Fishing in Absentee with Mr. Lyons

I’ve been re-reading Spring Creek by Nick Lyons.

Published in 1992, it is a delightful tale recounting a month that Mr. Lyons spent on Spring Creek, angling for trout and learning much about himself. It is exactly the type of book that can easily be stained with smugness and overblown with an author’s air of self-importance. This one is not. It is simply wonderful and the work of a master craftsman who works as hard (or harder) at his writing as he does at his fishing.

I especially enjoy the chapter titled, “Big Fish,” a subject in which I have much interest but little experience. Lyons has caught a few and lost a few and admits that big fish “nibble” at his brain, adding that these are usually the fish that got away. I know how he feels; although in my case “nibble” is an understatement of the first order.

Twenty plus years ago I was fishing another Spring Creek, this one a thousand miles removed of Lyons’ waters but memorable nonetheless for a fish that I didn’t catch. At the point where I was fishing the river is wide and shallow. A long pool rises into an even longer riffle which was and is usually good for a trout or two. There may have been a low head dam here at one time. It’s that kind of rise and break.

This fishing is primarily for trout and smallmouth bass. The bass are natives; the trout arrive via hatchery truck and were fairly easy prey even for my meager spinning skills, this being before I picked up a fly rod.

At one point near the far bank the river sluices into a narrow, twisting channel. It is a challenging area to wade and I rarely approached this rough water if for no other reason than fish could usually be caught in the calmer, easier-to-reach pools. I wasn’t particularly interested in difficult fish. Married and struggling through college, catch-and-release would come later. The fish I caught filled our dinner plates.

Several fishermen were already on the river so I made my way to the head of the sluice water, found some fairly stable footing and flung a Little Cleo spoon up and across the channel and just off the shoulder of the fastest water. The spoon tore through the channel then stopped with such suddenness I first thought it had snagged on one of the moss-covered rocks. I set the hook and the line didn’t budge. Then to my shock it began to inch downstream; slowly and without alarm. Line ticked off the reel, the willow stick like rod bent nearly double. Snags don’t move. My nerves and heart rate both shifted in high gear.

Now, years later, I can recount every detail of that fish fight, right up to the moment when my impatience and inexperience coupled with the power of a mysterious fish I could only imagine combined to defeat me. I never came close to getting a look at the fish. I didn’t think it behaved like a trout but up to that point I had only caught a few trout and never anything of any power or size so how I thought a big fish would behave was only a guess. I later heard that the river had once been stocked with tiger muskellunge and fancied that a muskie had crushed the spoon, although this somehow does not seem likely. I’ve since caught (and lost) thousands of fish. Only a handful have left a lasting impression but none so much as the one lost on the Spring. Why this fish fight remains so vivid is a mystery. But it does and I am thankful.

Lyons ends his “Big Fish” chapter by watching his friend Herb lose a big fish following a protracted fight. Herb doesn’t seem troubled by this. Lyons admits he would have “punched himself silly.”

I know how he feels about that, too.