there, it would not have offered fishable water.
So I stood against the shore down below the old mill, near the deck of what was once the Storm Café — well downstream of the footbridge in the first bit of water not raging too fast to imagine fish in it — and I cast out into the big eddy, trying to fish the seam between the current and the slack water.
Despite the wild, turbulent and murky water, catching a fish wasn’t completely out of the question, I told myself. Even if the bigger, smarter fish that had survived the winter were (unlike me) too sensible to be out in the miserable conditions, the state’s annual stocking efforts had begun. Despite the lateness of the spring this year, the New Haven River had received its influx of fresh and foolish hatchery fish almost two weeks earlier. So had sections of the upper Otter Creek in Danby and Mount Tabor. Though the stocking of Otter Creek in Middlebury was not yet listed as complete on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife website (anrweb.vt.gov/FWD/FW/FishStockingSearch.aspx), nor were the stockings of Middlebury River, Neshobe Rivers, Lewis Creek or Baldwin Creek, I know in the past there has sometimes been a delay of a day or two between when a river is stocked and when its reported on the website.
So I stood on the shore of the river and cast my fly into the waters. I wouldn’t have thumbed my nose at a fresh and foolish hatchery fish. But, in fact, my hope really was for one of the old, smart, almost-wild ones, hoping it was less sensible than I thought. I tied on a big red streamer fly imitating a fish: a streamer with lots of red in it, that to a big, fat, hungry, three-year-old, four-pound brown trout might look like a little stocker trout that would make a very nice mouthful on a cold May day.
I moved around a bit. Cast upstream and down and straight out. Stripped my line with the current and against the current, along the seam, along the foam, and even under the foam. When that didn’t produce, I moved upstream to the rocky point of land just at the end of the eddy, where the current drops off the shallows and into the deep pool.
I had taken maybe 50 or 60 casts when it struck. Hard, and unmistakably it struck me. A cold miserable rain was falling. My hands were wet and numb. If I headed back home, I could sit in a warm house, holding a hot cup of tea in my hands, watching Chris Sale try to extend the Red Sox winning streak. And who was I kidding? The fish were not biting in these conditions.
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