The Essence of Trout and Crushed Ferns
This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter from his archive. Read the previous post here.
Although trout season always began in April in my memory, May was the month we really settled down to serious fishing as boys. It was a month filled with warm, heady days when little else was on our minds. Flavored by pale, green leaves and the smell of blossoms in the air, my recollections are of cowslips and lush pastures and dark, winding streams.
With the end of school close at hand, the lure of trout fishing kept us on the keen edge of truancy, and on Friday nights my best friend, Bruce, and I made careful plans for the two days of freedom ahead. We checked and rechecked our equipment (which was mostly a matter of finding where we had left it the last time), bought extra spinning lures, hooks, and leaders, ceremoniously oiled our bikes, and, after dark, caught ourselves a good supply of nightcrawlers. Bruce usually spent the night at my house to expedite getting off at daybreak, so our excited talk went on long after the lights went out.
One of us typically woke only 3 or 4 hours later, and, unable to regain unconsciousness, woke the other. Next thing, we were in the kitchen making breakfast. I remember those breakfasts; we always had fried eggs with lots of bacon and ate several donuts each with coffee, all of which was calculated to keep us fueled and wakeful for the day ahead, a day of pedaling, wading, casting and possibly swimming. Since our means of travel was by bicycle, having to carry lunches in addition to all our gear would only have been a pain, so breakfast was really lunch as well.
With the first songs of robins chirping in the predawn, we grabbed our clunky tackle boxes and clomped out the door in our hip boots. Then, with wicker creels and green worm containers hooked on our belts, we mounted our bikes, our fishing rods securely held against the handlebars. Our prime fishing spot then was on a good-sized stream that ran through lush woods with a vast carpet of ferns on both banks. It was very pretty. The ride there was about four miles. We pedaled in silence most of the way, intent on having the moment of sunrise (the legal fishing hour) coincide with our arrival.
It was a lively old stream, welling and swishing into view as we approached around a bend in the road. It carried secrets and was a little mysterious too in a way, when an occasional snagged branch waved to us like a black snake swinging in the dark, brown current. But nothing could distract us; we had come to fish.
The first cast was filled with anticipation. No telling what kind of day it would be. A strike on the first cast was always a good sign; after a gleeful whoop, we were convinced we might catch our limits that day. So, we grit our teeth and went at it.
Now, Bruce and I were meat fishermen, and while we liked to think of ourselves as admirable practitioners of the angler faith, we were not averse to doing whatever it took to accomplish our mission, which was to fill our creels to overflowing. (That, in fact, happened only once when the hatchery truck made a stop on a bridge right over our heads). So, it was not at all unusual for one of us to climb a tree in hip boots to save a valuable lure, or even to dive into the water after a particularly good-looking trout that had tangled in submerged branches with good gear in its mouth. There were times when we were not proud of what we had to do, but then it was rare indeed that we ever pedaled home empty-handed.
For me, the sweetest moment was in taking a nice 10-inch brook trout off my hook, marveling at its beautiful pink and red spots and painted fins, and laying it on a soft green bed of ferns in my creel. Every once in a while, for the rest of the day, I would open the lid to admire my catch, and that essence of trout and crushed ferns, as it stuck to my hands back then, will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Artist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. On October 7, 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.