June 16, 2013

Allen Afield: Good catch: fishing, books, sports


This year, spring weather has reminded me of April through June of my sophomore year in high school -- rain and unseasonable cold punctuated by short, infrequent warm spells. As of this writing we have had the same meteorological menu.

When school ended that spring before my junior year, I was a precocious young teen looking toward summer baseball, fishing and reading, and late July and August blueberry raking to save money for school clothes and other needs.

That spring and summer I was a center fielder in a Babe Ruth league for boys my age and also a first baseman for the Windsor men's town team. I participated in four or five games per week, mostly evenings except for Sunday doubleheaders, but that left plenty of time for fishing -- and fish I did -- mostly hoofing it to waters in Somerville and Windsor.

Much of my fishing occurred with a neighbor and cousin, David French. We hit the Sheepscot River, mostly the deadwater upstream of downtown Somerville. We also fished French's Mill Pond and Lovejoy Stream that flowed through it. David lived on a high bank above the pond, so that was his home water.

We talked trout but often targeted pickerel, underscoring a June day in my life, fishing for this toothy critter in a pool below falls on the stream:

The sunny morning began unseasonably cold with hard gales. While we rowed up the pond to a faint path along the stream, squalls pushed the boat around. Once off the water, though, the forest partially blocked wind, which made casting into the pool easier.

Back then the falls looked like a photo on a sports-fishing calendar, and in fact a historical map of ancient Atlantic salmon runs on the continent showed that this lordly king once used little Lovejoy Stream for spawning. However, two dams had relegated the water to chain pickerel and lowly yellow perch, and that's what we caught that day -- yellow perch.

Pickerel weren't home in the pool, but yellow perch took lures like brookies and fought like trout, too. We didn't eat this perch, so that was the first time I had ever caught and released fish, and it felt good.

The experience of fast action in a remote, aesthetic setting made the day a lifetime memory that keeps on giving, but David's mother, Rosie, offered the second part of the day's underscore.

Rosie was a sweet soul and in a good-natured way she gently scolded us for catching and releasing yellow perch, the kind of reprimand that didn't make us feel badly about ourselves.

In those days, catch and release was a foreign concept in rural Maine, so if Rosie had said anything other than intimating that we should eat what we caught, then her words would have shocked me. She was an angler herself.

When I started living the catch-and-release life five years later, adults -- mostly men -- complained bitterly to me about the practice, but I was blessed or damned with a caustic wit that kept criticism at bay.

My C&R ethic began that day on the idyllic perch pool. Now an ugly power line crosses the falls, and dam removal drained French's Mill Pond. Salmon never returned up the stream, either. Yes, you can't go home again.

I had already discovered Ernest Hemingway and D.H. Lawrence. Hemingway's "In Our Time" enthralled me with stories about youngsters fishing, hunting and reading as I had, and Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" attracted me for sex scenes. That summer before my junior year, I read Lawrence's "The Rainbow," which romanticized rural culture.

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