Fishing for brook trout

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(Host) Recently, commentator Ted Levin decided to pay a late season visit to a nearby brook. At the same time, he discovered a new way of eliminating cluster flies.

(Levin) Sneaking up on trout is an acquired skill. I crawl along the bank of our brook, peering into the water, then freeze like a pointer in mid-stride when I glimpse a fish.

Slowly I work myself into a prone position. The trout are oblivious. A seven-inch male whose belly and sides are washed in red and whose lower jaw is slightly enlarged, tends a five-inch female. I see their distinctive white stripe on the leading edge of the lower fins, dark squiggles cover olive-green backs. If the pair move into the light, the large yellow spots that pepper their sides become visible. But when a live brook trout rests in a friend’s creel, I can see the subtler colors: the iridescent aqua-blue sides with small blue-haloed red spots, the orange-tinted fins.

Eventually I stir, hoping to get a better view. Spotting me they’re gone, passing through my field of vision so quickly that I’m not sure I’ve seen a fish or a speck of sunlight. Again I freeze. A different group of trout appear, tiny fish perhaps three-inches long, lining up in the current behind the half-submerged trunk of an old white pine. One. Two. Three….Eleven. Twelve. They wait for food. Water spills over the smooth, bare wood. The fish remain suspended in place, inhaling the current as it pours over them.

Because brook trout live in swift-flowing water, they must be adept at holding their position in the current or be swept downstream. A torpedo body, tapered at both ends, widest just in front of the dorsal fin that is little more than a third of the way down its length, makes for perfect ballast in water. The trout undulate against the flow and fan their broad, square tails, while their fine scales form an almost frictionless surface in the rushing water. Each trout extends its dorsal fin, which billows in the current, stabilizing the fish.

During my half hour vigil not one fish catches anything to eat, and it occurs to me that their feeding window – at the mercy of cold water and cold weather – is fast shutting down for the season. Hungry trout would love cluster flies, I
muse. I return home and pick twenty or so from my office window, where a congregation is assembled in the sun, and store them in a jar.

The next afternoon, I head out, jar in pocket. A hundred yards downstream from where I had lain on the bank stands a living pine. Its scoured roots bend around a grotto in the undercut bank.

I hang over the lip of the bank and peer into the water. Fourteen trout ranging in size from two to four inches gather, two and three abreast. I shake out the cluster flies. A trout rises. Hits. Another rises. Hits. And another. Eventually, there are two flies, then one. As I stare at the remaining fly, a trout shoots up from the grotto.

A piscine Thanksgiving.

This is Ted Levin of Coyote Hollow in Thetford Center.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer specializing in hatural history. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.

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