Notes from a New England Brook

Notes from a New England Brook

Story by Max Dougan

I adore this spot. An old friend brought me here years ago as a way of handing off the places he grew up with to a younger, childless individual with expendable free time such as myself. I love it simply for what it is, but having been introduced to it as an act of friendship- a desire to share one of his spots- my love has evolved into sincere adoration.

April was cold and cloudy in southern New England, and the late spring green up was brought to a halt by a heavy frost over the weekend. The floor is seemingly weeks behind, and the forest echoed with a silence invited by the total lack of breeze that falls between showers and thunderstorms. The greenery that should be there is present, only scarce and restrained.

The first of two wild brook trout that I caught out of a first-rate swimming hole was missing a good chunk of its dorsal fin. My first thought was that this little brookie had a close call with a mink, which may seem like a baseless assumption, so allow me to elaborate. 

After visiting this same stretch of water a month ago, I walked out of the woods with dinner. But the highlight of my excursion that day was instead an exceptionally lengthy interaction with a mink. 

If you've never seen a mink, don't fret. They're cunning, skittish critters. At the same time, it's startling how intuitive they can be. They boast a presence of mind- a hyper-awareness, if you will- that other mammals cannot muster. They take no issue with maintaining eye contact for extended periods of time, and it always seems like they know exactly what you're up to while you're wondering the same thing about them. If someone devised a formula to quantify the fearlessness of mammals, the weasel family which includes badgers, wolverines, and otters, would dominate the rankings- the forgotten, scrappy underdogs of the animal kingdom.

I realize I'm likely crediting this mink with something it had nothing to do with, but considering the equanimity with which it handled our encounter that day, I'm perfectly okay with that.

The second fish was certainly worth keeping, a good meal for two, but he got away just as I landed him. Keep your lines tight.

When I say it was a keeper, I mean to say that it was a keeper for this brook. This is far from a trophy fishery. There's no stocking and hardly any access. Here, you'd be hard-pressed to find a trout that reaches 12 inches. So why fish it? 

I hold dear a very particular notion regarding fishing. I don't know if there's a term for it, but I imagine there are anglers around the world who will concur. I think of it like this; the catches I'm proudest of come from the smallest streams and shallowest waters. It's so rewarding to find fish in places where it's hard to imagine them capable of thriving. I've struggled in the past to explain why I like it, but there's no denying that I do. 

As I find my way back downstream through stands of mixed hardwoods, and hemlocks where the hardwoods refuse to grow, I start to see them. Golf balls. They can be found littered throughout the brook. Goofy, dimpled, misplaced reminders of a basic principle of nature- water does not discriminate. It carries with it everything in its path. This particular spot is well over two miles downstream of a public golf course. I usually laugh to myself when I see them before that inevitable question dawns on me. What else is that golf course sending my way?



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