Troutbitten Hands Boy


by | Aug 29, 2018 | 20 comments

Because I couldn’t fight back the tears, I turned away. Because I’d never had a moment where I felt such immediate loss, I surrendered to the defeat. The emotion was too big for a ten year old boy, and I fell apart.

— — — — — —

Hours earlier . . .

I walked behind Dad to the river. I kept my head down through the steady morning rain, watching water drops grow on the brim of my hat and then fall in rhythm with each step forward. On a muddy side trail I followed Dad: my boot tracks into his, my wide and awkward gait to keep up, the sucking sound of mud and rubber separating with each step, and more water rushing in to fill the hole behind — then the splashing of my own half-sized boots into his full-sized tracks.

We walked until our path finally ended underneath a stand of spruce trees at the edge of the river. Dad looked back.

“Son, you can fish here today, and I’ll go upstream a little ways.”

He’d never let me fish alone before. I knew that’s how Dad and his brother fished, but until today, we’d never split up, no matter how many times I’d asked.

After he turned and walked upstream, I yelled to him . . .

“OK, Dad. Good luck up there.”

He looked back and nodded. Then I watched him cross the river and disappear through tall ferns and thin poplar limbs.

As I fished, I was entranced by a small waterfall pouring down the hill. It crashed over the slate and into the river before me. I thought about how the water never stops coming down the hill, how it joins and grows and becomes something more, how it’s connected to both the water behind it and the water flowing ahead of it — how it comes to me and then passes me, and how the water never stops pouring over the hill and onto the rocks.

With my new hip boots and the scent of fresh rubber, with my new wading skills and my new independence, I was finally fishing on my own.

And then something remarkable happened.

The fishing line tightened with a strength and a powerful weight that I’d never before felt. I was astounded when the enormous fish jumped — I remember how the whole space was filled with a splash when it landed. I didn’t know what was at the end of my line, and I didn’t know what to do. So I held on. My arms trembled in concert with the rod while I gripped tight with two hands and let the handle spin the way I’d been taught. “Surely Dad never expected this,” I thought.

I shouted for Dad.

Moments later, he barreled down the ravine, running through heavy water up to his waist. A powerful man. A calm man.

But the fish was already gone. When the line snapped, the sound shrieked through the damp air and scattered somewhere behind me, leaving behind the only evidence  — a quivering rod tip and the bewilderment of my expression.

The air went still and transparent. And I began to fall apart . . .

— — — — — —

I turned back around. Dad stared at the river, and I stared at Dad. I felt like it was only us out there. All other life in the woods seemed to pause in deference to our moment, lending us the chance to recover.

He walked to me and placed his hand on my head. “That was a good fish,” he said simply.

We walked the path back together. And for the first time Dad followed me over the wooded trail, his footsteps into mine. I turned back to see him once. He looked at me and nodded with a determined half-smile that said, “You’re doing it right. You did it right. Some things just happen. Loss is part of this game and part of life.”

We made it home for an early supper.

Still damp from the rain, I told the story of the fish to my grandfather.

“Well of course you lose the biggest ones,” Pap said. “They test the limits of your tackle. They put a strain on your equipment and your own abilities. Most of all, luck is on the side of a truly legendary fish. That’s how it got that big in the first place, and that’s why you’ll probably lose the next big one too. That’s why a fish like that is called legendary, son.”

It was a long time before I could think of anything else.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Excellent. I remember a day like that myself – same age, same reaction, always in the back of my mind.

  2. Very well written and a nice story. My dad was never a wader. He loved to cast 2 lines into a lake, and sit there, enjoying the day. Drinking in nature was what made him happy. That’s all that mattered to him on the these trips. He was free.

  3. Thanks for the moving story, Dom. It made me think of my own father. Even though he had no particular interest in trout fishing, he would take me on the bus from Manhattan up to Roscoe so I could fish the Beaverkill. He had a clunky spinning rod and a few Mepps spinners that I taught him to cast. One day, he caught a beautiful brownie right below the Roscoe Motel. It didn’t get away. But, years later, he did.

  4. Awesome post. I’ve only had one fish like that. It was at Flathead Lake in MT, I was 15 and it was my first time there. We were staying with some friend that had pedal boats. I had never fished much in lakes and I decided to try my luck with what I knew worked. Mainly panther martins and red devil spoons. I had some luck with lake trout and feisty sunfish. As the sun died down I thought it might be a good time to go for big boys. There was this huge 5inch red devil spoon I had always wanted to use but never felt there was the right situation. I felt like finally I had found the right time to fish this thing. I cast it out and was amazed at how far I could cast the lure. On my third cast I felt a thump and then my rod doubled over with the weight of what was on the end of my line. The fish literally jerked the pedal boat in it’s direction. I thought I was snagged at first but the rod started bobbing and the pedal boat headed in the direction of whatever I had hooked. Then just as fast as it started the fish headed deep and directly under my boat. I watched as my rod bent over and the tip went under water then the next guide and the next so quickly I couldn’t even imagine it happening this fast. The line eventually snapped and I wasn’t sure whether to be mad or terrified. I was actually a little scared of the power of what I had just hooked. It was by far more powerful than anything I had ever caught before. To this day I still wonder what it was. I’m guessing it was a tiger muskie but I’ll never know.

  5. Powerful

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed that memory. Mine took place when I was older but the feeling felt the same.

  7. Great story Dom! Appreciate you sharing something personally powerful.

  8. Awesome story. Thanks for sharing. I lost a big trout last summer close to my house (ain’t supposed to be big ones there) but I learned and have a caught a few since, including a rare large pike in a blue ribbon trout river. The surprise was enough of a thrill (though a tad disappointed it wasn’t my first large brown). Keep up the stories.

  9. The thing I like most about you, you daydream. When I was little most of my report cards had a comment from my teacher…..”Alex daydreams in class” I dreaded the fact that the truth was so obvious to my teachers, and now my parents would know. My father never looked at my report card though. His statement to me was always the same. Alex, I know you, I don’t need a teacher telling me something about you I already know. I’m 60 years now, and I still daydream. It’s why I trout fish……’s why I fish! I don’t regret it for one day of my life now. I have everything in life I could ever dream of…….because I did. You remind me of being young with all your stories. If you ever print a book with your stories, I would very much like a copy. Thanks, alex

  10. I remember sitting near a pond with my Dad the summer before he passed. We were catching bluegills and the occasional bass. I moved over about twenty or so yards, and glanced over at my Dad. His hair was white now, no longer the handsome black crop he had worn throughout his life. He stared out over the water and it seemed he was very happy at that moment, not a care in the world, fishing with me. I smiled and thought of those other days we had fished…never enough. He’s gone now, but I still remember the last time we had fished together, and the first time. This story reminded me, once again, how much I cherished those other days.
    Thank you for this, Domenick.

  11. You have to appreciate the wisdom of those who went well before us but more importantly, the validation of those we hold dearest. Great story


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