They say you can never go back to a place and see it exactly the way you remember it, I guess that is even truer for a fisherman who spends time fishing the moving waters of rivers. Rivers are ever changing ,what just happened has already slipped down steam on the current. Not too long ago I went back to check out a small piece of water in the town in which I grew up. The one thing I kept thinking was that it is a lot smaller than I remembered. In those days, almost 40 years ago now, you didn’t take pictures of your catch you took it home. My dad, who is still the best trout hunter I have had the pleasure to spend time on the water with, always brought a trout or several home. I remember the last time we fished together it has to be 10 years ago now he would have been in his mid 70’s. I was fishing a bend pool on a small brook that runs behind my aunt’s house; I was having fits trying to get a big trout I knew lived there to take my fly. The entire time I was fishing this bend I had that feeling I was being watched, well I was. My dad popped up off his log roost in the skunk cabbage and asked if I was done wasting his time. He then proceeded to crawl too within about 10 feet or so of the water, rub his wet fly in the mud and flipped it out into the water. It drifted maybe 2 and a half feet and he tightened up on the line, his rod bent and a beautiful 17” brown was thrashing away at the end of the line. He stood up to fight it and brought it to hand relatively quickly. What happened next is what I remember about this trip the most; he unhooked the trout and then slowly slid it back into the water. That was the first and last time I ever witnessed him practicing catch and release. Later when I asked him about the fish he explained he had hooked and lost it 3 times that spring and once the previous fall so he figured he owed the fish a couple of chances. I have not been back to that spot or fished with him since. He had a bad heart attack and open heart surgery the following fall and is now on all kind of meds that thin your blood and he gets cold real easy. Even on days that everyone else is hot he will wear a sweater. Other than that he is healthier now than he was 20 years ago. He can still out run me today even at 80+ years old. He has those sharp blue eyes of a Scandinavian fisherman and when it comes to trout fishing he has an above average intelligence.
While he’s dad in my heart he is not my biological father, he past away when I was about 5 years old. My mom was a hard working single mom way before it was posh to be one. She spent as much time with us as she could by taking a teaching position at the local public school. I was about 10 when she met my step dad and they got married the next year. He did as good a job being a father as any man could have. The one thing I am most thankful for is he introduced me to the outdoors. Actually in two ways the first was the actual outdoorsy stuff hunting squirrels and rabbits with a pellet gun and chasing fish in the local pond. I already had a love of fishing having spent a whole summer when I was 6 or 7 catching brown bullhead from a road culvert that emptied onto our property. The second was he passed along all of his outdoor magazines to me. Field & Stream and Sports afield were the two I remember the most. I would read them cover to cover and just gobble up the info and photos. One of the ones I remember the most was a article by I believe Vince Marinaro, about trout fishing with a fly rod. This kind of fishing struck a cord with me deep down soul kind of stuff. The art of the cast, the subtle way the line floated in the photos and the beautiful fish I learned from reading were trout. I wanted to learn more about them and this seemingly ancient way to fish.
What happened next in my young life probably has more to do with who I am today than anything else. 2 years after they were married my mom and step dad decided to move to his house in a small farming town about 15 miles south east of were we lived. The town we lived in was growing at an ever increasing rate. The year before we moved the public school went to double sessions to solve an overcrowding problem. I was already in a catholic school due to my mom’s desire for me to get a “better education”, that was the public line; I believe it was because she figured the nuns would keep me in line and make me work at learning. This little town was worlds away from were we had lived, when we moved there the population of Holstein milk cows was roughly triple the human population. There were tough times at first making new friends but for me the biggest advantage was the several small brooks that ran thru town. None of them was very large but they held water for the whole year and had some “trout” in them. The Best of them ran thru my Aunts property and there was about a half mile of it we could fish. It held mostly stocked browns and rainbows with a few hold over fish as well as native brook trout. It is a classic small freestone brook with normal pool / riffle –pool riffle make up. My dad and his sister are very close so most every Friday growing up the families would get together for dinner. During the spring and summer as soon as I had finished, off I would race out the door get my rod and head down to the brook to fish till dark. Early on I did more exploring than fishing but as I learned the water I took my share of fish. To this point most of my fishing was done with an old 8' 8wt fiberglass rod ( a noodle) . I fished this way for a year or so I was about 14 when I saved enough from mowing lawns in the neighborhood and baling hay to buy my first good fly rod. It was nothing fancy a Daiwa 8’6” 6wt fiberglass rod and a couple of weeks later I bought a Pflueger 1492 with a weight forward Cortland 333. I would ride my bike to the only sport shop that was close enough and pick the owner’s brain. He was an avid fly fisherman with a more modern sense of the sport than my dad. To dad a 15 foot cast was a long one and he used a section of Dacron to a 3 foot piece of mono as a leader. I had it set in my mind I was going to be modern fly fishermen just like in the magazine articles. I would practice casting in the back yard for hours. I would always imagine myself on some far away river chasing after large trout. Little did I know that 39 years later I would be back haunting those same little streams I wanted to so quickly leave behind.
That summer just before my freshman year of high school we began to camp seasonal at a new campground. My mom was still working at the public school so she had the whole summer off. We would spend the entire summer vacation at the campground with my dad commuting to work form there. This new campground was smack dab in the middle of some of the best trout water in the eastern part of the state. The “swimming hole” was actually the beginning of the
. This pool is the point were
Bigelow brook and the Still river come together to create this gem of a river.
For most of its length the Natchaug flows along the boundary of its namesake
state forest. It then dumps into Mansfield Hollow lake was it meets the Fenton
and Mount Hope Rivers. The Natchaug emerges from the dam as a much different
river than the upper reaches. From there it winds its way a few more miles
until it meets the Natchaug River Willimantic River to form the Shetucket
River one of the large tributaries of
the . It is a great piece of water that
in 2005 began to be managed as a trophy trout area with a minimum length and 2
fish limit. The natchaug river and those small streams that I fished as a kid all set a foundation that has served me well fo many years I think that number one building block was have fun, followed by be flexible. I try to pass these two things on to my guide clients and to the students I have in classes at Jt's fly shop. Thames River
so look back on your beginning even if it has only been a few years I bet your already buidling that foundation. Life has slowed down this year so I will actually have time to post more so look for more stuff to come ............and I mean it this time.
" Got one"