There are many reasons I fish, solitude being one of the foremost. But I love people, and relish the opportunity to meet new ones, especially those with an outdoor passion. Meeting new people on the water often leads to new friendships, and sometimes the exchange of invaluable local knowledge. And sometimes tales of massive fish and epic days—stories that whet the edge of the mystery of a familiar body of water.
There’s a small creek I enjoy fishing near my home. It trickles between the foundations of houses that line two parallel roads, under highways, and through parking lots. The fishing is comparable to that of the larger streams I frequent, but it’s closer and perfect for short, after-work sessions.
It’s a creek of surprises. Rainbow and brown trout, streamborn, wild, are plentiful up to 12 inches, but bigger fish hide in its darker pockets, under porches and in back eddies behind protruding stoops. In fact, you never really know what you’ll find where.
Most people, even local people, don’t know it supports life. You wouldn’t know from looking at it. Trash lines the banks, and some houses hang over the water precariously, cemented by time. It’s a part of the Earth so long ignored that few even take notice anymore.
But I do. And, despite its proximity to urbanity, casting a fly in its waters often causes me to forget my surroundings, until some frenzied dog charges me or an on-looking resident smacks me with a skeptical “catchin’ anything?”
Last week, as I drifted a fly through a deep-ish-looking run, I was hit by just this inquiry.
I jumped, and looked over my shoulder. A kid—a boy maybe 9 years old—stared up at me with a friendly but nervous smile.
Just then my line jumped, and I set the hook on a small rainbow. I played it for a few seconds, then plucked it from the water and into my hand.
“Just now,” I said with a grin.
He didn’t respond. Just stood there staring up at me, head cocked to the side, then angled his head down to watch me unhook and release the fish.
I made another cast, my attention split between the kid and the water. I couldn’t ignore him, but why wouldn’t he speak?
“You do much fishin’?” I asked.
“Yeah, sometimes. My step-dad likes to catfish. We catch our own worms. They’re a lot bigger than the ones from the store. We take a hose the night before and spray it on the grass and driveway and when they come out of the ground we pick them up. It’s pretty fun,” he said.
Relieved by the kid’s sudden conversational ability, I continued conversation.
“Yeah? I used to do that. You guys fish up at the lake or on the river?”
“On the river most times.”
“You catch any big ones? What’s the biggest you’ve caught?”
The kid looked pensively up, and I realized about halfway through my question that I was probably holding the kid’s angling career to an irrelevant standard, and felt kinda bad. That, or I was inviting hyperbole. At least when I was nine, everything seemed bigger—even fish—and that’s despite the fact that most of us didn’t conquer measurement until seventh or eighth grade. Most of my friends were also potential world-record holders that caught 16-pound bass and shot 37-point bucks on the weekends with their dads when the season was open for them.
The kid’s hands sprang into action.
“One time we caught one like…this big,” he said. His hands showed a horizontal difference of about two feet, then snapped vertical and showed the same distance.
“Dang…that’s a pretty good one,” I said, intellectually impeded by the dimensions of said catfish. I didn’t know the kid well, but had reason to believe his biological prowess could distinguish a snapping turtle or biologically-altered bullfrog from a whiskered bottom-feeder. Still, something about the report seemed fishy, or highly impressive. My curiosity got the better of me.
“You ever fish this creek?” I asked with a half-turn towards the water.
“…You ever catch anything big out of it?”
“One time I caught one like…this big.” The kid’s hands sprang back to action, and I’ll be a blue-nosed gopher if it wasn’t the same damned size as that catfish.
I looked at the water behind me, and then at the kid. With one look at his laser-straight face, I took his word for truth, because no one ever believed me when I was 9, either, and I’d like to think I showed them, too.
I’ve caught trout that were two feet long. I’m still working on two feet square, so I can’t help you, there. But if you’re interested, I can give you the address of one who can.
*Originally published in The Rural Virginian