Burke had been traveling.
North, south, east or west I cannot share because I’ve been sworn to secrecy. You see, the best river spots are enhanced by our conviction of their rarity, believing that they are special enough to be protected, even if they aren’t all that far off the radar.
Week after week, Burke had returned with stories of catching large brown trout and the photos to prove it. Not club fish, because he wouldn’t bother with those. And not private water with trout fed from the banks and kept like zoo animals. That wasn’t our game. Ours was the unremitting chase of wild brown trout, and perhaps a fundamental urge for discovery.
So I backed into Burke’s driveway as the sun slipped over the neighboring ridge, and I met him in the open garage under the fading daylight. After handshakes and hugs, we each turned over a five gallon bucket for a stool and uncapped an IPA from his well-stocked man-fridge, full of smoked meats and alcohol.
“I’ve gotta tell you about this river,” Burke said.
So he started in on a good fisherman’s tale. And true to form, he began laying out the specifics. He detailed the depth and current speed at the far side of a river bend, a place covered in shadow until midday. I know this bend now because I’ve seen it myself, bringing large brown trout to the net as if on cue. Burke’s accounts of these locations were precise. And I’d learned that descriptions like these are where success aligns with determination — much more than with lesser generalities like, “that nice spot by the bridge.”
Five minutes in and halfway through my first beer, I shifted on my bucket seat. I stared at Burke as he used two hands to animate the size of the trout he’d been catching.
“Hold on,” I whispered.
I’d decided already. I only wanted to know what was possible. Tell me of the fish and no more. My imagination about the river, backed by the proof of experience from a trusted friend, was enough inspiration to make the drive to this new place, over and over if necessary. But I earnestly wanted to track down the rest for myself — solo.
Years ago, I toured my home state with a Delorm atlas and a scientific list of stream names that held wild trout: classes A,B, C and D, as the state fish commission had ranked them. With strong legs and a simple hope for finding trout, I hiked into the backcountry to survey each stream with a fly rod. My border collie was my companion. Day after day, county after county, I explored. I discovered. And I logged notes about each stream on papers that grew yellow and coffee-stained in a black three ring binder.
And when I found a special stream, I made a habit of fishing it from bottom to top, from the mouth all the way upstream into the headwaters, skipping only the posted land — and sometimes breaching those forbidden zones just to keep the connection unbroken. The larger rivers took months to explore. Covering miles of trout water, I picked up where I’d left off the previous day. And at the top of each waterway I remember the sadness. When I’d waded and hiked and fished past every bend in the river, when I’d at last come to the final section, I felt a heavy and thoughtful melancholy about the end of an adventure.
These feelings came back to me as Burke began his info dump on the new river:
“Yeah, you can park in a little gravel patch on the south side of the Rt 58 bridge. There’s no trail, but the woods there are open enough to walk easily for about a mile. So keep going until you see a canyon wall and . . .”
“Wait.” I whispered again.
“I want to discover it for myself,” I said. “Whatever effort it takes, I don’t want to miss the exploration.”
Burke nodded. “That makes sense.”
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N