The Wild Bunch

July 8, 2024 By: Bob Romano

Image by Eric Harvey

The water is low, but the river may still hold a few surprises if I take Master Cotton’s advice and fish long and fine. After snapping my hippers to the loops of my jeans, I take a moment to wipe the perspiration from my brow. Wild rugosas reach out from either side of the trail. The humidity holds the fragrant scent of their delicate yellow-in-white blossoms, filling the late-afternoon stillness with sweetness.

At the end of one languid pool, a pair of eels undulates in the slow-moving current, their serpentine bodies entwined. I remember an afternoon when Trish and I succumbed to similar urges, cushioned by the lush early-summer grasses.

Birdsong permeates the air.

In the tangle of streamside brambles, sparrows chirp, finches chatter, and catbirds meow. Above me, warblers gossip under a canopy of hardwoods. From the woodland’s edge comes the sliding scale of a veery accompanied by the flute-like melody of a wood thrush.

When I first arrived, there were a number of anglers on the stream, but now as the afternoon wanes, I’m left with only my shadow, which has grown long, leading rather than following me. Fishing with tiny flies in thin water, using long leaders with narrow tippets, making delicate casts into shadows, under the branches of trees, along the edges of boulders and stumps, I have become increasingly frustrated and cranky, having failed to raise a single fish. Even Father Walton would grow impatient under such circumstances.

So much of fishing is waiting. Waiting for the temperature to rise or maybe fall, waiting for rain, waiting for the hatch, waiting for that trout to rise one more time, waiting for the magic to happen when weather, water, bugs, fish, fly, and cast come together. If you fish, you wait. Just ask Hemingway’s old Cuban.

The sun has set, but the light holds. A beaver swims up from a deep pool below the long run where I hope to raise a few trout. Its reddish-brown coat glistens under the stream’s surface. The portly mammal crawls up the far bank where I can hear the sound of teeth shredding bark.

Except for the eels, I have yet to see a fish. The birdsong has stopped. Not all at once, but gradually, leaving the forest silent as if

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holding its breath. The light has faded. Somewhere in the distance the first clap of thunder sounds, followed by others as a storm builds toward the east.

A fish rises at the head of the pool, another along the tailout, two more in the heart of the run. Suddenly, trout are slurping, slashing, splashing as they feast upon mayflies hatching in the coolness of the advancing squall.

As the wind intensifies, a brown trout, the size of my forearm, rises no more than ten feet from where I’m standing, its knipe twisted into a maniacal, Lee Marvin-like grin. Along the far bank, under the branches of a maple, Marlon Brando methodically breaks the surface, his crimson stripe like a red bandana, flashing each time the handsome rainbow rises.

A horizontal flash of lightening reveals a huge column of clouds descending upon the stream. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi —a long angry rumble sounds like revving engines,

No time to think, I cast, pulling back on the rod when I see the white of a trout’s mouth. A solid fish peels out of the riffles. In the growing darkness, it feels bigger than it really is.   

Another lightning bolt streaks across the leaden sky. One Mississippi, two—more thunder, the choppers are drawing closer. Another cast, this one toward the big brown. I see the splash, feel the strike, and then the line flies back in my face. Marvin ain’t having any of it.

The wind is whipping the branches of the trees as the rain begins to fall in large blinding waves. The rises stop as suddenly as they began.

On the chance that a straggler might remain, I cast my imitation under the overhanging branches of the maple where Brando erupts through the surface. Another lighting flash momentarily illuminates the river as the huge rainbow severs the weary fly from its tippet and slips back into the night.

The rain pounds down for a few minutes more as the storm passes through, the thunder now muffled behind the hills to the west of the stream.

As best as I can tell the wild bunch has busted out of town.