This cobblestone road had the good fortune of being under one of the best trout streams in the state. The smoothly flattened stones, which were cracked in some places, had some moss growing through the crevasses giving them an emerald glimmer as they shone through the rivers lazy current. The current casually swept away the leaves and pine needles that fell upon it during falls annual cleaning. The fisherman inhaled deeply the gentle breeze that nudged along the unique scent that fills the air this time of year.
“Ahhh, fall.” The fisherman said.
The occasional canoeists momentarily interrupted the sights and smells as the fisherman moved downstream toward a bend in the river. Once he arrived at the bend, he could see that a very deep hole had been eroded away from years of the rivers constant flowing. This, complemented by a very large willow tree who dipped her many tendril-like fingers into the upstream edge of the hole, looked like a great place for a trout to hole up waiting for a meal.
Since there was a lull in the watercraft traffic, the fisherman decided to try his luck by casting a nymph or two above the hole, hoping to entice one of the finny diners. The fisherman could feel his excitement begin to overwhelm what he knew should be a slow, methodical procedure. He recognized his excitement to be the cause of many mistakes, and many more missed fish, and made a conscious effort to slow down. This would be a great place to test his skill as a fly caster. This was true because of the great willows location, the bend in the river, and the big pile of brush behind him made grand obstacles.
As he sent the nymph to its destination; mere inches upstream of the snatching hand of the willow he paused, waiting for the jolt of a strong fish. Unfortunately, he watched as his fly draw nearer the grasping fingers of the willow until it was fully enveloped by the tree skinny fingers that raked the passing rivers surface. Unable to pull the fly free from the branches, the fisherman took a deep breath as he edged deeper into the water toward the hole and contemplated the possibility of a dunking, or worse yet, a dunking, and losing all his gear. His breathing ceased as the water rose to the tops of his waders as he untangled the fly caught in the willow.
As if this weren’t enough to hold spoil a fishing trip; from out of nowhere a canoeists cut the 90 degree turn in tight through the same branches the fisherman was reaching into. This resulted in the bow of the canoe catching the fisherman under the top most nylon strap securing the back of the life jacket he snapped into place moments before for his safety. Being lifted up and over the deep section of the river, like a living, flailing Maidenhead; the fisherman struggled to free himself for only a moment before realizing the opportunity that was thrust upon him, and began casting to likely trout holding water.
Once freed, he began to cast his fly line into the typical places he had learned were fish holding areas, just upstream of a submerged log, in and around exposed rocks in the water, riffle water, all the while hoping that a nice hungry brown trout, fattened up after a good summer of feasting, lay waiting for something to fill its empty stomach. After four or five cast, he would change flies, thinking maybe that the fish he imagined were in these locations, might want variety in their diet. Then when all of the knots were tight, the fisherman would begin casting again; moving downstream and casting at all the same areas; offering different presentation profiles for each feed lane. Finally hooking up on a sweet little Brown trout who worked hard to dig deep into the current as the Brown’s so often do. The Fisherman followed the Brown through the current between a couple of basketball sized rocks to a gravelly exposed river bank that was strewn with sticks, reeds, and a few colorful leaves which had begun to fall from the season’s crisp mornings.
Once he released the fish, the fisherman found himself in front of a house so cute and perfect that it seemed to be cut out from the fairy tale books he read to his little boy. As he continued to move downstream, he noticed that along the river’s edge there were more of these little cottages. The way the pine tree boughs and branches lent cover, made one feel that a big, bad, wolf hung around in the shadows and behind the cottages near the riverside. The tiny lawns between the river and the houses were manicured perfect as a postage stamp. The exterior of the cottages were styled in early gingerbread, and licorice. He shook his head at the silly image this all created in his head… fairytale, indeed. As he approached the next bend in the river he could hear voices. The voices all appeared hushed murmurings except for one. That one voice resembled a woman’s voice, and from its volume and rate it sounded as if the owner were imbibing excessively. As he drew nearer the voices, he grew curious as to what the owners of such a place looked like.
When at last he could have seen the faces of those who spoke, a nice trout chose that same moment to steal the nymph tied to its line. The fly-fisher pulled the rod tip up higher, causing the rod to flex, which made the reel scream out its own annoyance to the sudden exertion. But as quick as it began, it was over. The phantom, not able to make a clean get away, swam off with the taste of its own blood. The flavor of which was a small price to pay for its life.
The scream of the reel was the first indication to the voices that anyone was near this remote location, and before any of them could make a move the fisherman was standing in the bend casting toward a partially submerged stump. And as the nymph drifted past the stump the owner of the annoying voice hollered out,
“Cast toward the other edge of the stream, it’s an undercut bank, I’ve never seen anyone catch anything near that stump.” Those standing, and sitting around her froze in their spot. Nobody was known to have ever spoken with a fisherman before. And they all awaited his response.
The fisherman, thinking that maybe whatever it was that hit his nymph, might still be in the same area, was setting up for a re-cast, trying his best to ignore the rude voice; gave but a quick annoyed glance toward the rude woman, only to have his backcast fall behind him in a heap as he stared at the homeowners in front of him. For, they were animals. We are talking about a porcupine, opossum, badger, and a beaver. And the porcupine was doing her best; well, in her condition; to stifle the laughter caused by being found out.
The animals seemed to be in a relaxed, festive mood, the kind one might feel at a tailgate party. They had drinks in front of them on a picnic table of a hexagon design, except for the woman, who tipped her cup at a rapid pace, quickly downing her drink while stifling the laugh. He stood there slack-jawed, the response hanging desperately from his lower lip, hoping to manage at least a retort, if not a sharp one. His brain was trying to comprehend a talking porcupine, let alone a DRINKING, and laughing porcupine, who had its own place of residence! The porcupine was smiling a smug smile and was about to comment on what a poor fisherman like him was doing jamming up a fine trout stream like this, when suddenly his line, again, went taut, the reel singing out loud, and this time happily after having been given a good stretching a few moments ago. All at once, the fisherman was snapped back to reality with a good fight on his hands, but before he began the fight; he looked up and winked at the porcupine, while the rest of the folks on the riverside were yelling instructions and encouragement, the drunken woman laughed her loud, raucous laugh, not so much at the fisherman, but now a little bit with him, as he seemed to take the talking animals in stride. All the while the fish thrashed for its life.
When finally it was over, the critters all congratulated the fly fisherman on such a fine fish, and for handling the fight so well. When at long last the fly fisherman, much to the confusion of the animals, set the fish gently in the water; letting it get its bearings, and after a good dose of well oxygenated water passed along its gills, set it free.
“Son of the Solar System!” Exclaimed the porcupine. “What did you do that for?” She asked. Then added, “It was such an awesome fight, and you won!” She continued.
The other animals stared at one another nervously.
“That poor fish gave it all to you, and you just threw it away.” She ended sadly, tears in her eyes. Confused, the fly fisherman looked at the other critters for some kind of clue as to what in the world was going on.
Finally the fisherman spoke. “ I was just letting the fish go, so others could enjoy such a wonderful fish, or perhaps the offspring of what such a perfect specimen could produce.” He suddenly felt awkward. “I didn’t want to deprive nature of such a perfect creature.”
“You have no idea what you have done, do you?” The drunken woman asked accusingly.
“That fish gave its life to YOU! And you just threw it away.” She ended. Then the opossum poured another drink for her. She stared at it for a moment, seemingly lost in thought, then slammed it down. One of the other critters spoke up, it was the opossum.
“Yeah, that was quite a catch there fella.” He said snidely.
“You coulda kept ‘em and had a nice meal.” He glanced over to the sobbing porcupine, as if seeking her approval before continuing.
“And like the lady said, the fish really gave it up for you.” Feeling bolder, he continued to speak to the fisherman in a more condescending manner, all the while his hand slid casually toward the porcupines’ paw, as if to comfort her. The porcupine, seemingly out of her characteristic defensive self, still had her wits about her and casually made it known with a flex of her quills that the opossums gesture was appreciated, but he had better be cautious.
The badger, watching the exchange between the opossum and the raccoon, rolled his eyes at the spectacle. Then grew irritated at the opossum.
“ The beaver spoke next, he appeared to not have been paying attention to the recent happening just then, but focused instead on what the porcupine last said. He appeared to have a beard, he spoke wisely, and softly.
“You know, a person works hard for the few pleasures in life that they earn. It would seem reasonable that the decisions they choose, whether we like it or not, be based on solid common sense. And if you ask me, it sounds like this gentleman has a good point. After all, it’s not illegal to put a fish back that he just caught. And he did win the battle.” He ended. At the very heals of that statement the Badger chimed in, seemingly irritated at what the beaver said.
“But on the same hand, there are folks who try to make it SOUND illegal, and if they fail to make their point, then they try to make it SOUND immoral. That is so unfair! Because these folks want you to go out and find your own way, but then if your way makes them feel uncomfortable, then they badger you until you do.”
He looked over at the badger and nodded sheepishly and said.
“Sorry, old boy.” For his part, the badger just clucked his tongue, and rolled his eyes while shaking his head. Then said.
“Carry on Beaver. You are doing fine.”
“Look, Man.” The beaver started. “I agree with you.” At this, the Porcupines jaw suddenly dropped. He then continued.
“It should be the victors choice of whether or not to release the creature. Ms. Porcupine here, is just expressing her opinion as she sees it. Unfortunately we see senseless suffering, and wanton killing just for the fun of it.”
“To throw back a fish that fought so honorably, so valiantly. You need to understand that once he was removed from the water, his spirit became one with yours.” He paused again briefly. “When animals are born, they know that the end is near. Be it from man or beast. It is something we animals all understand about life. All we ask is that life not be wasted. If it is not wasted, then there is honor given to that life. If you are going to eat the animal, that’s fine. But when people talk about not over stressing the fish. Well, that’s just absurd! Wouldn’t a hook in the mouth be over-stressing? Or is it just stressing? He asked to nobody in particular.”
He paused thoughtfully. Then continued.
“That fish is quite well-known around these parts. He’s broken many a leader, and has many scars to boast about. Sometimes he chases a lure just to have fun with the fisherman who come around. Other times he gets caught, but manages an escape. Today was the first I’d ever seen him come all the way in. That will take the starch out of his britches!” The beaver exclaimed. Then he began to walk away.
He paused for a moment, then slowly turned around to face the fisherman again.
“Just remember,” He began. “we critters have a simple saying that sums it all up.”
He looked at his animal friends before turning back to the fisherman, and said.
“Something is always stalking you. It’s just a matter of time.”
Then they all turned back to where they had left their drink to continue the party.
The fisherman understood fully his responsibility as a fisherman. If you are going to pick up a rod and reel; you better be ready to clean fish for dinner. He paused, and gazed longingly at this place, knowing that he would not soon forget it. Though he was concerned that returning would wreck the beauty of what his mind created here. After all, what fun is Halloween if you can’t let your mind wander a bit.