Three Rainbows on a Stringer
Early on, in the first years of the unfolding 1980’s, when my world was simple and plain and lean, I recall walking up on this older guy at the edge of the creek using corn as bait. It was opening day of the trout season in Pennsylvania. Back then that was a big day. For me, for a lot of kids. And for a lot of adults too, mostly men. There were some women who fished it/ in their thigh high rubber hip boots and camo ball caps over a their puff of hair sticking out/ no makeup/ but mostly it was men. Fathers and sons. Lone wolves. Half drunk guys and straight arrows all crowded in next to each other on a muddy, slick bank trying to catch hatchery trout raised on pellet food by the state in concrete troughs as long as a football field.
Grizzled vets fished the same deep hole under still frog water every year. I don’t even know if they ever left. Maybe they just lived there at that warm water creek where trout could only survive for a month or so, or until someone fooled them with a ripped-in-half 7-11 nightcrawler chunk or a mini-marshmallow and they ended up dead. Which was the sole reason, according to man’s master plan, that these luckless fish had ever been born in the first place.
This guy I walked up on was smoking a cigarette and he had a little fire going because it was cold. The open fire was a novelty for me. No one had open fires where I lived in the Philly suburbs. You weren’t allowed. Generations of families had come and gone without ever standing together around a bunch of burning brush. The acrid power of last night’s campfire in your hair the next morning: that only existed for a select few of the people I grew up around; my people, if you will. My people went trout fishing on opening day and maybe deer hunting at a camp in the Poconos or up north in Potter County. There and only there then, could they bathe their pale white flab in the ancient fire smoke like the Native Americans and the pioneers had once done. But other than that, we never stared into the depths of any little fires for warmth or for anything really.
Except on the rarest exception of days. Like this one. Like this opening day of the 1979 trout season or whatever year it was.
He had a metal stringer tied to a stick that he had stuck in the half-frozen dirt, this fellow did. A stringer in the water was a beckoning call/ a lighthouse for curious kids like me who wandered the crowded banks shivering sweaty under all my layers, back deep in my Kmart insulated underwear. The stringer was a cheap metal chain and every few inches there was a small metal locking hook, usually 8 or 10 hooks in all. The hooks were for fish. For trout. Once caught, the hook was unlocked with a simple pinch of the fingers, the metal clasp run through the opening of one side of the gills of the fish, and then re-clamped so that the fish was unable to escape. Then, the stringer was placed in the water so the fish could survive/ stay fresh/ understand that the jig was finally up.