Matt Dickerson: Expectations and explorations

The dates had been circled on my calendar for months. Both came in the same week. Both were for fishing, though with different people in different states.
The first circled date was a Monday. Kenny, a musician friend from Nashville, was on a New England tour with his band, with stops in Portland, Providence, Manchester and Essex Junction. The Essex Junction date came with a day off. So he’d called weeks earlier to see what I was doing that day, and whether I might be free to go fishing. He didn’t have to twist my arm. His tour bus was expected into town around 6 a.m. after an all-night drive from the previous gig. I made plans to pick him up at 7:30 a.m.
Late May and early June is usually my favorite time of year for fishing in Vermont and Maine. Ideal temperatures and water levels, along with abundant insect hatches, usually coincide for some great fishing conditions. When I circled the dates, my expectations were high. I told Kenny that.
Then the date approached. Vermont’s bigger rivers, like Otter Creek and the Winooski, were still running unusually high and murky — not the “usual” fishing conditions of late May that had prompted my high expectations. Still, the smaller rivers, like the New Haven and Middlebury rivers and Lewis Creek had come down considerably and were quite fishable. We should still get in a decent day of fishing, I thought. Until the middle of the evening the night before when the unseasonable thunderstorms began ripping across the county and state. By morning, even the small rivers raged. On my drive up to Essex Junction, I passed one small river after another running high and dark, like strong tea. Until I crossed the Winooski which was more like frothy mocha than tea.
It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Except in the case of anglers, necessity is the mother of exploration. After several futile hours casting into that tea-colored water, in several of my favorite locations high and low along a couple different rivers, I remembered one little mountain stream I hadn’t fished for years, and had never really explored very thoroughly, flowing down a little notch out of the Green Mountain National Forest. And so there Kenny and I were, climbing down a steep bank to a place I’d never fished on a small stream though just a few miles from my house — a stream that had cleared up from the night’s thunderstorms much faster than the bigger waters, and now looked very fishable. And there we were, only a short time later, with little brook and rainbow trout snatching at our offerings. And there I was, thinking I needed to get back to that stream.
Three days later I found myself in a similar situation, on another circled date, but this time in Maine and with my brother Ted. I had been invited on a Thursday afternoon to do an interview for “The Liar’s Club” — a fishing podcast and radio show based out of Maine. The interview was on my two newest books about rivers, trout, fly-fishing and ecology. (If you’re interested, you can listen to the interview at williamsbroadcasting.net/theliarsclub.html.) The next day we were to float the Androscoggin River with a guide who helps run the show. Only the Androscoggin, which usually flows at about 2,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) at this time of year, was pounding through the valley at over 7,000 cfs. It was completely unfishable. The other top-notch wild brook trout stream in the area, and the other usual option, is the Magalloway. Although 350 cfs is my favorite flow for that river, making it very easy to wade, it can be fished all the way up to 800 cfs. The gauge at the dam said it was releasing at 1,850 cfs. Trying to fish it would be like trying to fish the outflow of a fire hydrant. Though the radio interview was still on, all our fishing plans were off.
Once again, necessity led to exploration. An old friend of my brother happened to have a little primitive cabin — no electricity, no running water and no beds — on the edge of the White Mountain National Forest not far from the Androscoggin River and the studio for the radio station where I was to do the interview. Ted had helped him reroof his cabin a couple years earlier and been invited to make use of the cabin if he wanted. Ted had then mentioned it to me, because just up the hill from the cabin was a secluded pond apparently full of trout. When our plan on the Androscoggin was cancelled, I thought of the cabin. As soon as I mentioned it, Ted jumped on the idea.
Ted and I have been on our share of wild goose chases over the years. This was not one of them. The woods were full of ticks and black flies. The pond also really was full of wild trout. And they were rising. After a successful evening fishing the little pond, in the shadow of a steep wooded ridge in the national forest (followed by a night in the cabin in sleeping bags wondering whether we had gotten all of the ticks off us) we hiked back out to the car already plotting our return to the cabin and the pond, and actually feeling thankful we had been flooded out of our original plans: that necessity had led to exploration.

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