As I laid sideways on the log and made another desperate lunge to try to grab the
fish with my hand, I realized it was never going to work. I had been trying to
catch them for quite a while without actually even touching either one. After each
attempt, they would dart around the pool, then settle back under the log I was
stretched across. The water was low, and the stream flowed out of the pool over a
bed of stones not more than an inch deep. They couldn't really go anywhere, but
they were just too fast, and there was no way I was going to be able to grab one of
them. I was wet and frustrated and it was time to get on home, but I had a mission
now. I was going to catch one of those fish.
I had moved to this small town in northeastern Wisconsin from Milwaukee late in the
summer of 1972 at the age of 12, following the divorce of my parents. After getting
settled in to our new house and starting school, I had begun to explore the
surrounding area. One of the paths I explored had lead through the woods and
lowlands to a small creek, no wider than a running jump at it‘s widest point. I had
been exploring the creek when I discovered the fish.
There were two of them, one about a foot long, and the other just a little smaller,
and they were the most beautiful fish I had ever seen. They had blue and yellow
and red dots from head to tail, and the tail and fins were a bright orange. They
hovered effortlessly over the gravel just under the front edge of the large cedar
tree which had long ago fallen across the creek. After each of my frantic attempts
to snatch them they would disappear back under the log, but they would always come
back out to that little patch of pea sized stones.
I went back the next day after school armed with about six feet of fishing line and
a hook borrowed from our elderly neighbor, and half a dozen worms I had dug out of
the garden. We did not own any fishing tackle, and as a city kid, my fishing
experience had consisted of week long visits to my relatives "up north" where we
would dangle a hand held line for bluegills off the dock. I figured if it worked
for bluegills it should work for these fish. In route to the creek, I took a
shortcut through a patch of fallen cedars. As I was climbing over one tree and
ducking under another I lost my footing, and on my way down my soup can of worms
went flying into the air. After a frenzied search, I was only able to locate one of
my precious worms. Undaunted, I proceeded to the creek. After baiting my hook, I
dangled the worm in front of the fishes nose, intently watching for the bite. This
is how we did it for bluegills, and they always snatched it immediately. No such
luck with these fish, they just ignored it. I tried dancing it around in front of
them, bouncing it off them, and trailing it around them to no avail. They were just
not interested. Frustrated, I just let the worm drop down onto the gravel.
Immediately, one of them snatched it up and disappeared under the log. I pulled up
quickly, and was surprised to feel the fish jerking on the other end! It dashed
around the pool tugging and splashing. As I gathered the line and pulled the fish
from the water, it made one last flipping splash on the surface and fell off the
hook. My disappointment was only increased when I noticed that my worm had
disappeared also. I looked down again and there they were, hovering over the gravel
patch. I made a few more futile attempts to catch them by hand again, but I had
learned my lesson the day before. Downhearted, I headed back home.
On my way back up the path, I ran into a kid I had seen around the neighborhood. He
was heading towards the town dump, which I discovered was just through the cedars on
the other side of the creek. I told him my story about the fish, and although he
wasn't a fisherman either, he wanted to see them. I took him back to the pool, and
showed him the fish. He agreed they were cool looking, and even tried to grab them
himself a couple of times, but I told him not to bother because it was just a waste
of time. He asked me about myself as new kids tend to do, and we were chatting
about nothing in particular when he reached into his pocket and pulled out a box of
Ju Ju beans. He offered me one which I accepted and we continued to our
conversation. Then I had an idea. I asked him for another Ju Ju bean, and he
pulled me out a red one. I grabbed my hook and plunged it through the soft red
candy. I once again tried enticing the fish to bite, but again they were not
interested. I tried dropping it down into the gravel, but even this ploy did not
deliver the earlier results. Frustrated again, I just let it lay there. After a
while, the kid suggested I accompany him to the dump, to scavenge and investigate.
Since my fishing was done for the day, I said sure, and grabbed my line to leave.
As I pulled my line up out of the pool, it started pulling back. I wasn't going to
mess around this time. I jerked the line up, and pulled the fish straight out of
the water so hard he flew behind me into the woods. Good thing, because it flew
right off the hook! I scrambled back into the fern and moss covered undergrowth,
and located it by it's fervent thrashing. Even on the bank, it was tough to corral,
but I finally got a hold of it and held it up to the waning fall sun. Its colors
were even more stunning, accentuated by the hues of the October foliage, and I
noticed that the belly was the same fall maple orange as the fins and tail. Elated,
all thoughts of dump scavenging left me. I had to take this fish home and show it
to my older brother. I said later to my new found acquaintance, thanked him for the
Ju Ju beans, and scrambled home to show off my prize.
When I arrived at home, my brother was involved in a game of football in our yard
with a bunch of his newfound friends. I strutted into the yard, proudly displaying
my catch. "Wow, where did you get that nice brookie?", one of them inquired as they
gathered around. "Brookie?, I asked. What is that". "It's a brook trout, you
fool", he scoffed, "and a big one." I told them the whole story of my fishing
adventure and they looked at me in disbelief. "You caught that big brookie in dump
creek on a Ju Ju bean", he asked incredulously. "No way!. But if I were you I'd
get that thing cleaned and in the freezer. Trout season ended about two weeks ago."
Trout season? Heck, I didn't even know what a trout was. I ran inside and
grabbed a knife and began a naive attempt to clean the fish, under my brother's
friends watchful eye. I tried to scale it as we did with our bluegills up north,
but was having no luck at all. "It's a trout, you idiot, you don't scale trout" my
brother's friend laughed. News to me. "Here, let me show you how to clean a
trout". He proceeded to remove the gills, and gut the fish. "You left the head
on", I uttered. "Why did you do that?" He replied with a smirk, "It adds flavor and you get to eat the
cheeks". I though he was toying with me, but as I looked around, I saw the knowing nods from the other onlookers. Boy, did I have a lot to learn about trout!
Since then I have caught many, many trout in lots of different ways. Dump creek
became my training ground, and as I learned the secret, wily ways of the brook
trout, I came to realize just how lucky I was that fall day. I know now that the
trout wasn't really interested in eating the Ju Ju bean, but was just removing it
from it's spawning bed. No matter, I will never forget my first brookie caught on
that borrowed red Ju Ju bean.
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