Somebody asked if I have a good fish story to wind up this open-water season, and my ready reply was: I do, indeed, and I'm glad you asked. One spring I gets a call on the old crank-magneto telephone, and I moves the household effects out of the way so's I can say hello, and it's this big shot from New York City. And he says, "I want to go fishing up in Maine, and where's a good place?"
I asked after the wife and family, and then I says, "Do you want to come now or after the ice goes out?" Then I tells him if he'll keep his shirt on, he'll get a pamphlet in a few days from Perchrod Newcomb, who owns Neckseebah Recreation Center at Sidesaddle Lake. Sidesaddle is famous, I told him, for Salvelinis fontinalis, and Perchrod is famous for his trout chowders, although, I said, in fairness I think I make a better one.
I told him trout fishing at Sidesaddle Lake is tiring, because while you cast with one hand, you have to keep an oar in the other to fend off trout that try to jump into the boat. So this rich guy from New York signs up for a week at Neckseebah Rec Center, and I forgot the whole thing as I went back to rolling the quarters I was making for the several banks on my extensive list.
I heard no more about it until July, when my phone rang again. It was this same joker from New York. He was at Neckseebah, and he was distraught with woe. He shouts, "Where's the fish?"
I says, "Where's what fish?"
He says "The fish in Sidesaddle Lake! You conned me into coming here, and I've fished hard every day, all day, and I haven't seen a thing!"
In soothing tones I tried to console him. "That's typical of trout," I said. "This time of year, they go into prenatal estivation and make their nests for the babies that come in October."
He says, "That's what Perchpole told me!" He says he's fished up, down, and crisscrossed, and his tongue hangs out for a trout. So to make him happy I says, "Tell you what. I'm gonna drop everything and come up to Sidesaddle Pond and show you how to catch trout. Hang in there. I'll be in for supper."
On my way, when I came to Farmington, I stopped and went into the hardware store where Bob McCleary presided. Bob had fished every wet place in Maine except the horse-drinking fountain at Farmington Fair.
"Bob," I said, "I hear Sidesaddle Pond don't yield. Where should I find a trout for breakfast?"
Bob says, "I don't divulge information like that less'n you buy somethin'."
I said I would take three sheets of double-ought sandpaper.
Bob said, "What is they at Sidesaddle pond that needs sanding?"
I said, "They must be something."
Bob says, "You want 'em gift-wrapped?"
"No," I said, "I'll eat 'em here."
So Bob says, "Everybody thinks you have to cross the pond to find fish, but one of the sweetest little rain-bar'l spring holes in the state is snug to the boat landing. Go 50 feet west, and there's a clump of white pond lilies, if they ain't picked 'em. Look for bubbles. It's a deep spring hole, and they like a silver doctor in July. Dry. Set in toward the shore and cast out. Leader and 10 feet; no more. Happy hunting! Hey! You forgot your sandpaper!"
Well, I set around the lodge that evening swapping veracities with Perchrod. Come bedtime I told the New Yorker I'd roust him out early and I turned in.
Next morning, I went into his bedroom and knocked on his forehead. He wanted to know what I thought I was doing, and I told him if he wanted a trout for breakfast, he had to catch one first. He said it wasn't morning yet and he wanted to go back to sleep. I said I had the boat ready and his rod set up, and Perchrod was warming the frypan.
So I got him in the boat, being careful to wipe the dew off on his thwart, and we found things just as Bob McCleary had told me. The New Yorker was cross as two sticks and said that as soon as I put him ashore he was heading back to civilization.
But we found the pond lilies, and then the little bubbles coming up from the spring hole, and I swung the boat so we were inshore. It warn't really daylight yet, but we could see the little puffs of vapor where the bubbles busted in the good State-of-Maine sunrise-fresh air.
The New Yorker kept saying, "So where's them trout?" So I says, "Now, you old grouch, I want you to do just what I tell you to do! You put that fly two feet, one-and-a-half inches abaft the next bubble that steams, and I'll have the net ready!"
So he done so, and I done so. Just about three inches before his silver doctor hit the drink, a vicious trout met it coming down, and I had a raving madman on my hands, running around inside the boat and shouting like the storming of the Bastille, and I had to trip him and sit on him.
We took 10 altogether, one apiece for us at breakfast and the rest for a supper chowder. I dressed 'em out at the landing and found some moss. I laid 'em on a cedar shingle I found in the dingle, and they was some old pretty when Perchrod paraded 'em around the dining room, shouting, "I told you a good fisherman could find fish!"
Which made me feel good, but I do want credit to go where credit is due. If you want a trout chowder in July nesting time in Maine, it's well to have a friend named Bob who sells hardware in Farmington.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society