For a long time I had a terror of the dark. My earliest memories of bedtime were of shutting my eyes
tight and pulling the covers over my head the minute the lights were out. Everyone overcomes this
fear at a different age. Inexplicably, if you are with someone else, almost anyone, the night holds no demons, but being alone in absolute blackness is another thing.
It was not until my late 30’s that I finally overcame this dread. I had rented the Old Schoolhouse in Roscoe, NY. On a rainy Sunday afternoon I sat over a cup of coffee reading Night Fishing For Trout. It was a siren call, but one where lashing me to a mast would not serve. I had to go alone, in pitch dark, to try myself against a blackness extending from the field bordering the river up past the netting of stars beyond to an unknown universe. And yet there was a call that I heard, and one night I followed it down to the Upper Beaverkill.
There was a pool that I had never fished. A boulder and an elbow in the stream made it as likely a place for huge trout as I could ever imagine. The problem was that the bank towered above the pool on one side, and was water level sand on the other. I was unwilling to just drop a line straight down from above like a bait fisherman and standing on the opposite side would spook a blind minnow. To wade into the pool was also a non-starter.
What would tempt a huge, wary trout at the bottom of this great well of fishing dreams? I walked upstream on the high bank side, entered the river from a deer trail and waded into the center of the rapids. I had heavy tackle for this small water, a 5 weight rod with a 6 pound test leader at the end of the fly line. The rod was made for me by the late Vince Cummings and was my lucky rod. Vince was a great character on the Beaverkill. He had been an oil company executive in the mists of time and had emerged as a rod builder, first of fiberglass and in my time of graphite. When he delivered each rod to me his wife would wait in the car and take the money from him. He was a recovering alcoholic and she kept him sternly on the wagon.
So there I was barely steady on my legs in the rapids, the weight of a thousand stars and galaxies on my shoulders. It was a cool night with a fair breeze. I tied on a large, improbable wooly bugger, green and purple. What would a fish think it was? A leech? It didn’t matter. With the stream hurtling into the pool, the fish would have a fleeting glimpse and would have to make a total commitment or go hungry, like the joke about the pig and the chicken going to breakfast.
(The chicken says to the pig, “let’s go to breakfast “ and the pig replies, “that’s easy for you to say, you just have to make a contribution, I have to make a total commitment.”)
Like the lowest live bait fisherman I stripped out line and let the river carry it into the pool. I slowly retrieved it back and then repeated the exercise. On the 3rd retrieve I jerked the line to make those purple and green feathers show their streaks of gold as they undulated in the dark before the monster’s eyes. My heart was beating rapidly and the noises of the night grew still.
The strike that came was so hard I thought I had hooked a huge snapping turtle or even an aquatic mammal. The fish fought for its life as I had fought to conquer the darkness. After a long struggle I was able to float it gently to the riverbank.
It was a very old brown trout. Its head was a good third of the length of its body. Even by dining on every living thing that passed its formidable jaws, the river had not provided enough to grow this beast of the stream to the proportions of the lake or sea, but for the Upper Beaverkill this was indeed a monster. And with this conquest, the stream and all my fears I gutted the fish like a sacrifice our pagan ancestors might have made to their horde of Gods. This great fish was a male that dined well on crayfish and other stream delights. I would eat him like any cannibal and devour my great conquest, the spoils of war. But what of his consort? The female that reigned supreme in this lagoon?
I would wait like a storybook vampire for the darkest, moonless night. Creeping to the edge of the knowable world I would lower my line again.
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From the War Canoe