Ed is the Vizier of Brook Trout in our small town in Maine. And now that the water level is high with the spring run off, the beaver dam flowage swollen; the brooks running in spate as the ice in the lakes dissipates; the water temperature inching upward with every sunny day, it is time for me to ask Ed if he will reveal another of his secret fishing holes.
I am beguiled by the stories of myth and legend: of Ed herding 14 inch brook trout right over beaver dams and into his creel with only a few articulate whistles; calling trout by name to move them from pool to pool, lest they fall into undeserving hands; guiding Those Deemed Worthy to his secret spots blindfolded, by night, in the interest of sanctity and preservation. I could go on. I am told he has photos encapsulating some extraordinary days of fishing on the local streams. But which streams—that will always be the question.
He guards them assiduously, cautious about divulging too much of an activity that has taken on the aspect of a life’s work, of conservation verging on guardianship. After many months of discussion and prompting, Ed gave me actual directions, not allusions, to a fishing spot. Not, alas, with the aid of a map. This was a challenge. His reference points are vague, or colloquial. Directions such as ‘turn left where Andy Snow used to live, then go along ’til you see that big spruce that was struck by lighting last summer. . . the fishing hole is in the brook just below there’ do not always do the trick. Perhaps Ed is aware of that.
He talks with much more exacting fervor and detail about his own excursions and tantalizing successes. ‘I could have caught my limit last Sunday,’ he has told me. ‘By Golly, weren’t they just jumping onto the hook yesterday,’ he has told me. ‘I caught the biggest brook trout that you ever laid eyes on just standing on the beaver dam down by. . .’ he has told me, before lapsing into directions to the dam that I can only find useless. Perhaps Ed is aware of that.
I suppose I am his “sport,” in the old Maine guide usage: the sportsman from ‘away’ who needs help gaining proximity to wild quarry. Before making Ed’s acquaintance, I would spend hours driving to fishing spots due to the ‘received wisdom’ that one had to enter the next county inland from the coast of Penobscot Bay before finding worthwhile trout fishing. Ed has changed my mind about that. The peculiar, unlikely streams abounding within a twenty-minute walk of Andy Snow’s, as it turns out, are flush with the most beautiful, iridescent, lively and skeptical native fish. This has made me a fan of local, humble waters.
Last summer, on the basis of a relatively clear set of directions from Ed, my son and I went in search of ‘the stone bridge fishing spot,’ the one at which, Ed said, a rather goofy and social black bear once sat on the opposite bank watching him fish. The deer flies devoured Spencer and me on the walk through the woods, but sure enough we located the spot: a beautiful, diminutive pond behind a beaver dam, steeply bounded on all sides by tall spruce trees; ducks gliding among the lily pads in shallow water; the outlet spilling over a bouldered walkway, the ‘stone bridge’, below which the stream gurgled its way south. The fish were jumpin’ and the water was high. No goofy bear, alas. We fished happily—but unsuccessfully. . . we were fishing, not catching—for an hour, and then retreated up the trail as a warm summer rain dimpled the pond. It was worth the deer flies.
It has taken me a while, but I did finally achieve Ed’s actual company for an afternoon of fishing. I offered to be blindfolded and spun around before the walk to ‘The Secret Spot’, and he seemed to consider it seriously. And it was a sign of deep trust, I guess, that I was not blindfolded nor even sworn to silence. Or perhaps it was just a sign of the relative value of the spot to which he guided me. This day might have been a test of worthiness. We were beginning on the bottom rung of trout lairs, I suspected.
So one sunny day we scouted a small brook, jumping from bank to bank, sneaking up on potential pools so as not to scare the wily brookies. Ed perceived fishy nests in unusual places. We ‘flogged’ the quick waters, I with dry flies and Ed with a number eight hook and a worm. And it was as if he called the fish by name, the way they came to his lure—fish after fish, each greeted by The Vizier with an affectionate ‘hello darling’, like an old friend, each fish gently returned to its home with a respectful toss. As it turned out, my afternoon was nothing but casting practice. Evidently there is more to the fishing relationship than being acquainted with the right spot. Native fish respond differently to native fishermen, or is it vice versa. Perhaps Ed knows that. Perhaps this year he will tell me the secret password.
First published in The Christian Science Monitor.