The Source of the Connecticut
The largest river in New England bi-furcated the world of my teens, a gash through the fabric of highways that surrounded Hartford like a maze. On trips south, north or east, we would cross it, or travel its banks as it carried the waste of Pratt & Whitney, Colt Firearms and Traveler’s Insurance out to sea.
In the decade that I spent within a few miles of the river, I never once was on or in it, except the summer of my 15th birthday. School had been out for a few weeks when my father decided we needed to “get away.” Fishing gear and camping equipment were stuffed into the Volvo and we headed north. While the weather was warm for most trout stream fishing there were spring fed lakes near the Canadian border where huge rainbows loitered like roués in an air conditioned bar. The Connecticut, foul and unfishable at home, was narrow enough that I threw a rock across it when we made camp in New Hampshire. I think we tried to fish it, but by then the water was hovering around 720 and the trout were in a deep torpor.
In the morning we caught eager young brookies in a tributary of the Connecticut and cooked them for breakfast. It is one of the few meals I remember eating in tranquility with my father. We floured and pan fried them, making a meal just on fish and coffee. There is nothing to compare with the flavor of wild brook trout, cooked the minute it comes from the stream. It has firm, delicate flesh with subtle flavor and nuance completely absent in the hatchery fish. They emerge from the water like the answer to an unsolvable problem, a mosaic come to life as if from the stones of the stream.
This was to be my last fishing trip or real excursion of any kind with my father, since my parents divorced shortly thereafter and I sided against him. Children always end up taking sides and the lesser of evils was not hard to figure out. The trip was also of lasting importance to me, closing a mordant passage in my fly fishing evolution. Gone were my tangles on the bank. I waded easily, cast fairly well, and had a good feel for my youthful repertoire of trout flies: Hendrickson, March Brown, Rat Faced MacDougal, Royal Coachman, Professor, Silver Doctor, Wooly bugger, gold-ribbed hare’s ear.
We had rented a boat for the evening and had gone out into the middle of a large New Hampshire lake. The sun was going down and we lit an old kerosene lantern in the bow. My father was casting furiously, to no avail, constantly changing flies and swearing. I decided to try a completely different approach. In the bottom of my fly box was a large white fly, I think it may have been a white Wulf. I tied on extra tippet and cast it out into the twilight. It sat, and it sat as my father cursed,
“Son of a gun, this is murder, you S.O.B., Christ almighty…”
After an eternity that was probably not more than 10 minutes I gave the fly a twitch and there was a splash. My rod was bent double as the fish dove with my line, trying to shake the hook. I played to exhaustion a 20 inch rainbow trout, as magnificent by lantern light as the treasure of an archeological dig. My father was beside himself. At last I had bested him and become my own man. It was the beginning of the end of his tyrannical reign.
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