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Trout Fishing in the Battenkill River

Trout Fishing in the Battenkill River
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Nowadays a wild New England trout, however tiny, is always a miracle. Only a lout would fail to pause to admire one of them before slipping him gently back into the river.

I explored the loop of river between the first two bridges on Route 313 in Arlington on the second day. The sun glittered in a high sky and a sharp breeze blew the insects off the water. I saw no rising trout. I spent most of the day sitting on streamside boulders, watching sunlight ricochet off the riffles. After a few pleasant hours of idle watching and daydreaming, I succumbed to a pragmatic impulse and tied on a pair of weighted nymphs — a pheasant tail, which imitates many immature mayfly species, and a tan caddis pupa. I drifted them along a current seam that reminded me of places where I had caught large trout from Montana’s Bighorn and Alberta’s Bow Rivers.

For all I could tell, not a trout lived in this Battenkill pool.

Toward dusk I made my way back to the bridge where I’d left my car. An elderly man was parked beside me. He was shucking off his waders. I asked after his luck first, so he was forced to admit he’d been skunked before I did. He seemed cheerful about it. No bugs, no trout, he shrugged. A simple equation. He lived nearby, fished for a few hours just about every day, got skunked regularly.

It happens less regularly to me because I generally don’t fish in rivers as idiosyncratic as the Battenkill. I don’t like to spend ten hours on a stream without so much as a single strike. It makes me believe that there’s something wrong — either with the river or with me. I prefer to blame myself. I don’t want things to be wrong with rivers.

I was reluctant to leave. My friend told me that he’d once taken a 16-inch brown trout from the Battenkill. That was his biggest. It had happened four years earlier. I confessed that I’d caught a six-incher the previous day. He smiled. He said he’d had plenty of days when he hadn’t done that well.

I removed my waders, took down my rod, and went up to the bridge for a final look at the river. Swallows had begun to swoop close to the water, and few caddis flies swarmed in the air. Then I saw the rise of a trout, and as I watched, I saw two more. One of them appeared to be heftier than my six-incher.

I returned to the car. “There’s a few rising below the bridge,” I told my friend.

He smiled. “Go catch one,” he said.

“I guess I will.” I restrung my rod and stuck a box of caddis fly imitations into my shirt pocket. I didn’t bother climbing back into my waders.

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