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Trout Fishing in the Battenkill River

Trout Fishing in the Battenkill River
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This little trout had started as one of a million fertilized eggs on the gravelly stream bottom. He had hatched. His parents did not eat him, nor did other cannibalistic trout or herons or kingfishers or ospreys. He had escaped disease and winterkill. For two years he had managed to swallow insects and avoid swallowing a worm with a hook in it, and against all the odds he had survived.

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.

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