How I inherited my own trout stream

How many people have a trout stream in their lineage?
native Brook Trout
Photo: Reuben Browning

When my dad was in high school, he and his four best friends bought a trout stream. I know, it sounds like something out of Trout Fishing in America, but they really did. Can you imagine, getting out of school and heading out to your own trout stream, to fish with your best friends? Somehow, that very idea of that makes me feel like I got my priorities completely wrong at a very early age.

I didn't even own a fly rod until I was 40, but I’d heard about this stream my whole life and finally, one day when I was home visiting, it occurred to me that I should ask if I could go fish it. I mean, how many people have a trout stream in their lineage?

They had continued to stock it for years, even though nobody had fished it for the last 20. My dad hadn’t been there in so long, he had to call his one surviving friend to get directions! I won’t tell you where it is exactly, but it's a little creek that becomes a tributary of the White River in Vermont.

When they say in New England “you cahn’t get theya from heya,” it ain’t far from the truth. North and south they have dialed, but east and west is always some weird drunkard’s walk of secondary highways, byways, and dirt roads. When we finally got there from southern New Hampshire, we were greeted by an incredibly dense and verdant valley, hemmed in by nearly vertical ridges. Unfortunately the stream had been beaverized, with dams about every 100 feet, creating a lush swamp in the resulting river bottom.

I had to walk through that very lush and dense swamp to make my way to the stream. The regularity of moose tracks along the way made me more than a little nervous. From what I've heard, you would rather run into a bear than a moose. When I finally got to the stream, I found it was about 8' across and, beneath many of the dams, almost that deep. In the crystal cold water there I could see fry, every pool holding hundreds. Knowing what cannibals trout — especially brook trout — are, I imagined each stretch must hold one lunker or so. I mean 20 years of stocking and no fishing ...

The brush was so dense I couldn't even make a bow-and-arrow cast. I was trying to dapple with just my leader sticking out, but even that wasn't working as the weight of the line would pull the fly back into the guides. Eventually I tied a half hitch around the tip and poked around a bit, not knowing what I would actually do if I found a fish, but determined to try.

It was tough, actually impossible, so I worked downstream until I finally found the pond where I could see dozens of fish rising at the edge of casting range against one of the beaver dams. Given how hungry brook trout behave even on pressured water, I figured things were about to get easy. Instead, I found myself throwing everything I had at them, but getting ignored like an awkward teenager at homecoming.

Finally, I tied on a Hornberg, and instantly the catch was on. My first cast didn’t even hit the water before a fish took it out of the air. These were beautiful little fish. The images I have of them don't do them justice (they never do). Where most brookies are olive green, these were indigo blue—each uniquely beautiful, a little galaxy of stars and dreams.

Unfortunately right when the day started coming together, my dad began honking the horn, signaling for me to come back. Imagine, you wait your whole life to fish your heritage, are the first person to fish it in 20 years, take a couple of hours to figure it out, finally get it dialed, haven't yet hooked the big one, and you have to leave.

I had always planned on going back, maybe even someday owning it, but right after that trip, my dad told me he and his one remaining friend had grown sick of paying the $120/year of taxes on it and were preparing to sell it to the state.

So I went on living my life. I put out of mind those beaver dams, that pond, and the beautiful little jewels it held. For five years, I forgot all about the trout stream that might have been mine.

So imagine my surprise when dad called last night and offered to give me his trout stream. Apparently it’s “not worth enough to sell, and the state doesn’t have the money to keep it up.” I might just have to step up here, and maybe someday, I’ll also have somebody to leave this little gem to. Besides, I just have to know what is downstream of that dam.

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