Fishwalking in the Whites

June 1, 2013

Do large trees grow large trout?

Appalachia, Summer/Fall 2013

July 9, 2012: Thoreau Falls. On a hot day in mid-July last summer, the patter of rain on my trekking umbrella puts me to sleep in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Are monsoons, thanks to global warming, coming to northern New England? This is day two of a planned extended fishing transect through the White Mountains.
The last time I did such a thing, I was a kid working in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s high huts back in the early 1970s. There I discovered, along with a love of the mountains, a love of trout fishing. While my hut compatriots were off setting ridge-running records or pursuing ill-advised night raids on other huts, I was in the valleys walking newly minted Wilderness areas looking for wild brook trout. Now, like a Rip van Winkle, I was back. What had changed?
Trout fishing may not contain the daring of a decent night raid, but traveling pool to pool upstream always took me to memorable places. I still remember those places and those fish. I recall in sharp relief a certain beaver pond found 40 years ago under The Horn of Mount Cabot and the wild orange-bellied brook trout I caught there; I can still see bright red spots on the sides of six brook trout in their high, granite-lined pool in Evans Notch.
I remember a large male Ammonoosuc brook trout I caught and the cast I made at dusk to catch him (it has to be dead-on with a lie like that, and you have only a split second to hook your fish before the fly is swept downstream). I also remember those days of youthful fishing that didn’t yield a fish and trips that ended in near-disaster—a canoe bent around a rock on the Androscoggin River at Errol, a fine new rod lost in a slip at Pontook Dam. Over the ensuing years, have these places and fish changed? Brook trout, the biologists tell us, are sensitive barometers of ecological change. We change too.
Can a fishing transect through old mountains and memory fish tell not only how a landscape has changed in 40 years, but also how we have? Can you count on memory fish, like old music, to be there when you aren’t?

These are excerpts. To read the rest of Tim Traver’s story, please order the Summer/Fall 2013 issue of Appalachia.

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Tim Traver

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