“The greatest of human discoveries in the future will be the discovery of human intimacy with all those other modes of being that live with us on this planet, inspire our art and literature, reveal that numinous world whence all things come into being, and with which we exchange the very substance of life.” (Thomas Berry, “The Extractive Economy,” in The Great Work, p.149).
“And then one day you find ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.” Pink Floyd’s Time lyrics continuously reverberated against the walls of my mind as I stepped into the cold water of the Battenkill River for the first time in my life. Wow, had it really been ten years since I last entered a trout stream? Where in the hell did that decade go? It truly sucks being too busy to even stop and go trout fishing at least a few times a year. The reality of it all hit me in the head like a baseball bat. I knew I was way behind and had to catch up for lost ground. I mentioned this to Adriano, and I sensed his mild shock from my statement. I can only imagine he thought I was crazy for not going fly fishing for trout in such a long time. It was my own stupidity for not making the time like I should. After all, I had made time for all my other types of fishing during that time. That’s okay. I knew the other side of 50 would soon become rich with teaching all those children to fly fish like my granddaddy did for me when I was a kid. All of those future eco-contemplative fly fishing experiences would surely allow me to catch up in plenty of time.
It was the end of June. The water was already at its normal summertime low, as the winter and spring droughts took its toll on the river’s depth. Its slow movement felt more like the middle of August. The flow was slow, and the fish were dimpling in the evening light. The bug hatch was sparse. Some kind of light tan midge was coming off the stream. Lazy rolls were appearing at times, indicating lethargic actions. Occasionally, a bigger fish would boil in the fast-moving currents just out of reach for a cast. Adriano suggested a beetle with a bright indicator riding on its back. I agreed as a summertime terrestrial pattern would certainly shake the rust off of my negligent absence of trout foraging.
Moving into position, the middle of the stream dropped off quickly. The depth of the clear pool was well over my head. I wondered how many brown and rainbow monsters were lying at its bottom. Stripping out some fly line, I false casted upstream and over from my wading position. The rust was definitely evident, as tailing loops quickly formed on my forward casts. Watching the beetle ride the waves, I anticipated a strike and it suddenly came. I quickly lifted up as if I was still setting the hook of a 1/0 Dahlberg Diver into a largemouth bass back home. Wholly cow! Not only was that hook set way too fast, but also way too powerful. If that trout would have been hooked, I can only imagine him flying past my ear like a flying squirrel leaping to the next tree branch. Slow down, Eric, I kept telling myself. During the last hour’s light of the evening, my bumbling attempts to catch a trout would continue like this as I constantly missed the takes. Thank God the rust was beginning to come off. On the last take, I set more deliberately, and half-hooked the trout, as he briefly showed himself for the first time. It was a decent brown. Frustrated about my poor showing to my new fly fishing buddy for the first time, Adriano and I went back to his home with my tail tucked between my legs. I was so thankful for his patience. He promised me another spot on the Battenkill at daybreak.
Daybreak came. Adriano and I were standing in a beautiful clear run just downstream from an old bridge at a sharp bend in the road. The morning traffic along the country road was busy, as everyone seemed to be hurrying off to their jobs. I thanked God above for giving me and my wife, Michele, the time to spend quality time together with my new artist friend and his lovely wife, Teresa. In my mind, I kept looking back at those incredible artistic creations I had seen the day and night before in his art studios. In my head, I kept saying to myself, Adriano, your artistic talent is truly angelic. How in the hell do you paint water like that, as if you can see through the depths of its soul? And the mist rising above it all in the dawn air; wow how you breathe life into your painting. How in the world can you create that on a flat piece of canvas? And how do you capture the elk in his majestic stance in his meadow as the fog lifts? I just don’t understand how you do it, Adriano. I want too though. Then, I remembered him saying the night before that it simply was a paint-by-numbers game. Yeah, right. I just hoped I had said all the right things when I was interviewed on camera about how is amazing fly fishing work would inspire my own dissertation work for the children I would eventually teach fly fishing to for the rest of my life’s work.
I smiled in remembrance as I watched Adriano cast his beautiful Japanese fly rod and tan elk hair caddis into the riffled run. His casts seemed to mimic his flowing brush strokes. I could tell he was definitely in the zone and in love with his beloved Battenkill. He was a true gentleman fly fishing host. All morning long, he always gave me the best spot. I could tell he really wanted me to catch my first Battenkill trout. But they were not cooperating for me or him on this glorious morning. Suddenly, a 20-plus inch brown trout leapt at least three feet into the air in front of us. In mid-air, he grabbed a huge bug in flight in the very pool we were fishing; laughing his ass off at us as he dove back in. He knew we would never fool him this morning. After Adriano and I got our fill of that trout showing off in front of us, we decided to take off to the next stretch downriver.
Conversations were always on a high note with me and Adriano, as he continued teaching me the lay of the land stretching out across New York’s Taconic Mountains. Every stretch of the Battenkill had a name associated with past fly fishing giants fishing its stretches a generation or two ahead of me. I suddenly realized I was in fly fishing holy water with the likes of Mr. and Ms. Lee and Joan Wulff, and I wanted even more to feel the tug of one of its piscatorial beauties with all my heart and soul. I also knew I would have to be patient on this highly technical river now running low and clear. At the next stop, we began walking through a long meadow saturated with morning dew. The humid air was so heavy; you could cut it with a knife. Adriano told me the surrounding land was owned by a friend of his, and there were hundreds of acres of it. The tall bright green grass stretched high up above my shoulders. A narrow path had been recently cut by a mower. Its lush green intensity mesmerized and surrounded me as its outstretched wet arms kept brushing against my fly fishing vest. I kept looking for grass hoppers, but never saw any. I mentioned to Adriano that perhaps a hopper pattern might work. He shook his head in agreement. Suddenly, we took a sharp right turn, hiked down a short bank strewn with tree roots and made our way down to a beautiful run along a rocky shoal. I could tell Adriano was disappointed by the sound of his voice explaining to me that the run was now too shallow where he had caught many trout in days gone by. The low water was taking its toll on many of his favorite spots. We gave it a shot for a half an hour anyway. Neither one of us could get a rise. We started walking downstream further. I told Adriano I was beginning to feel a bit weak. This was my own stupidity, as I foolishly had not eaten any breakfast before we left. We decided to hold off and headed back towards the car for some breakfast and much-needed coffee.
Halfway back, I noticed a large dead maple tree long ago blown down on the other side of the river disintegrating into a deep dark hole. I became entranced as I watched the slow deliberate movement of the river. Its watery flow meandered into a tree-lined eddy and a large circular whirlpool lazily formed just in front of the downed tree before slowly sinking forward into its dead branches. Suddenly, a thought came over me. It was time for me to go deep. I asked Adriano if we could stop here for a few more minutes to try around the dead tree. He smiled at me and could tell I was feeling better and knew I was not ready to quit quite yet. He made his way downstream near the old tree while I moved upriver in front of it. I switched out my tan elk hair caddis pattern for a size 2 big black and brown brass cone-head wooly bugger. After tying it on, I cast out into the moving water in front of me and began dead drifting the big sinking streamer downstream towards the whirlpool, laying out as much free line as I could to get it to sink deep down into the hole. I began short-stripping the bugger back towards me against the current when suddenly, I got a powerful strike. It was much stronger than any I had the night before. I set the hook and my line quickly went tight. I yelled over to Adriano that I had one on. He told me to play him slowly and let him run if he needed. I think he could tell from the bend of my silky 4-weight fly rod that I had a sizable fish hooked up. He made four strong runs towards the old tree, but I slowly gained ground each time I turned him. On the third pulsating run, he quickly came up to the surface in front of me and shook his old head trying to shake out the fly. Seeing him for the first time, I knew it was a big brown trout. His brown and red spots and golden hues were unmistakable. After a good five minute battle, he was finally played out. I did not have a landing net, but he was hooked solid, not going anywhere. I slowly made my way over to a shallower part of the river, sat down on a boulder, and led my first 16-inch plus brown trout of the trip into my outstretched free hand. He was now mine.
Adriano smiled from ear to ear as he walked up closer to me, acknowledging his handiwork as a first-class guide. I smiled back in total agreement. Now it was time for breakfast and a cup of coffee.
The following evening, upon my request we went back to the spot I had struck out on the first night. I hated getting skunked when I had at least half a dozen strikes on the stretch, so it was time to get a second chance. When we got there, the river was crowded with a family swimming in the pool I started out on and some young teenagers hung out upriver around the bridge crossing the road. Not liking crowds, Adriano worked his way downstream as I hardheadedly stayed my ground across the river from the family. They soon left, leaving me the stretch all to myself. I tied on the same beetle pattern from the night before, and worked the same pool and stretches. After about 30 minutes, I finally got a strike and quickly played in a small brown trout about half the size of my first one. I was getting my trout finesse back, and it felt good. I looked downstream and began watching Adriano fish a new stretch. He caught several trout before heading back my way. We were both satisfied driving back to the farmhouse.
The last morning of the trip, Adriano took me to Georgie’s Hole. This stretch of the Battenkill was full of charm. I think this stretch was one of Adriano’s favorites, as I sensed he was saving the best for last. River homes clutched lovingly by her side. She flowed strong and pure through a mature forest of spruce and maple. We made our way downstream to a sharp bend in the river, walking out onto an open gravel bar. The morning reminded me of Adriano’s paintings. It was perfect. I could tell he was glad he brought his 35mm camera to take some pictures for his future work. He suggested I tie on my black and brown wooly bugger. I took his suggestion, tied on my fly, and walked over to where he said I should start. There was a strong run moving from left to right in front of me. Between the run and me was a steep drop off. I could only go so far. On the other side of the run, a nice fish kept boiling in the same spot. I laid out some line and double hauled a cast upstream from where the fish was rising. No luck. I tried again and again, but no luck. On the fifth cast, I finally felt my line go tight. Momentarily, I thought I had snagged the bottom, until I began feeling the bottom move. This tug felt even stronger than the first brown trout a couple of mornings ago. He bent my rod double, as he surged his way upstream against the current. I sensed Adriano was witnessing it all unfold. Sure enough, when I looked back, he was watching me fight the fish. The fish did not give up. He was full of fight, and so was I. We were at a stalemate for several minutes as he laid low in a hole shaking his head to get free. I gave him nothing, as I kept a tight line against his jaw. Finally, I felt him move to try another escape tactic. He lunged forward out of the pool and across the river. I could see where he was headed, as a log laid buried under the far bank. This was a now-or-never moment. Trusting my knot and a 6x tippet, I pulled back against him with more force to slow his run. I stopped him several feet shy of the log and began turning him towards me. He ran three more times in circles up and down the river. Finally, I felt his tired weight. I stripped him in as he obediently came to my outstretched hand. This 18-plus inch majestic brown trout had completed my trip. Not only did Michele and I have new life-long friends in Adriano and Teresa, but the Battenkill Beauty was now forever in my soul. I hope to go restore that part of my soul one day again soon, with my fly fishing friend and one hell-of-an-artist, Adriano. Thanks dear friend, you are priceless!