Friday, October 21, 2011

Behind Closed Doors: or, A One-Fish Supper for Two.

I knew it would come – someday -- I would see with my own eyes what I knew was going on behind closed doors, when I wasn't around. I suppose it must be what parents feel like when their teenagers begin to date -- to "see" people. I didn't date in high school -- thus, didn't cause my parents this grief. Yet I can imagine it's still there when the child is in her twenties and has a house of her own.

Since June, I've lived in a small space adjoining blissful ignorance – although it’s really neither of the two because I've never been that blissful a person, and I know full well what’s happening – but still I've stuck my head in the sand, admiring the shiny grains and granules, and pretending not to feel the heat on my back.

The door has been opened up a crack, a time or two -- I’ve seen other men there next to her. She makes them work hard….for nothing. But she likes me…she has from the first. I took hours with her -- learning her depths and shallows, where she habitates her secrets, what she’ll tell, and what she won’t. I know her. When she forgets, she even tells me some secrets twice. I don’t correct her though. I guard them. I keep her trust.

And so it goes that during my last visit to her, I saw what I didn’t want to – what I didn’t want to admit was happening. One of her secrets, told. One of her stories, ended.

Yes, all this waxing over a little trout pond. I know. But it’s a little trout pond I love -- all full of browns. She’s never easy, and while I’ve seen some others try – with large lures and 5 gallon orange Home Depot buckets – I’ve never seen one succeed. That is, until now.

Here I should state that I’m not against the killing and eating of fish -- I do it myself from time to time, but bucketfuls of browns from a small pond wafts a nauseous reek. I knew it was happening….it had to be. But I didn't want to see it.

That afternoon I stood, admiring the autumn day and how the wind had died down and how I could see the browns circle and take my size 24 dry fly, two men came walking up behind me. I had seen them coming – their olive drab external frame Jansport packs had spinning rods and shot-guns strapped to the sides. Instinctively, I didn’t like them but for the sole reason they were breaking my silence.

Animals are the greatest judges of a person’s character. I don’t write that as my thoughts on the matter. I write that as the truth. And as the men got closer, Banjo started to growl. He has never growled at anyone before like this, and so my hackles rose with his.

“Hey lady….that dog safe?”

“Well….yeah…usually.”

I mumbled, somewhat taken aback by Banjo’s behavior, and preoccupied by trying to manage a strike at my dry.

I missed.

Then the wind started blowing again.

The men rigged and plopped – both bodies and bobbers – while I kept catching, and releasing. One of the men took off with his shotgun, and one stayed put…"to catch supper,” or so he was instructed to do. After some time, I heard a yell and a splash and saw his pole bend. I stared at him from across the pond – like a car accident, or fire, or other scene of misery...I couldn’t look away. I could see the lure in the brown’s mouth from across the way, probably 1/3 the size of it, and it was a decent sized fish. He dug out some pliers and removed the lure. I waited. I watched. He watched me back. Then he bent down, and gently released the trout back into the water.

I breathed again.

But minutes later, his buddy came back. “Catch anything?”

“Only one….but it was too small to keep.”

Sure. I smiled. Too small -- or, my stare was as convicting as a Baptist grandmother’s -- and I do have experience with those.

Another hour passed, and then it happened again. Same man, different trout, smaller than the first.

“Kill it!” the man’s friend yelled, still shouldering the shot gun.

The man paused and looked at me; then, turned his back.

Soon after that I left, not wanting to see another. I couldn’t plug my ears and sing row-row-row-your boat anymore, ignoring the soft sounds coming from the other room. I’d seen with my own eyes. And I walked the dirt path home quietly -- somberly -- knowing in detail what goes on behind closed doors…..wishing I didn’t.

42 comments:

  1. I can feeel ya on this one. I keep less and less each season. I feel dirty taking a hatchery steelhead...
    I can't remember who said it but they are too beautiful to catch just once.

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  2. Now, where exactly is this pond? ;)

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  3. Beautifully, and disturbing, at the same time. I'm a practicing, but not militant, catch and release practitioner. I don't begrudge a fish dinner but it hurts my sensibilities seeing them taken in such a manner. Like you, I'd just as soon not see behind that closed door.

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  4. I have nothing against others keeping fish but two skilled anglers can easily over harvest a small farm pond, and they are the first to complain the fishing is lousy and not what it used to be.
    Sometimes it's tough to just turn your back and pretend nothing is happening.

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  5. RiverDragon - I know I've caught several of these brown's twice...it's a good feeling, to know they're still there. Like old friends.

    Richard - Ha. Yeah, you aren't getting' that out of me. ;)

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  6. If only your stare was as powerful as a Slavic grandmothers. Those are the most powerful stares of all.

    Another brilliant post, Erin.

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  7. Mike - I'm yet a yearling in this affair, but as it ages, it's getting harder and harder for me to kill a fish. Up here, it's incredible to me that they survive the winters at all...I respect how they live, how they survive -- it's all so beautiful...and who am I to take that away.

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  8. G Lech - Exactly...a few culled here and there is healthy, even. But that gets to be overdone...quickly.

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  9. Ivan - Ha! So a Baptist, Slavic Grandmother would hold ultimate powers, then, eh? ;) Ah, this one is a Swede.

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  10. As I get older I find it almost impossible to kill a fish.

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  11. It is all so much easier and no moral issues involved if you simply do as I do: fish, but never catch anything. B

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  12. Phillip - Some would say it's getting "soft" ; I say it's getting "wise"...

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  13. B - Perhaps Miss Sue and her new red-rod will be your good luck charm? ;)

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  14. Some people feel the need to take their share, not much we can do.
    I can see that you, Banjo, and I disagree.

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  15. Oh, so that was you out on my dinner pond ;-)

    Great story. I have friends of a similar thought that just can't stand when I put "eater walleyes" back. Catching is funner than killin' IMO.

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  16. Brk Trt - Indeed. And we're glad to be of like-mind with you, sir.

    Rhythm Rider - Ha! ;) Thanks, and I'm of that same opinion.

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  17. Great piece Erin. Although I practice catch and release exclusively now I didn't use to. I don't begrudge anyone keeping fish but this feels better to me.

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  18. Cofisher - Thanks...and I'm finding my foot more firmly in that camp every day. You think I'm young....but I think it has something to do with growing older...watching lives pass.

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  19. I know exactly what that feels like, but usually I speak my mind, although I have to admit that people over here in Belgium don’t walk around with shotguns (you go to jail for doing that over here).

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  20. the lonesome piker - Indeed, as I was writing this, I thought of your post, "Nostalgia." Time changes us, in this case for the better, and we can only hope it will change others. Oh and yes I wasn't going to start speaking my mind to a man with a shotgun over his shoulder. ;)

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  21. I feel your pain. More than the fish are violated by those who see themselves as "harvesters" entitled to take whatever they want without thought. Glad your Baptist glare saved that one Brown. nice piece, as usual.

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  22. Jim - Thanks...and yes, I was very happy that my grandmother stare saved the day for that one...

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  23. You won't see anyone keeping any on Monday!!!!!
    Great story, as usual.

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  24. Ivan and EMB - so i'm driving down Hwy 2 in Lincoln NE and of all days to see this building for the first time, today was the day.... http://lincoln.citysearch.com/profile/609296630/lincoln_ne/first_slavic_baptist_church.html

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  25. FlyFishingCrazy - Well, I had better not!!! ;)

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  26. Anonymous (pa) - Slavic Baptist Church! Probably by the Germans From Russia Museum no doubt!?

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  27. I also like to pretend I don't know what's happening behind those closed doors. Although, I have been known to keep and eat a fish from time to time. for some reason, it just looks so dirty when someone else is doing it...I'm just glad that those guys didn't start unloading some buckshot into the pond.

    Give Banjo a scratch behind the ear for me...

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  28. Hi e,
    Our place adjoins a similar landscape. The description of your lady friend is outstanding.

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  29. Sanders - They were unloading buckshot in something in the mountain to the south. It was a little too close for comfort because I didn't trust their aim at all. And I do believe one of them took out a flask a time or two.

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  30. Herringbone - We're both in beautiful places then, as I've seen through your posts. And thanks, as always...I went back to her yesterday, again, and had her all to myself...

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  31. Great post. I love the part about not liking them because they are breaking your silence. I know exactly what you mean. I have had that experience many times. Like watching two bait fisherman walk down the trail and I know they will pass me and probably ask how I am doing. I'm sure my body language compares to banjo. My virtual mane bristles and I'm sure I show my canines. I never just ignore anyone. You ask me a question and I'll answer but there is something about having nature as your company and nothing else.

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  32. Sigh. Once again I'm going to go if not against the grain, at least tangentially across. Keep or release...like many, I keep a fish occasionally, but the reason I don't is I think trout are rather bland. Some of the comments are picking bait or lure vs fly....I still feel that it's all fishing. None is more 'pure' than the next, and I've found few bait or lure anglers that look with disdain at fly anglers. I've fly fished since 1955, so I think I have some street 'cred, and I think it's all the same.
    As to the native fish issue, in the west, a huge percentage of trout caught are non-native, in fact Montana is eradicating rainbows, brown, brookies and lake trout from many watersheds.
    I've never kept a cutthroat, nor will. But I don't feel guilty when I kill a 'bow or brown...I'm a carnivore, and like it or not, fishing is a blood sport.
    Sorry Erin, occasionally we geezers don't go with the flow.
    Mike

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  33. Bait fishermen ought to be banned like lepers to a nice, flat piece of land somewhere in the Midwest where they can kill, snag and litter to their hearts content. I will even pay extra every year so they have plenty of perch and stocked rainbows to fish for. I am a carnivore as well...ex-meat hunter, ex-hunting guide and ex-commercial fisherman...not a poster child for PETA. I have enough street cred to cover you, me and about 200 strangers on the sidewalk. It does not matter what species of fish we are talking about, good grief...it is the health and vulnerability of the particular fishery that determine if it is OK or even legal to kill the fish. If every fly fisherman that I have taught how to fish kept their legal limit of trout every time they went out...the fishing here in Colorado would suck about as bad as it does in the put-and-take creeks back in western PA. That is why I left.

    I feel like eating a trout tomorrow, actually. So I will find the nearest stocked State Park lake, make two casts and do some fish killin'. If I want something that tastes better than that, I'll sniff out an over-populated perch lake and fish there. What I won't do is haul a damn cooler down to our home water (where myself and other guides have taught countless thousands of beginners how to cast a fly rod)and catch my dinner. Although it would be legal, it would be stupid.

    Fishing is a blood sport? Sure, dude. Then so is bird watching. And I guess neither are sustainable...guess I need to find a new job.

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  34. Kevin - Indeed...and it doesn't ever really matter if it is another fisherman (bait or fly) or not. A hiker, day tripper, what have you...still, they break my silence.

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  35. ShouldFishMore - Well, while I have no disagreement with you on the keeping of fish here and there, I do have to say that I do see a difference and that all fishing isn't "the same" as you say. It's not in the gear/tackle...but in the mindset and culture. Here in Colorado we have many sustainable waters, primarily for the reason that the state is chalk full of fly fishermen who are passionately catch and release. Back in Nebraska, most waters are put and take fisheries...and most fishermen aren't on the fly. And that, is my observation.

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  36. Erin ~ In your mountain home words are written that teach, and inspire each of us. Words that are a gift to us as fly fisherman, each story challenging each of us to become better stewards of the lakes and rivers we fish. Today as always is was a pleasure to read what you crafted from behind those doors.

    Time in the river changes each of us in different ways ~ the fish I catch, photograph, and release with pride, have challenged me, and therfor changed me forever.

    When the door cracks open it allows light to shine through ... with your positive words of teaching, I hope more, and more of us return the fish we catch to the waters they call home.

    Jim
    Two Guys ~ Wet Waders & Flies

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  37. There is a world of difference between 'knowing' it happens and seeing it happen...................Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss.

    Lovely stuff as ever Erin.

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  38. Angling caters for people of every sort, the caring, the greedy, the aggressive hunter, the gregarious and the solitary. It is a fact of life and sharing water with people that you would not care to socialise is inevitable. Whereas I enjoy spending time with most fellow anglers there are many that behave in ways I disapprove of and, like Banjo, I find myself growling as they approach.

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  39. Jim - Thank you for the encouragement as always, my friend.

    Tom - Indeed, sometimes it is. Thank you much for stopping by!

    Dave - Eloquent as ever, you are. And I would be pleased to share the water with you any day...

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  40. We all have certain rules and morals. I'd rather have people keeping fish than dragging them across the dirt, yanking a treble hook out of their mouth, picking them up with a rag, then releasing them. I HATE the trout towel and it makes me cringe when I see it.

    P.S. I hope that guy feels guilty. There are PLENTY of places here in Co to catch stockers and he knew what he was doing.

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  41. backcountryfishnerd - Indeed, we do all. And there is a point to quality of life...the fish he released might now be far worse off than it's pond-mate. And yeah, he totally knew what he was doing.

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