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Trout Fishing in the Battenkill River

Gradually more rings began to show on the glass-smooth surface of the long pool. I sat quietly in the misty rain and watched them. Small trout, all of them, but even so, they fed cautiously. A minute or more separated each quick foray to the surface. On this absolutely flat water, fooling even one of these six-inchers would take precision and luck.

An hour passed before I saw the unmistakable black nose. On the Henry’s Fork and the Bighorn I learned to measure a surface-feeding trout by the size of his nose. We call the big ones “toads” because that’s what their noses look like against the water.

Here on the Battenkill I had found a toad. I didn’t move for ten minutes, the interval it took him to come to the surface three times. He rose in precisely the same place, about two feet directly upstream from the outermost sweeping branch of the arching oak tree. The only way I could float a fly over him was from the side and upstream.

His delicate rise form suggested he had selected spinners to eat. They drifted inert on the water’s surface membrane, easy pickin’s for an energy-conscious trout. I saw two kinds of spinners on the water — large rust-colored ones and smaller olives. Knowing the perversity of large trout, I guessed this one had selected the olives. I found a good match in my fly box and tied it to my wispy tippet. My hands, I noticed, trembled just a little. After three days, the Battenkill had showed me a worthy trout. Now it was up to me. The odds, I knew, were slim. Even if I hooked this fish, he would bolt to what I assumed was his lair under the tangled timber against the bank. My tippet was too slender. It would snap if I tried to hold him back. Otherwise he would wrap me and surely break me off.

Perhaps not. When they’re hooked, large trout sometimes shoot directly upstream, or try to slog it out in midriver, or exhaust themselves by jumping repeatedly. I might get lucky.

I focused on the first challenge, which was to wade into position to make my cast. A careless step would send telltale ripples across the pool, and the trout would dart back to his hideout for the rest of the day. So I moved downstream and crossed in the quick water of the pool’s tailout. Then I climbed the bank and pushed through the alder tangles to a spot directly across from the fish. I paused there until his nose showed again. Then I slipped down the bank and into the water.

The river spread 100 feet wide here, and my trout lay about ten feet from the far bank. To place an accurate cast over him, I’d need to wade to midstream. There was virtually no discernible current. I began to edge forward, shuffling my feet slowly, wary of making waves. He rose again. I was closer, now, and I saw the size of his nose more clearly and mentally compared it with those I had judged on other rivers. A 16-incher, at least. Maybe 18. Not a Battenkill five-pounder. But a most worthy trout.

I had to resist the impulse to cast. I was still too far from him. One careless presentation would spook him. So I waded forward cautiously. He showed his nose again. He had established a rhythm now, and I had learned it.

A hollow thunk echoed from somewhere upstream, but it barely registered. I was focused on my trout. I was almost there.

Then the man in the canoe materialized out of the mist. He paddled placidly down the middle of my pool, directly over the place where my trout had been rising.

“Any luck?” he asked cheerfully.

I shook my head. “Nope.”

“Say,” he said. “You got the time?”

I glanced at my watch. “Three-fifteen.”

“Thanks.” He waved. “Well, good luck, then.”

Updated Monday, August 13th, 2007

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