BRIGHT WATERS

Well, hello. Yes, I know it’s been a long time, but sometimes life gets in the way of our best intentions. You see, I’ve been working on a book of short stories as well as a new novel while continuing to write columns for Skylands Magazine, and more recently for the Northwoods Sporting Journal. Then there are the articles for Maine Homes, Boats and Harbors magazine, a high-gloss, coffee table periodical and the popular online magazine, MidCurrent, all of which keep me fairly busy. Okay, enough with the excuses. On with the Blog!

 

The little brook that flows a few miles from our home is a freestone stream, which means it depends on rainfall to sustain its population of wild trout. Like the children’s story about Goldilocks and the three bears, not too much rain so that banks erode and not too little so that pools dry up, but just enough allows the current to slip over the russet-and-tan cobble that forms the brook’s bottom.

For years, I’d fish Bonnie Brook throughout the summer. Sure, there were days when it was too hot to stir from under the eave of our back porch, but the weather always moderated and you could be sure of a rain storm every week or so. Not some monsoon-like deluge, but a gentle summer rain that refreshed the spirit of both man and fish. That has seemed to change over the last ten years or so as extreme fluctuations between drought and flood have become the norm. It’s a wonder that the wild trout of Bonnie Brook have been able to survive. (Whether its called Global Warming or Extreme Weather, ask any fly fisherman from Washington State to Maine and they will tell you that recent weather patterns are having an adverse effect on their favorite stream.)

So when the extraordinary heat of June continued into July, I slipped my fly rod in its tube and set the tube in the corner by the door while working on that collection of short stories. Eventually, I broke down and phoned a friend looking for permission from a local farmer she knew to cast my flies over his pond. The two-acre impoundment is chock full of bluegills, pumpkin seeds and other sunfish with iridescent colors more reminiscent of fish finning over a coral reef in the Bahamas than those in murky water of a pond periodically visited by a small herd of Holsteins. These fish are pushovers for any fly twitched under the surface. If lucky, I might even locate one of the schools of spunky smallmouth bass that call the pond home.

When my friend called to give me the green light. “Just stop at the back door and tell him Celia says hello,” I pulled out my six-weight bass rod from the closet, intent on making the short drive to the farmer’s field. But all that changed when the rain began to fall and did not stop until a total of no less than four-and-a-half blessed inches fell across the northwest corner of our state. Not at once in some gully-washer storm, but on and off over a period of five or six days so that by Saturday morning when the clouds cleared, I slipped my six-weight back into the closet and grabbed the rod tube from the corner by the door.

Twenty minutes later, while slipping my cane rod from its sleeve, I could hear the reassuring sound of the little brook’s current. At first, I was surprised at the verdancy that had grown up along the stream’s banks. Thorny branches of wild rose clung to my shirt and pricked my arms while reaching out to grab my fly on every roll cast. Barberries that were calf-high in June now rose to my waist. Vines of wild grape and Virginia creeper entwined blackberry and raspberry canes to create an impenetrable barrier on either side of the stream so that once in the water, I waded through a virtual tunnel of vegetation.

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And there they were, as if waiting for my return—the trout of Bonnie Brook. In every riffle and run, luxuriating in the cool current, as giddy as kids splashing in a town pool, brook trout, no longer than a finger, leaped through the surface to grab my fly. In the deeper pools, rainbows, some as long as ten inches, daintily sipped the pheasant tail with its parachute wing only to summersault into the air before careening from one side of the stream to the other.

bright waters

When I returned home, I took down Where The Bright Waters Meet from the shelf. Written by Harry Plunket Greene, it is one of my favorite books and has remained a strong influence on my own attempts to convey a sense of place. The book takes its title from the first lines of a poem written by the Irish poet, Tom Moore, lines that can easily be applicable to Bonnie Brook:

“There is not in this wide world a valley so sweet                                                              As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet.”

Writing during the first few years of the twentieth century, Plunket Greene spends the better part of his book describing the Bourne, “a lovely little river in Hampshire, England.” More than ninety years later, Nick Lyons begins his Introduction to my Easton Press Edition by stating that Where The Bright Waters Meet “…is surely one of the happiest—and saddest—fly-fishing books ever written.” For you see, by the book’s last chapter Greene laments that in a span of no more than twenty-five years his silver trout were no more.

“So they were born, and grew up and bred in the open, wild fish every one of them, and models to the Itchen or the Kennet or the Windrush or any other river in the British Isles. It was man that spoiled them.”

I suppose it’s a minor miracle that the fish of my “little river” have survived for all these years. One reason is its width that can be jumped across in two strides, so small that anglers driving over its single bridge virtually ignore the narrow ribbon of water on their way to a larger, well-known trout river only a few miles to the north. Spared any significant fishing pressure, the stream’s trout have been left on their own since the mid seventies when the State discontinued stocking its modest current with dull-witted, hatchery-bred fish. Because of its location inside a federal park, the brook has until now remained immune from development. All of these factors have contributed to the stream’s ability to sustain a population of healthy trout as wild as any I’ve encountered.

And yet, in recent years, severe flooding has resulted in significant siltation as clay and mud slide into the streambed from the surrounding hills. Trees and bushes have been ripped away leaving some banks bare, the shade that once cooled the water and provided fish with protection from osprey, heron, and otter, now gone. Narrow sections of stream allowed for deeper pockets where trout could hold, but as floodwaters gouged out the banks, the stream widened, resulting in shallow stretches devoid of fish. Add to this, the Asian woolly adelgid that over time will destroy the hemlocks through which the stream’s headwaters flow. Already, there are places where I must navigate through a fallen maze of these once magnificent trees that now lie bent and broken across the forest floor. I cannot, but be saddened, stumbling through these silent graveyards. A local forester recently explained that these invasive insects can destroy a healthy hundred-foot tree in less than ten years.

So I return season after season, with a growing sense of trepidation and the realization that against the odds I’ve been blessed to cast my flies for more than thirty-five years, where at least for today, the bright waters continue to meet.

 

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2 Responses to “BRIGHT WATERS”

  1. RONALD RUSKAI Says:

    Hi Bob as always the story on our little river just wonderfull,so much change over the years as you note floods and I think year after year of drought and long summers no rain sept and oct it has been hit hard.I think of your first book and our Gentlemans day lunch on picnic table and so many days of many trout on wet fly.In the dull of my work day I think back to the 1980s and 90s when all NJ wild trout streams were at there best.Remember help Mr Trout move a rock or two make a better run or cover.

    • forgottentrout Says:

      Hey Ron. Good to hear from you. I look back on those days fondly. As you can see, I still make to over to our “little stream” whenever I can, and yes, always looking to help our friends out whenever possible. Hope you are well. See you on the water one of these days.

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