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This morning was the first morning I heard a robin’s song. Many months have passed since the robins last sang; it was a cloudy morning with a warm rain, the perfect time to go fishing. The beginning of that day was like so many other days that I recall so vividly from years ago. In those early years, we fished several small brooks the first weeks of the season. All of those brooks held wild populations of Eastern Brook Trout. The brooks weren’t big; the largest was about 15 feet. Yet, our trips to those little streams provided great anticipation for the coming season. There was the Angle Fly, Seven Bridges, Stone Hill River, two small un-named brooks and Schoolhouse Brook. They all flowed into New York City’s Croton reservoir system.
Fishing those little brooks was a sensual experience, in that most trips took place on warm April days with a soft rain. At that time of year, the streamside vegetation was just beginning, with young skunk cabbage, fiddleheads and other plants. The odor of warm earth mingled with decay of previous fall leaves and soft rain—ingrained odors I’ll never forget. I fished for my first trout in those brooks and, as I recall, none came to my creel that first season.
We began the next season on a branch of one of the un-named brooks. It ran along Route 100, just outside of Millwood, NY. Like so many early-season days, this one was warm, with a light rain. Back then, we had basic outfits, and mine was a nine-foot, three-piece bamboo fly rod, purchased from Montgomery Ward for about $7. It was heavy and cumbersome. Our bait of choice: worms. The leaders were short, about four-pound test. We all had creels and worm cans. We didn’t have raincoats or waders, but we had hip boots. Getting wet in those days was part of our fishing adventures.
This little brook meandered through a mixed hardwood forest and flowed under an old railroad trestle. It was there, on that day, in that little brook, I caught my first brook trout, or “brookie” as we called them. Perhaps I should say “it caught me.” Taking liberties and turning an old saying upside down: “it’s not how you play the game, but whether you win or lose that counts,” and that phrase would apply to this situation. I laid my rod down, worm still in the water, to go behind a nearby tree. When I returned, the rod tip was bouncing, and I had my first brookie! Of course, it didn’t fight. How could it—an eight-inch trout against a nine-foot rod? But it was my first trout, and I was a happy young man.
Over the years, we routinely fished these little brooks, not only early in the season, but also after a good rain increased flows and pulled more brookies from the reservoirs. A worm on a light leader seldom failed to produce results under these conditions.
I don’t know when I last fished these little brooks for the little jewels they held; maybe in 1960? I still think about them often, the beautiful trout they held and wondered how they fared over time. So, on opening day in 2005, I went back after all the years to see. I won’t tell you what I found. It wasn’t good and very sad. More often than not, it is better not to look to the past; just keep its memories, and be satisfied with those.