An end of the season surprise

The rising sun was just a faint glow as it attempted to burn a hole in the mornings heavy fog. As we set off in the dull light of dawn, I pulled hard on the oars across the small pond that had become the stage for a familiar fairwell over the years. In just a few quick strokes the shoreline disappeared and only the tops of the tallest pines were visible above the mornings mist. Loons wailed from a distant corner as my friend fumbled to ready his fishing gear, blowing into his hands to warm them in the morning chill. The still waters were broken only by the occasional splash of a fish rising in the cover of the thick fog. I continued with quick strokes on the oars, more for warmth than to get anywhere. Dropping the oars for a moment, I tied on a Hornberg streamer fly while my guest chose a cone head, muddler minnow. We have fished the pond during the last week of August for over two decades. It has provided some splendid brookies and the occasional lake trout, but the trip is about more than trout. It has always served as a most fitting, end to the summer ritual. It is an unspoken goodbye. As the season tails off, we have used this trip to recoup and become reacquainted. It is a time when the weather is turning cooler, fall is looming on the horizon and lifes changes finally catch up. It is a timeframe when the responsibilities of family, school and work begin to take precedence over trout. My calendar evolves from angling to hunting season. His moves from time in camp to time at the office, with fiscal statements and third quarter reports soon due. Our children return to their academic calendar, as schools return to session. But none of this mattered in the early morning mist. Not on this day, not with fish rising, a chill in the air and flyrods in hand. With great anticipation, we neared the gurgling inlet stream. The inlet always seems to hold big fish and the first cast often produces the largest of the trip. Carefully, I maneuvered the boat to allow each of us an equal opportunity to reach the key spot. But he already had a line in the air. He stripped line off the reel and lengthened each cast with a wave of the rod. With a delicate presentation, the line shot out across the still water, landing the fly in the middle of a jumble of logs, limbs and other debris at the mouth of the inlet brook. Immediately the line snapped taut, the rod bowed and the reel played a favorite tune, zzz-zzz-zzit, as the drag sang in harmony. The fish made quick for the security of deep water as I spun the guideboat in pursuit. The fog was lifting and the first rays of the rising sun finally filtered through the pines as the flyline carved a distinct v pattern across the waters smooth, flat surface. The guideboat took a solid surge with each pull on the oars, yet the fish continued to take line. My friend laughed, The chase is on, what a way to start the day! The bright sun was on the water as the fish finally neared the boat. It was then we realized that in our mornings haste, neither of us had thought to include a net in the loading process. Under the boat, in about four feet of clear water, I got the first view of the fish. But something didnt look right. The jaw nestling the streamer fly was too pronounced. The color too yellow for a brookie or lake trout. And then it sounded again, stripping off another 20 yards of line from the whispy flyrod. After another series of runs, he managed to bring the fish to the boat. It was a brown trout! However, the pond has no history of browns being stocked, though it is possible that one was mixed in with the annual stocking of brookies. Its energy spent and the battle over, the old bruiser finally bellied up beside the boat in exhaustion. Carefully, I hand landed the fish. It was a battle scarred, old veteran. It carried old wounds of talons along one side and had a distinct halfmoon shaped chunk of flesh missing from its tail, possibly from an otter or other predator. Hefting it, I estimated the weight at 5 to 6 pounds with a length of almost 23 inches. After a quick photo, the fish was revived and released. We returned to shore and sipped coffee as the bright sunshine dissolved any further opportunities for the mornings angling prospects. Twenty years, my friend laughed, And the pond still holds a surprise! Same time next season? You can bet on it, I said. As we shook hands and parted ways until next year, I knew he was returning to a far different existence than we shared in this neck of the woods. Im thankful that we both had the opportunity to share one last outdoor experience before the end of a most glorious summer. But rather than face a return to the hustle and bustle of the city, I eagerly look forward to the arrival of the fall and the multitude of activities it entails. The departure of a season always signals the arrival of another and the resurrection of a new set of activities. Fall is now knocking on the door to usher in the Sportsmans High Holy Days of autumn. Bring it on. Contact Joe Hackett at brookside18@ adelphia.net

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