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Fishing Down The Blues
by RC Rutherford
Stockpiling Velveeta cheese, Spam and Campbell's soup; we headed to Northern Michigan for a fishing trip. We worked all week in the factories in Detroit. Fishing was the main thing, and; as noted by our food, cooking far from are first interest. Getting away from the city and going fishing like going out with a girl who went all the way. A marvel of life. We had double strength wool suits that looked like we were disco dancers on acid; ruby red background with broad checks of black lines. Visible but obscene. Our skin flinched where we applied astringent Cutter's bug dope. We packed two dozen jars of Uncle Buck's Spawn Bags as if we were smugglers. This bait we hung on hooks to fool trout smelled like three week old garbage. America held us in her arms and Mother Nature filled the rivers with her tears.

"What size test you usin', Johnny?" Lester yelled he had on 20 lb. test.

"That ought to rake them in." Lester's brother Fred said.

We wouldn't hesitate to throw out the old TV and couch, flattened mattresses, exiled kitchen appliances, used tires and whole automobiles, batteries that leaked acid, old paneling, rock hard shoes and misplaced dreams; the list of discarded items goes on endlessly--go see for yourself--down some lonesome two-track. We might stand in front of stringers of fish for a photo; smiling, with absolutely no regard for future generations of fisherman.

"Got two-hundred and seventy of those little suckers. Had to bury most of 'em in the back yard."

Throw our empty fish egg jars along the banks of the river. Precision discard of scapegoat cans and bottles. Right along side the old TV. Our second thoughts would become the screaming cry of our grandchildren.

The contemporary trout fisherman demands cable TV or a VCR. Satellite mounted on the roof of an RV. Gourmet cooking. A sleek 4X4 parked nearby. There's a cased bamboo fly rod. A Parker shotgun and an English Pointer. A bright, warm cabin to come back to after a hard day of catching and releasing trout. He'd have his latest Orvis catalogue. An obedient hound, as this modern day backwoodsmen might be seen, the pliant dog at his feet. A twelve pack of Molson in the fridge. If you looked for his presence in the forest you would not find it. A friend and I shared coffee at a bistro. I said: "Let's take time out to consider what a trip to the wild country really means. One thing for sure, it's not like going to the mall." "I think I like both." He says. "Plastic. Cedar trees are not plastic. America is concerned with regurgitating our wild frontier into Disney World. That's not what the outdoor wild country is about. You have to get out in the middle of wilderness and release yourself. Or be prepared beforehand to accept what the hidden glade, the rolling brook, the shaded grove with a carpet of velvet moss, secrete soul enhancing places in a wild landscape, a lush and overpowering garden of the Gods; found by studying well, a US Forest Service map, trekking miles beyond the normal flummoxed crowd, abandoning reason for the sake of sanity like a snake sheds his skin; has to sell." I could hardly breath. "Like an empty European cathedral on a Thursday morning." I added, in one last gasp of air.

"OK. What are we talking about here? Going trout fishing in a pristine environment, right? Forgetting about our back home city problems, my wife cheating on me, your Jimmy smoking pot, let's head up to the Sixteen Mile Creek, try for some nice Brook Trout.

Then there was the creek behind the house you rented in Livingston, Montana. Billman Creek heads in the Bridger Mountain range some eleven miles west of Livingston. During spring melt off the creek boils as wide as ten feet, normally she's a sedate one to two foot wide brook, run off produces dark brown, deep and lethal water. The creek may rise above its bank, flood the suburban landscape, pulling all sorts of debris towards its destination, the Yellowstone River. I've caught lawn chairs, braziers, shoes, all kinds of litter, barbeque grill, color television set and an ice fishing shanty. At the very end of high water, just before the water begins to clear you can catch two to five pound Brown trout, up from the Yellowstone to spawn, in this small neighborhood trout stream.

He was forty-nine years old. He was a man who decided he needed a drastic change from his confining city job. His confining city life. His wife divorced him several years ago. It took him this long to realize the man she loved had disappeared. He also realized he didn't like the man in himself who had taken his place. He sold his business. Cashed in his assets, said goodbye to a few members of his family and friends and moved to a log cabin on a trout stream in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He went fly fishing for trout every day of that first summer in his backwoods paradise on the Sage, Driggs, Fox and The Blind Sucker rivers. One day, while wading a big river, all alone, miles from anywhere he slipped on a clay bank, became immersed in the strong current, below the surface of the ice cold water and nearly drowned. The experience sobered him. Made him wonder if you could fish all the time. Just you and the woods and the rivers. A great place to be, indeed paradise, yet paradise hollow with out an Eve.

For a quick after work fishing experience you couldn't beat having the Yankee Stadium of trout streams, the Yellowstone River, as a stream that ran through town only a couple of blocks from where you lived. I liked to fish a hole under the I--90 four lane highway overpass, the parking lot lights of the Pamida shopping center lighting the night like a full moon, traffic on the highway made your mind wonder as you cast a Rappala across the rolling hundred foot wide river. Truckers would honk up on the overpass. Joggers asked if they were biting. I caught many a nice Browns at this spot. I usually had to think twice I was catching trout in this abnormal outdoor spot. Felt like fishing for trout down an aisle at the 7--11.

He had a dream last night about getting shot in the head. When he awoke he attributed the dream from spending the whole day fishing Brackett Creek. Where the river flows threw the foothills of the Bangtail Mountains, across the floor of the Shields Valley. He wanted to remember the dream because he was doing a painting of a river cutting through a rocky canyon. The canyon was where, in this dream, he'd been shot. He remembered this: He was cold. Uncontrolled shivering. He could hear the creek clicking past his ear, some kind of bird cawing in the Willow, taste his own metallic blood, wondered why he was bleeding, laying face down at the edge of a creek he was sure he' d just been fishing, I'm freezing because I'm laying in this creek, that damn rancher shot me, all he could see was the wall of the canyon rock, he moved a little, touched the wound on his scalp, feels mighty wet he thought. He noticed how the light reflected off the rock wall. Saw it in such a way as never before, a way he had to paint it. With that azure sky above. Jesus. Why did that guy shoot me? Just then he heard a rasp and file throated voice say:

"Serves you right for trespassing."

"I'm shot." Was about all he could say. He watched the rancher pull the rifle up to his eye. He could see down the hollow tube of the gun. Put his hands over his face. Heard the rancher put a bullet in the chamber. Heard that damn cawing bird again. Thought to himself, what a way to end a good day of trout fishing.

The sly silver full moon lifted above the edge of the landscape. Cast silver shadows on the trail that edged along side of the dark imposing Sturgeon River.

Three o'clock in the morning on a mid June night. Thank you Mr. Moon for allowing me to see so well tonight. I want to test my flies I've tied to match the hatching of the Giant Mayfly, the thanksgiving dinner of every crafty big old Brown trout. The sly silver full moon must inspire this delectable bug. The river is the stage of the theater I must perform on. The water rolls along, green, black and gray in the pearl colored moon light. There is a clacking, hissing noise like brushed against leather. I find my spot and let out line. My hands are shaking. I can hear the slap on water of a big Brown feeding. For once he's not spooked. His gluttony makes him forget to be wary. I load up the line and back cast. Letting the big fluffy dry fly land like the real thing. I wait a second or two. Hear a slurp. Then a tug. The reel whines as the trout steals line. The moon light accentuates a ballet the trout performs on the surface of the water. He eyeballs me. Decides he can take me. Makes a mad dash at my legs. I fell a thunk against my knee. Spin around as the fish shoots upstream behind me. I feel the line snap four seconds later.

George Yantz came to America in Nineteen-forty-one from Germany. He hated European politics. An outdoor man who couldn't be bothered with simple minds, distorted racial opinions, or religious zealousness. He wanted to open a bait and tackle business on a trout stream in America a cousin had written to him about. And this is exactly what George did. Yet he would always remember those last days in Germany. Because he was leaving the Nazis made his departure dangerous. That night in the barn on the French border the SS German Shepard dogs digging frantically at the ground above the secret hiding place. George kept his hand over his wife Hannah's mouth. George heard the dogs rip up a screaming women. Then gun shots further up the road making the soldiers vacate this barn. The vicious dogs whining. How Hannah and George scooted out the back. Down a canal. Across the French border to safety. These memories George wanted to burn. Yet they drove him, sustained him, further into kindness with his knew people in his adopted land. This new sunstruck freedom land. Doing what he knew he must do. Make fisherman happy.

This piece is from a book of poems currently in The Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry competition. RC Rutherford lives with with two dogs in Harbor Springs, MI and can be reached via email to

Copyright 2001 Manitou Publishing Co. & RC Rutherford • All Rights Reserved.

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