The garden is in and the first sprouts of radishes have poked their curious green leaves out of the fertile soil. Tonight my wife, Katie, and I will dine on fresh dandelion greens and wild leeks and perhaps, if I am lucky this evening, a plate of fresh buttered brook trout with a dash of lemon. The hay grasses have reached their zenith and are blowing gently in the breeze like verdant waves.
It is late afternoon, with still quite a bit of light left in the day. With permission granted, I say goodbye to my lovely wife to pursue piscatorial pleasure in the mountain streams. I climb into the truck and head toward Hinesburg, passing through the green valley fields.
In Bristol my truck begins the lumbering climb to Lincoln. I downshift and scout the swimming hole known as Bristol Falls. Many cheerful bodies are swimming, jumping and taking in the late sunlight of one of the longest days of the year. Upward the truck winds, paralleling the river as it snakes toward the headwaters. I find an old road that follows the river and pull over on a gravel shoulder that balances precariously against a few well-rooted tamarack cedars.
The fragrance of cedar and honeysuckle encircles me. I stop, climbing out of the truck to breathe deeply the fresh flowery air.
Climbing down the steep embankment, I pick my footholds carefully. Not like I did as a youth, but with the careful precision required for that of a middle-aged body.
Stopping to read the water and immerse myself in the mise-en-scene, I take a moment to watch the sunlight streaming golden pillars through the canopy of trees. Upstream I spot a dark pool with a small waterfall spilling frothy white foam into the head of the shadowed depths.
I attach a rust-colored thorax elk hair caddis on a piece of 4x tippet. I am aware of my body aging as I use magnifiers to tie the improved clinch knot. Sitting on a well-shaped boulder, I notice my left knee shaking. Am I getting old or is this just a sign of muscle fatigue?
I breathe deeply and say out loud “thank you” for allowing me to reach this age with now 50 years of fly fishing under my belt. I am reminded of a scene from the movie based on Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. An old man is standing in the river tying on a fly with wrinkled old hands, and the narrative is delivered in dulcet tones, “In the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the river and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.”
For me fly fishing has never been a competitive pursuit but one that allows me to feel an absolute connection to the Universe. In the small streams of our Green Mountain state, I am where I feel I most belong. I pause in reverie.
In order to hit the sweet spot at the tail out of the riffles I must execute a sidearm four-part cast with a gentle counter cast on the presentation to set the fly in a drift that will match the current.
The first cast misses its mark, and the fly swims frantically toward a swirling rock.
I lift the rod to correct the cast and prepare for another attempt.
But as I lift the tip, a dark shadow bursts out from behind the rock and viciously attacks the caddis imitation.
I raise my rod and bow to this creature blessed by the Great Spirit to have the most beautiful colors of all fish. The brook trout.
The brookie is not really a trout at all but a member of the salmonid family known as char. These magnificent little beasts have survived all that this world has thrown at them since the glaciers retreated. All they require is clear, cold water and lots of shade.
I play the feisty fish with all my spirit enmeshed with his own. He runs left; I bend my rod to the right. He runs upstream; I lift my rod to keep the tension on. As he tires he begins to swim toward me, and it’s time to strip in my line—fast—before he can shake the hook. After a minute or so he relaxes and lets me bring him to hand.
I gently hoist him up to inspect his regal blue halos surrounding the burnt orange dots. His fins reflect in the sunlight—bright orange with white tips.
I raise him to my lips and kiss his snout. Without judgment for others, I make the choice to release him back into the pristine waters of the river. He shakes his head and slaps his tail once as he returns to the deep pool.
Tonight, with our salad, we will be eating chicken.
Bradley Carleton is executive director of Sacred Hunter, a nonprofit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature.