I was fishing what we called the “Nursing Home Hole” of the Farmington River in New Boston in early spring of 1972. My father’s fishing buddy, Barbara, was with me as we worked this large, wide and deep spot in the river. I don’t recall where my Dad was…upstream? Working at Milhenders and thus not even present?
Barbara was a friend of my mother’s. Both women were nurses, and it was my mother who introduced Barbara to my father as a potential fishing partner: I’ve seen a handful of pictures of my mother fishing with my father….they all predate the birth of my oldest sibling, and Mom didn’t look happy in any of them.
Barbara, on the other hand was a serious outdoorsman. Dad just fished, his way, Mepps spinners…retrieved about as fast as he could crank his Mitchell 300 and in streams exclusively. Barbara was an angler, much more flexible and creative in her methods and range of waters frequented. She was also a trapper, and a hunter. I remember the only time our phone ever rang before 7 am on a school day: My mother answered and Barbara told her excitedly of the large buck she’d taken just at sunrise. Mom faintly praised her success, and then kinda shrugged as she passed the phone to me so that Barbara could repeat her news to a more interested and excitable audience. Anyway….
Barbara was slightly upstream of me and a little closer to the main pool. I was trying to reach the center seam of the flow with my discount-store fly rod and not having much success. I can still see everything from that moment over 50 years ago, as clearly as the scene outside my window as I write: The grey and white marabou streamer I was dragging clumsily back into the shallows was suddenly attacked by a small trout of perhaps nine inches. The fish emerged from behind the rock Barbara was standing on, hit the streamer firmly without hooking itself, then turned hard left and headed out to the depths of the Nursing Home Hole, never to be seen again.
Barbara hadn’t seen the strike, but seemed to believe my breathless account. She also sensed somehow that I felt as if a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity had just slipped my grasp. I was a 10 year-old boy who had fished an entire season with Barbara and my father without detecting a strike, let alone catching a trout. Frustrated? I was close to tears.
“Walter, there will be many other fish. Thousands of them. Don’t forget this one: what you did right, and what you may have done wrong. You’ll figure it out.”
I’d begun participating in organized sports two years prior. I played soccer, basketball and baseball right up through my senior year in high school. I can’t recall the contents of a single pep talk from any of the coaches I’ve had.
I’ll never forget what Barbara said to me that morning, or how much better it made me feel, like I was just starting out on wonderful journey.
Turns out, she was right.