The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Opening Day of Trout Season

By Bob Heafner © 1984-2012

Issue: April, 1984

Caleb sat on his front steps twisting wire around a couple of small feathers and a fish hook. He was big on experimenting with new flys. He designed them himself, calculating the psychology of a fish mind.

Henry walked by with a bucket and shovel in his hands. Henry just as firmly believed in strictly using live bait for fishing. While Caleb thought the trout must have a gourmet appetite and would strike at something new, Henry believed that fish knew what they had always eat and liked and would continue to do so forever.

Live bait versus fly fishing was only one of the things Caleb and Henry disagreed on about fishing.

Caleb believed in luck and wouldn’t ever go fishing without his lucky fish hook stuck in the brim of his hat. Through the years he must have had a dozen different fishing hats, but on every one of them that fish hook was placed in a spot of honor. He had that fish hook since he was a child. It was with that very hook that he had caught “Old Sam”, the biggest, smartest trout ever pulled out of Big Creek, when he was only 12 years old. Grown men had cried because they had spent years trying to catch “Old Sam” and a young upstart of a boy caught him instead. Of course all the local men folk claimed it was “sheer luck”, so Caleb believed them and attributed the catch to his lucky hook.

Henry took a more practical approach to fishing. He studied the weather, whether the creeks were high or low, and so on. He even graded the size worms. If they were too big or too little, he didn’t think the fish would bite as fast.

Now as to which man was the better fisherman, both used a different approach. Both had more than 50 years of experience. You guessed right if you guessed that if it were all tallied up, Caleb and Henry’s catches were about equal through the years.

The opening day of trout season was one of the biggest days of the year for both of them, and tomorrow would be opening day. Caleb was to meet Henry in the forks of the road a little before sunup. Trout season didn’t open till noon but they always walked into their favorite fishing spot, deep in the woods. The streams along the roads would be elbow to elbow with amateurs but where they went; they were always alone in peace and quiet. They always carried a lunch basket and something to drink. For some reason, fishing sure could make a man thirsty.

Dawn was just beginning to break when Caleb and Henry met the next morning. “Caleb, I don’t think we ought to go to that same spot this year.”

“Just why not? We always catch the limit there.”

“I been thinking and its been a bad year for that creek. Got a beaver dam on it now.”

“It’s just a little dam. That creeks running just as good as ever. If anything, there ought to be deeper holes for bigger fish.”

“Nope, Caleb, I say all the trout will have moved on. Fish don’t like activity. They like to be left alone.”

“Gol-dang it, Henry. That spot’s lucky and I aim to fish there. Where did you think you would get me to run off to?”

“Since you’re so all powering het up about the old fishing hole, I don’t think I’ll even tell you. I’ll say it’s bound to have more fish in it. I been studying it.”

“You study fish more than you catch them!”

“Caleb, that did it. You just go to your fishing hole and I’ll go to mine, and we’ll meet back here around 5:00 this afternoon and just see who caught what. I’m telling you, you’ll be lucky to catch a cold at the old spot. I’ll show you scientific fishing this time!”

“What you’ll show me is a empty line. Remember, I’m the one that caught ‘Old Sam’.”

“That was 50 years ago. Looks like you’d be tired of that fish story yourself by now. I know I am.”

“Well, all right. We’ll just see who’s the best fisherman. Just to make it interesting, you wouldn’t want to put up a little bet on it, would you?”

“Caleb, you know I’m not a betting man, but I’d put up my new recliner chair you envy so much against whatever you wanted to offer.”

“O.K. I’ll put that new garden tiller of mine, seeing’s how you’re too cheap to buy one.”

As they shook hands and walked away in different directions to separate fishing holes, Caleb yelled back, “I’m going to enjoy that recliner.”

Caleb went on to the old fishing hole. He sat there the better part of the day, trying everything in his tackle box, but with no luck. As much as he hated to admit it, Henry might have been right this time. Caleb was getting desperate. He would rather give up his new tiller outright than admit Henry had been right. He slowly packed up his gear and left early. His heart just wasn’t into fishing anymore that day. It just wasn’t the same without the companionship of his old friend Henry either. Not that he would admit it to Henry, of course.

Meanwhile, Henry wasn’t doing so great himself. He hadn’t caught a thing either and kept having visions of Caleb sitting at the old fishing hole, pulling in one trout after another. “I’ll never live this one down. If Caleb caught anything at all, he’ll have me beat. I’ll never hear the end of this one.” Henry too, packed up and left early. As he was walking back, he came up on 11 year old, Jimmy Smith. Jimmy had a line with two of the prettiest brook trout on it Henry had ever seen. They were so close to the same size, they could have been twins.

An idea dawned in Henry’s head. “I could buy one of those trout off Jimmy and I at least wouldn’t have to be ridiculed by Caleb for not catching anything. No, that’s dishonest. I couldn’t do that.” But even as he was thinking this moral thought in his head, his mouth was asking Jimmy how much he would take for one of ‘em.

It cost Henry $5.00, but he walked away richer by one trout and a lot of pride.

Jimmy continued down the road towards home and passed Caleb going the opposite direction. Jimmy was already passed him when Caleb’s eyes brightened, “Hey Jimmy. Come back here.”

Henry was already waiting at the forks of the road when Caleb walked up. Practically at the same time, both men held up their “catch”.

“Well, Henry. Looks like we both got ourselves a nice one. Got anymore?”

“Nope. This beauty is all. After I caught it, I just threw the rest back. How about you?”

“Naw, I did the same thing. One fish this size is more’n I can eat. Thought I’d leave the rest for the other fishermen.”

“Right off hand, I’d say we’s about even, wouldn’t you?”

“I guess so Henry. Maybe I’ll try your fishing spot next time. I missed your fried chicken.”

“That’s all right, Caleb, it looks like the old hole is still good for some big ones.”

“What you say we go back to my place and cook ourselves up a mess of fish?”

“Sounds good to me, Caleb. I’m powerful hungry.”

Caleb and Henry had just sat down at the table to enjoy their fish dinner when there was a knock at the door.

Caleb went to the door and there stood Jimmy Smith. Before Caleb could shoo Jimmy outside, Jimmy walked into the room. “Howdy, Mr. Henry. My Pa sent me over here because I did an unfair thing. He says I ought to give Mr. Caleb back $5.00 of his money because I charged him $10.00 for the fish I sold him but didn’t charge you but $5.00 for the one you bought.”

Caleb and Henry looked at each other and both broke out in a fit of laughter that just about bent them both double. Jimmy didn’t know what to think.

Caleb said, “Well, we might as well sit down and enjoy this fish dinner. It’s probably the most expensive one either one of us will ever eat. And next year, Henry, I think we’d better both go fishing together - just to keep us honest!”