Tom Bonville

Trout Fishing at Ten-Mile Creek

A certain kind of peace by the water, a God-given peace, a sense of urgency, too —

Early morning in the middle of April, the mountain-creek renewed with vigor,
the stream swollen, the snow-melt in full force, the water fresh and free,
Ten-Mile Creek, rushing downstream, the trout,hungry, feeding —

I take him to the best place to fish, five miles south of town, the two of us,
walking across posted property, permission secured,
to reach the spot I know better than anyone,
the satisfaction of going fishing for trout with my son,
soon in his waders, ankle deep into the cold water, his enthusiasm guiding him
closer to a hole that pools deep where the bank has eroded under the roots of an old locust tree,
the sound and swirl of the stream a promising prospect to a boy ready to fish.

I watch him cast his line the way I taught him, smooth as a pendulum measuring time,
a rhythm between arm and pole, all in the same motion.
The hook settles down above the spot where he wants the bait to go,
now he is one with the creek, in his waders, as he lets the swirling water take his line into the current,
my voice a soft shout away, urging him to be patient and stay alert.
“It won’t take long,” I tell him.

I poke at the camp fire, shaking the embers, the flames jumping to life, ready for cooking,
the coffee starting to percolate, a breakfast soon to be prepared like many times before —
diced potatoes, scrambled eggs and, soon to be, a brook trout to eat, fried in a pan of butter,
the fat sizzling at the bottom of the pan.

I sip from my tin mug full of coffee, content with the morning,
and I suddenly hear the cry of my son’s voice.
He’s excited, he has hooked a fish.
I see my son, each muscle in his body alive,
stepping forward, deeper into the water, just below his knees.
He ignores the cold, goes with the fish, works the fish,
my son, drawn farther downstream, fighting the fish.
He knows when to stop and pull, when to give the fish no more of his line,
when to brace himself and reel in his line,
raising his pole, keeping the line taut,
walking his catch to where he wants it to go,
keeping the fish in sight.

I see the splash, the trout battling, it’s a big one, for sure,
larger than any I have seen in a long time. My pulse quickens,
watching my son do what he loves to do. He takes the fish back and forth,
the pole bending, the line not yielding, my son’s skill not allowing the trout to go
where it wants to go, to weave between some big rocks,
or into a tangle of fallen, submerged branches,
recently down from the ravishes of a long winter,
now an obstacle where the line can be snagged, snapped,
the battle lost, the fish, victorious.

Instead, the struggle continues, my son showing he has the strength to prevail,
heaving his pole, winding the reel to bring his catch to the shoreline.
A few minutes go by, then it is done, my son walks to a gravel bar, laughs triumphantly.

“Look. Daddy!” he exclaims, turning to me, lifting with all his might the fish by its gills,
the hook through the bottom lip, the trout still thrashing desperately, nearly pulling my son down,
the fish’s breathing soon becoming more elusive, eyes, darker,
the life of the fish being taken away, kept out of the water.

My son can’t stop smiling, his mouth open, two front teeth missing.
I want to keep this moment forever, bottle it in my mind, cork it for safe keeping,
for those years when I will need something more to remember than just a fish.

“It’s a beauty, son,” I tell him, seeing that it is a brook trout, over twenty inches,
a real prize. “I couldn’t have done it any better myself.”

His joy is all I need to see, his pleasure only grows in the satisfaction of pleasing me,
as he looks from the fish to me, back to the fish, looks over his shoulder to the creek,
as if he can’t quite believe what he has just taken from the water,
the fish losing the struggle for life with each second out of the water,
as surely as the stream’s current rushes downstream to meet the river, to flow to the sea.
The trout’s time has come to an end, a life well spent,
the spring sun sending shafts of light, slipping through a cathedral of trees
along both sides of the creek, still to soon for the branches to have leaves,
but soon enough, each tree to bloom in the Helderberg Hills
that always have been, always will be, one way or another, my home.

I stir the flames of the fire again, I see the bark of the wood curling, small flames jumping for air,
each flame ready to lick the side of the pan that will hold the trout,
cook the trout, the wood crackling and popping, burning hot, ready.

“Are you hungry for breakfast, son?” I ask him.

“Yes, Daddy,” he answers.
“Are we going to eat my fish?”

“The fire is good now,” I tell him, pointing to the embers, white under smoky ash,
“Bring your catch here.”

My son looks at his fish, thinks something to himself, keeps it private,
then brings the trout to me.

“Show me how to get the fish ready to eat, Daddy,” he says. “I want to learn how to do it.”

“You kill it like this,” I explain to him, my arm aiming for the back of the brookie’s head,
the rock I have picked up, blunt and heavy in my hand, raised above my shoulder, poised
to do its work.

“Never let the fish suffer,” I tell my son. “Be firm, do the job fast, strike the fish true,
hit it once and that should be enough. Do it right, and the fish won’t suffer.”

I bring the rock down hard on the back of the fish’s head, and the task is done.
The fish is stillness gone to sleep. Its struggles are no more.

“Now let me show you how to gut the fish, how to clean it, so we can eat if for breakfast.”

We move over to the side of the creek, my one hand holding the fish, belly up,
my other hand holding my knife, blade down, just above the flesh, the fish draped over the water.
My son has come closer, he leans over my shoulder, watching intently,
curious to know what comes next, something he has never seen before,
his curiosity a thing of great human beauty, of sustenance.