The Post In Which the Author Compares Fish To People

I nearly turned back when I realized I forgot my sunglasses, then when I saw I was low on gas, then when I saw the river was packed with anglers. But I kept driving. I drove until I saw no one, then I drove another mile.

This is my favorite time to fish. Late summer, early fall. After Labor Day, before Halloween. Just when it’s getting cooler, but far from cold. I put in downstream from a beaver pond that didn’t exist a month ago. The cows had done their best to rid the hills of vegetation, but the grass that was left appeared golden. Willows and scrub oaks guarded the river on both sides. Everything smelled dusty. There wasn’t a visible hatch, but the water rippled with takes. Around this time, it seems that fish feel some desperation.

Within a few casts, I had my first fish. A small cutthroat who’s cuts glowed hunter orange. The cutties seemed to have brightened up like the scrub oak that lines the river. The fish appeared shiftless, too, especially the young ones. They dart from hole to hole and used much more energy than needed to take bugs off the surface. My next fish came out of the water for my Adams. His mouth anchored to the fly, and his tail wheeled around like the hands of a clock and splashed into the still water.

I’ve had days when I couldn’t keep little brookies off the hook, and, once, a day when I couldn’t keep off little browns. This was the first time that I couldn’t keep off cutts. The other days didn’t feel that satisfying. But the cutthroat day? It was the best fishing I had all year.

It’s because I like cutthroats the best. Partly because they’re native. The ancestors of the fish I caught were here long before my ancestors, and I don’t mean my great-great grandpa, or even white guys. I mean humans. More than that,  they’re just my favorite.

Rainbows remind me of the Californians that came into my hometown and bought up land where I once moved irrigation pipes in alfalfa fields. They built garish mansions decorated with stuff from LL Bean and Pottery Barn. They’re charming and nice–you almost believe they belong.

You can trace your finger on the maps on the backs of brookies and they somehow lead you east. I imagine even their kids talk with Boston accents even though they’ve been west for generations.

The browns clog the once quiet trails with their ATVs. As they fly by in a cloud of dust, they throw off Mountain Dew cans and cigarette boxes.

But not cutthroats. They’re a handsome fish, with their almost bronze coloring and muddy splotches. They’re just good folk with clean, calloused hands. If a cutthroat was to date your daughter, he’d have her home on time and call you sir or ma’am.

On the way home, I pulled over and watched three older anglers wet wade. They held onto each others shoulders for stability. Their rods moved back and forth slowly. Their loops unfolded like quilts being shook out for summer storage. I waited for one of them to catch a fish, but it didn’t happen.

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10 thoughts on “The Post In Which the Author Compares Fish To People

  1. Pam says:

    Good comparisons. I fell in love with the cutthroat while in MT and wish we had them here, towards the east coast. No, I wouldn’t want them to be imported to the area. We all know non-natives are an invitation to disaster. I love catching any trout, but voted for the beautiful brookie. Maintly due to their unique colors, but also because I fly fished for almost three years before I caught my first.

  2. Jim McGibbney says:

    Poetically written………….. I can almost smell the Autumn in the air from your description. This side of the Atlantic in Scotland we do not have the abundance of “Wild –fish” options but a hard fighting Brownie is a challenge I love facing in our burns. Thanks for sharing your experiences and more power to your elbow.

    • Thanks for the nice words and reading, Jim. I’ve spent some time in the UK, but I’ve never fished it. Some day. Some day. (I think most of the Browns we have over here came from Scotland. Or Germany. I forget. (But Chadd would know.))

  3. Tom Davis says:

    Great post. I’m a cutthroat guy for sure. I seek them out and am delighted when they hook up. They are like old friends and I release them gently back into the water.

  4. g0ne fishin9 says:

    Funny how things differ from place to place. What you say of browns is what people think of rainbows in France. Then browns are our native so people tend to be partial to them, as in ‘my 5″ brown is hollier than your 18″ bow, a circus fish for sure’.
    I fish in the postmodern junkyard, where fish are loaded with all kind of stuff, when they are not drifting belly-up. Their existence in the streams is a political miracle or a manufactured fact. When you hit the bottom you snag in a tire.
    I vote for carp.

    • This, might be, my favorite comment. Ever. Thanks and good luck with the carp (I can’t imagine pulling in a carp on a fly rod. It would be like pulling an anvil across a snowbank.)

      • g0ne fishin9 says:

        hook up a fat one and suddenly all these metaphors about freight trains suddenly make sense. even the small, the ones with which I’m familiar (obviously) are strong bastards. 2 pounds of angry common on a 4wt is you ticket for a couple of minutes of real fun.
        great post btw!

  5. Luther says:

    I love going for big browns, am surprised and elated to catch a brookie, and always a tinge disappointed to catch a rainbow since it will likely be a hatchery fish in Michigan. Nice post – just what I needed!

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