It's Not the Size of the Fish in the Fight

Posted on February 15, 1999 at 10:47:59:

It's Not the Size of the Fish in the Fight

By John C. Dunlap

Everyone knows or has heard about how exceedingly durable sharks are, but I'll bet few New Englanders realize that there is good competition for this honor down back in the local brook.

Not long ago I was wandering in a Vermont forest with a professional forest manager, inspecting the quality of a recent pulp cut. It was mid-August, and when our work was pretty much done, we paused (frequently) to inspect the quality of the red raspberries. This afforded Alan and me an opportunity to chat and tell stories about our adventures.

I told him my tale about a six foot shark a friend and I had once reeled up against our boat in Hawaii (shark meat is
surprisingly delicious). It had been belly-up dead and tightly noosed at the gills and tail, only to have it --well, explode and disappear, leaving our two nooses suspended in the clear Pacific.

Then he told me his fish story.A couple of years back there had been a bad drought; the field corn had been lousy and there were only two cuts of poor hay. A brook behind Alan's house was giving up an inch a day; every morning when Alan hiked out to inspect it, there were the shadows of the previous day's high water painted on the rocks and boulders, visible only until the sun began to pound the banks and water about 10:00 AM.

The stream, just a 12 foot width of 8,000 year old water, was the home of small native brook trout- black-backed fish, mature at eight inches; Alan did not fish for them.

One morning, when the pool he'd been watching was just ankle-deep, he spotted what looked like a fish tail sticking out from behind a rock; the flow of water from up above had become constricted to what one gets from the kitchen faucet, but it did produce some oxygen, and the trout had found it. Still, it appeared to Alan that if it didn't rain, the pool would be dry within a week; he found a five gallon plastic pail in his garage and began to transfer fish into a river nearby.

This went on for several days, until the brook had been reduced to shallow puddles of warm water, and its flow to a slow drip falling one foot into wet sand. Alan had rescued seven fish, all from a pocket of water under a rock by this remaining trickle. Two had been half buried. That's it, Alan had thought. He'd done what he could.

The drought continued. A few days later he wandered through the starchy hay to the stream bed, wondering if the food chain could ever recover or re-create itself. He was surprised to see that the little trickle of cold water was still dripping onto the sand. He walked over and caught a drop of ice-cold water in his palm -- and then, with just some half-articulated wild-lifer's instinct, dug into the barely moist sand and found, suspended vertically in the sand, a two-inch brook trout with its mouth open, catching each drip as it fell.

Can you imagine fighting a six foot brook trout?


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