I love to fish for trout, and I rarely fish for anything else. Sometimes I fish for bass—and I have a blast when I do it—but on those cold, sleepless winter nights when I stare at the spots on my ceiling and dream about summer, I think about trout, not bass. All my friends—those who fish and those who don’t—call me a trout fisherman, and in the most literal sense of the phrase they are right. I do fish for trout.
But lately I’ve noticed that some of the guys who I call a trout fishermen don’t look much like me at all. I wear lightweight UPF 50 fishing shirts, cotton shorts and high-performance sandals throughout most of the summer. I sport breathable waders when I fish, and I cast tiny flies on wispy tippets. I drive several hours for a modest chance to catch a large brown or rainbow trout, and, though I catch a lot of brook trout too, I spend much of my life chasing their more stout cousins.
These other guys—the ones I’m starting to think are the real trout fishermen—wear buffalo-plaid flannel shirts and tattered leather boots nearly every day of the year. Occasionally they wear rubber hip waders to fish, but most of the time they sneak along the bank in their everyday leather boots. They occasionally cast tiny spinners, but more often they dunk worms into dark, woody holes. They don’t travel far for their fishing because the places that look to me like fishless alder-covered ditches are their favorite places to fish. But what separates us most is this: they only fish for brook trout.
They rarely release a legal trout. But because they are usually the only person who fishes in their favorite spots, they tend to manage their fisheries without thinking too much about it. And those fisheries can be very different than the places most of us fish.
During this year’s spring runoff, for example, as I sped down the road on my way to an overly swollen river that was much too high and cold for me to catch a fish, I saw a kid who didn’t look old enough to drive the rusty pickup he’d parked on the side of the road. He was fishing in a ditch that sometimes flows alongside the road, and there along his leg—hanging from a shoestring attached to his belt—were four brook trout, each longer than most of the brookies I caught all last season. Of course he was wearing leather boots and a buffalo-plaid flannel shirt.
The other day I was talking with my friend Dave about trout fishing, and Dave, who is a real trout fisherman, offered to show me some of the places he used to fish. “It might be hard for you to fly fish in there,” he said, “but you’ll catch some nice trout if you can do it.” Then he told me how an old trout fisherman once showed him how to catch a limit of trout from an old mine shaft. The shaft would fill with water from a nearby stream called Forbidden Creek—or something like that—when spring runoff or heavy summer rains caused the river to spread over its surrounding plains. When the river retreated and left the shaft filled with water and fish, the old trout fisherman lowered his worm-baited hooks into the shaft and filled his stringer with oversized trout that were going to die in that hole if not by his hand. Without doubt, that old dude was a trout fisherman.
“I bet there are some good trout in Bushwack Ditch,” I overheard someone say the other day to a guy who looked like a trout fisherman, “but I can’t imagine how a person could get in there and catch them.”
“Well, there must be a dozen ways to do it,” the trout fisherman said as he scratched the back of his neck and stared down at a grasshopper that was laying eggs in the gravel between the toes of his leather boots.
“Could you tell me one of those?” the unknowing sap asked.
“No,” the trout fisherman said after an awkward five-second silence. Then he bent down, trapped the grasshopper between his palm and the gravel, pulled a baby-food jar from the breast pocket of his buffalo-plaid flannel shirt, unscrewed the lid and deposited the hopper in among about a half dozen others he had caught earlier in the day. That, right there, was a damn good clue about one of the ways a real trout fisherman could catch a trout in Bushwack Ditch.