Like most young rural kids I started fishing at a young age. I began like most kids
using hook and worms. I would start fishing on the first day of open season and keep
at it until August’s heat put the trout down and up in the spring holes. Once there
they were just about impossible to catch. But during this time I would catch my limit
most every trip and eat more trout than most people ever saw in five seasons. This
gluttony was how I was raised, you caught fish… killed them and ate them without
All of this changed for me in the spring of 1978… I learned the difference.
That spring marked the start of something incredible. Due to the Clean Water Act,
my town had to put in a sewage treatment facility. That meant an end to over a hundred
years of raw sewage going into the Meduxnekeag Watershed. The spring floods came
as the plant was brought on line and nature washed away most of the surface signs
of pollution and cleansed the river. Oh the heavy metals would be a lasting legacy…but
the smell and sewage was gone.
Nature has away of healing itself if allowed to. That was what happened in the Meduxnekeag.
The signature of the river changed where it blended into the downstream flow of the
mighty St.. John River in Canada. The St. John was home to Salmon and various trout.
As well as home to bass, and had sea runs of Browns and Brookies. These latter two
species ran up the Meduxnekeag River that spring and brought a golden joy to all
who fished for them. Those of course who knew about them.
The river was a glorious place that spring. All of us who fished the river suddenly
found ourselves in trout heaven. Not bad considering in all the years prior to that.
The only fish we ever caught were suckers and eels. I led the revolution sort of…
see I caught the first recorded brown trout, and the biggest trout to come out of
the river in 40 to 50 years. It was documented locally by the local hardware store,
A.H. Fogg. They were hosting their annual fishing contest. The trout a beautiful
21-inch, 31/2 lb. Monster, netted me the winning entry and some much needed equipment.
A tackle box and lures as I remember.
This one trout changed my life. I couldn’t fish the river enough that year. I had
big fish mania. I never caught one larger but I caught several more all in the 12-inch
plus range. All were fat and silvery from the sea…. and had the pinkest flesh. The
word had spread about my luck. Other kids and some adults often approached my friends
and me to show our secret hole to them. We would tell them where we fished but they
would laugh and call us liars. Not many would believe the river held these fish.
So we continued to fish and they continued to be envious.
As summer hit with full force and the river dropped and warmed, the fishing slowed
and became more sporadic. Trout would be seen rising in the coolest parts of the
day, early morning and evenings. But they absolutely refused the worms and spinners
we tried to get them on. We were at our wits end on how to catch them.
Then one day I walked down the bank and saw this old fella fishing my bend in the
river. But he was using a fly rod!! I knew about flyfishing from magazines but had
never watched it done in real life. Nobody I knew ever did it. We were bait fishers
and ate our trout. Flyfishers were strange beasts. They caught trout and released
them! Here in my river was this alien, fishing for my trout! The worst of it was
he was catching them! A fish would rise, and he would cast. The fly would drift past
the cover as the trout got back into place to see it. It would rise and take the
feathers, and he would have it on the long rod. The pulsing runs would end the same.
He would net the trout and release it back to the river. This was something I had
to learn, and now!
I approached him as he fished and watched him catch another trout. He worked that
rod with deft precision and netted several trout. As only a kid can, I announced
I was there and asked if he could show me how to do it. The old guy was polite but
declined. He had to head back to the house, the wife would be looking for him.
I left and went home, depressed. Searched through all of my old Field and Streams,
Fur/Fish/Game and Outdoor Life’s. I read everything I could find about fly-fishing.
I told my Gramps about what had happened and he just laughed. Then went out to the
shed. He returned with a flyrod! (A “Bristol”, all steel overweight arm busting tool
of torture.) He handed it to me and I was off! It had a bad reel and no line, backing
and no leader. But I was ready to slay the world!
The next day I was down at the hole trying to make the old rig work for me as I had
seen Mr. Sprague use his. I had improvised Dacron line and a leader of tied up mono
in several sizes and had a spin-fly on the end. As hard as I tried I could not get
that thing to cast. I caught trees, me and every limb in the area. But I just couldn’t
get it to go where I wanted it to go. I was about to give up and throw that cursed
thing in the river. When I heard his voice from behind me telling me to keep my wrist
rigid and the rod between 10:00 and 2:00.
I listened to him and soon had the line billowing overhead and landing out there
in front of me. He came up alongside and explained how to strip the line back in,
mending the drift. He stayed there and coached me for about ten or fifteen minutes.
Then left as quietly as he had arrived. On my tenth or twelfth cast I got a hit…but
missed it. I kept at it and managed to hook a trout after about thirty or so half-witted
casts. Lost it at the shore.
I got another lesson about a week later, and he actually let me use his rod, a real
bamboo rod. I was hooked after that and have been ever since.
I graduated to real fly lines and leaders. Learned to tye my own flies, make my own
leaders and read the water for trout. But most of all I learned to be an angler.
Not just a catcher of fish and a consumer of the resource. See the Fly fisher wants
not only to catch the fish, but also fool it and do so with something he or she has
designed and tied. Anyone can catch fish and eat them. It’s the art of catching them
that the angler covets. Oh you can be an angler and use the other methods, but most
cannot find the art in those methods. You see it’s the art of catching that makes
you an angler, not the killing of the catch. With this skill comes the comfort of
knowing that you can go anywhere and catch fish.
I am proud to say that I learned to be an angler the spring of 1978, and the summer
I met the flyrod has been forever etched into my being. I will forever owe a debt
to Mr. Sprague, my reluctant teacher.