Thirty one years ago, in a high desert creek, fifty miles from the nearest ranch house, a German Brown Trout lazed up against a saw grass bank capped in snow, with its yellow green, grassy fingers trailing in the water. The trout’s deep caramel colored flanks shimmering with reflected light. Dark chocolate circles dotting its side, floated like ink spots. It was slow and languid in the early morning water. The trout moved its fins with a lazy movement, using just enough energy to keep its position.
The young yellow haired boy had come to this stream with his boy scout troop. While the rest of his companions dragged their treble hooks and power bait downstream, he moved with a determined step, he had a mission and it did not involved the noise and confusion of his fellow scouts. Higher up the creek into the surrounding foothills he climbed, hoping to find a spot of quiet and of solitude, although at the time he didn’t know enough about fishing or even who he was internally, to be able to place labels such as, “quiet” or even “solitude.” He just knew he had to get away from his fellows.
The yellow haired boy stopped and caught his breath. Breaking trail in fourteen inches of fresh spring powder was hard on the boy. He had wrapped his legs with plastic garbage bags, his feet had a layer of large sandwich bags between his wool socks. His feet were incased in high top basket ball shoes. His gear was more of the desert black top asphalt of a city than of the mountains and rivers. His back pack contained a collapsible fishing pole, a bologna and cheese sandwich, a thermos of hot cocoa and his brother‘s stinky fish bait.
As he stopped and looked at the quicksilver running across a frozen high desert, he heard a bird noise behind him. Turning away from the creek, he watched a wounded Stellar Jay flittering across the snow with a damaged wing; in headlong pursuit, a Pine Marten.
The Jay made it to a tangle of Red Thistle and Saw Grass. Heedless of thorns or density of brush, the Pine Marten jumped like a spawning salmon; His body arching, leaping, with all of his summoned energy, jaws snapping down upon the Jay’s neck with the finality of hunger satisfied and of a green twig snapping.
The boy was stunned. A Darwinian example of life and death, played out less than ten feet where he stood. He stood there frozen and silent. Watching the Pine Marten who was obviously hungry from a long winter consume his meal. What struck the boy was how vivid white against bloody red was.Or how within a few minutes the only way to tell there had been a bird there at all was, by the transitory tuffs of feathers pulled out of the Jay fluffing in the morning breeze and the disappating arterial spray of blood upon melting spring snow.
As the yellow haired boy turned away from the grisly feast, he spotted the large trout hiding in the shadows. The Sun was angled just right, to illuminate the inside edge of the bank; otherwise the tannin stained waters would have kept the Brown Trout camouflaged for another season. Yet there it was, a leviathan amongst fresh water midgets. Looking as if, some monster of the deep mysteriously transported to a central Nevada mountain stream. Cautiously the boy eased back from the snowy bank, where had had been hiking parallel to and turned perpendicular to the grassy banks and hiked to a position further up stream and out of site. There he assembled his rod and reel.
From his new position, he could see the fresh water monster lurking in the shadows. The trout was wary of noise and shapes passing over his domain. As such the fish kept a gimlet eye cast to the strange creatures and movements in the world beyond the wet.
The boy removed a spare garbage bag from his backpack and laid it out like a blanket in the snow. Sitting down he was now hidden from sight. A week earlier his older brother had taken pity upon the young boy by creating a special bait. Sardines left to ferment in the sun for three days. Then mashing those fermented Sardines into a paste. His older brother then took this stinking mess and poured it over the small jar of orange bait eggs. It created an almost overpowering palpable aroma of rotten fish.
This was the boy’s secret weapon. His brother’s bait gave him the faith and confidence to march away from his Scout Troop into what a city boy would consider a howling wilderness. Carefully he scooped the rotten smelling bait out and onto his treble hook. Then slowly and ever so gently he eased his fishing rod over the quick flowing stream.
With a patience he did not know he had, the small yellow haired boy eased the bait into the water. He let the current take it’s scent downstream. He hoped to a large Trout starving from a long winters nap, it would scream, EAT ME!
The boy eased out the line. Bumping along the bottom of the creek bed, his scented bait inexorably slid closer to the German Brown. “Would he take it? Would he bite? Am I being foolish in trying to sneak up on this fish?” -These thoughts ran through his head.
The boy found he had been holding his breath. His lungs hurt from holding a breath too long. He was cold, he was hungry and this trout didn’t look like he was in any mood for his brother’s stinky bait. Deciding he had been made a fool by his older brother, the boy decided to reel in his hook. His hands didn’t make two full revolutions, before the Brown Trout struck like Jonas’s Whale!
His Garcia rod bent almost double! The line sang as it screamed down the rod! The boy was so stunned he almost dropped his pole.
Leaping to his feet with a shouted, “Hiya!” The small yellow haired boy hauled back on his rod, his breath coming high and tight into his chest, his ears ringing with excitement and the pounding of his heart.
The tip of his rod began to dance. It moved up and down with such speed the boy was afraid the trout was going to rip it out of his hands or maybe the rod was going to break. He remember his brother telling him when a fish was on the hook to let it have some running space. The boy let out the line and watched it burn like a laser beam down the middle of the creek.
The boy hauled back on that fish uising what felt like every muscle in his body. He got nothing. He felt like he had tied into a parked Buick or a bank vault door; there was just no give to it. Despite what did if the line wanted to move, it wanted to go only in one direction-away from him.
He remembered to dip the tip of the rod and crank on the reel at the same time. He gained a couple of grudging inches. He heard loud but indecipherable noises behind him that he couldn’t quite make out. Then the trout leaped into the air like a Dolphin! Its tail dancing across the surface of the stream, whipping its hooked mouth back and forth in a sawing motion. The boy gasped as the light played across its shimmering body. Gold tones and black as night spots all washed with a chocolate bronze and electric sparkles in the sunlight. The beauty of the fish left the small boy gasping.
Finally he could make out something, “Holy Buckets! Fight him boy! Fight him!”
Quickly turning his head around, the small yellow haired boy saw an elderly man in fishing gear, shouting words of encouragement.
“By Golly you got yourself a monster Kaiser there! Fight him! That’s it… let him have his lead… Now jerk his head back around! Let him know who is the boss!”
The boy drew encouragement and strength from his unexpected supporter. His arms were rubber and the fish showed no signs of tiring.
“Boy Howdy! You set the hook deep on that old cuss. Don’t give up son, just when you think he will fight you till the second coming, he’s gonna play out on ya.”
The boy’s hands were cramping. He felt like he had been holding onto his rod forever. The big trout made a last ditch attempt at escape, it shot from one side of the creek back to the other, then dashed downstream. This unexpected movement, pulled the young boy into the middle of the creek. Even with his legs wrapped in plastic, the cold of the water made him cry out in shock.
The old man, stepped into the water with the young boy and grabbed him by his belt loops.
“Don’t worry son, I got you.” Was all he said.
The boy pulled back on his rod and began to crank as hard as he could on the reel. To his surprise, the trout surrendered and came easily. Soon there in the shimmering shallows of a nameless Central Nevada creek, lay twenty eight inches of German Brown Kaiser Trout.
Lifting up the boy’s catch, the old man looked at the young angler and asked, “So what ya going to do with him…?”
Later as he walked back down the trail to where the rest of his boy scout troop, were still whooping and carrying on, his scout leader said in a derisive tone, “Did you have any luck with your brother’s secret stinky fish bait?”
The boy shook his head and replied, “Naaw, got a few nibbles, nothing much else.”
His scout leader shook his head as if, reconfirming his unspoken opinion about the world and his personal experience in fishing. The boy just smiled and tiredly walked back to his tent, patting a Polaroid picture in his jacket pocket the older angler had taken of him and his fish.
“So what are ya going to do with him…?” The older man had asked.
The small yellow haired boy thought. I don’t have to eat this fish to survive. Especially not like that Pine Marten needed to eat that Jay.
“You know what mister? I think I am going to let him go. Maybe somebody else will get a chance to try and wrestle that monster in.”
“I think that is a fine idea son.”