On a mid winter day in the late 1990's, in a gravelly riffle of an Eastern Connecticut freestone stream, a tiny brown trout alevin broke out of its egg and entered a very hostile world. He didn't know it, and he never would know it, but his mom and dad had been the toughest of the tough, and their strong genetics would allow him to become the toughest of his many tiny siblings. It was rough life from the start. This alevin, as is the case with every alevin, had nobody to protect him. His survival was up to instincts, a tiny bit of intelligence, and luck.
In June of 1997 a baby boy was born in a small town in western Pennsylvania. He didn't know it, but he would eventually cross paths with the alevin that had been born before him.
14 years later, the once tiny trout had fought through years of the difficult life a wild brown in Connecticut faces. He had survived floods, droughts, deep cold, and extreme heat. He had spawned a time or two, and each time it took a lot out of him. He had already done and seen more than most trout do. But he persevered. His children hatched and live or died. He may even have eaten some of them. He had no knowledge of children or parenting. His brain told him to mate so he did. Right now, he was in eating mode. He held in a slow pocket of water in a deep run, eating every little paraleptophlebia nymph that drifted close enough to make grabbing them nearly effortless. He could not tell, but he was being watched. Sitting up on a rock was the boy, who had moved to Connecticut from Pennsylvania seven years before. He was learning how to fly fish, and right now he was watching the biggest trout he had ever seen. He got his rod into position to make a cast. The trout saw something out of place and quickly ducked for cover with a few hard flicks of the tail. He had just had his first meeting with a human that would spend the next two years tirelessly searching for him. All he knew was that he had to survive and to survive he had to hide at the first sign of predator.
Two years later the big trout had grown more and grown even more weary. He had spawned again, just 60 days before, and was now feeding heavily to regain the weight he would need to survive the winter. Something flashy and red drifted towards him and he analyzed it with his right eye as it approached. He decided it was food and grabbed it.
Standing on a sandbar at the side of the big trout's pool was the boy, now a little older and much more skilled and experienced with a fly rod. The light fiberglass telegraphed a pull and he set the hook. For the next ten or fifteen minutes the trout and the boy were connected. For the boy it was a battle for a trophy, for the fish it was a battle for survival. He had no idea that the boy had no intention of killing him. Their encounter was a brief one. The fish struggled to stay alive, and when released went down to sulk in the murky depths. The event had very little impression on him. After recovering from the battle it was back to life as usual. But it had a big impression on the angler. From that day on he referred to the fish as Grandfather out off reverence.
About four years later, Grandfather was holding deep in the cold, dark stream. His gills worked slowly and his tail undulated just enough to keep him in place. He was old and weak now. He had lived in this stream for more than 20 years. The stream itself was a different place from what it had been when he first hatched. The river had treated him with harsh indifference over the last month as it had his whole life. Massive pieces of ice, dislodged and tumbled by a flood, left their marks on his back and flanks. The wounds weren't severe enough to end him right then and there, but they had taken a toll and he was too old and weak to survive them. There, alone, in the dark winter run, Grandfather took his last breath of clean cold water and slowly drifted downstream.
Today the young man whose last four years had been molded in large part because of that fish, found him, pale and stiff, in the tail of the same pool where he caught him.
At first I was surprised to see my old fish there. I have been hoping for the last two years that whenever Grandfather passed that I would somehow find him. I could tell, without a doubt, that this was him. But he looked so different. He was dead. After so many years, he was dead. I set my rod next to him. He had grown three inches since the day I had caught him, though death may have taken some. I took a couple of photos of him, stood up, and walked to the bank. I sat exactly where I had hopped down do get into casting position four years before, not knowing I was about to catch my first big trout. I thought I was going to be sad, and I am a bit now as I write this. But instead I looked up at the blue January sky and smiled, remembering Grandfather in his prime. He was a beautiful animal. A force to be reckoned with. I glanced back over at the pale carcass and frowned. I pulled my camera out of my backpack and deleted the photos. Grandfather was, to me, the life force of this river and the driving force that pushed me to fish as hard as I could. The day after I caught him I had said I would not fish until the new year. Two days later I realized I couldn't wait. I had to get back out their. I had find the next big fish. I was already obsessed, but this big brown broke me for good. I can't bear for that lifeless body to be the last image of the greatest trout of my home river. So, it isn't.
Here's to you Grandfather. You were a spectacular animal. I will never forget the times our paths crossed. Farewell.