Some kind of heavy aura ensnares many in the pursuit of trout. Wild trout are fine creatures with good sense and adaptive behaviors. They are monarchs of natural selection—keenly strategic in their habits of economy. They learn where to be hidden from aerial predation, and they learn hydrologically where to be to conserve their energy. I love trout but North Alabama, and the ‘Bama lifestyle that chose me, as opposed to the other way around, has no place for wild trout to thrive, because of the stagnant heat of the dog days of Summer.
In my hometown of Gadsden, AL there has been a sudden awakening of trout interest. As a school teacher my interest in trout was piqued when a local star high school basketball player came to me in the halls of my school asking me how to catch trout on fly. I was no athlete in high school, despite lettering in golf for four consecutive years, but for some reason the football coach had asked me to film all the varsity football games for teaching purposes. This is where I first met Joe, a budding trout angler. He said to me out of the clear blue: “Mr. Crusha (they never called me coach) did you hear that they stocked Black Creek with about a thousand rainbow trout?” I had heard, but sometimes it is better to let a youth tell you something to build up trust. It never works to let them know that you know that they don’t know shit. “No, I hadn't heard that. Have you been?” I said. “Yeah, I been going but it is pretty tough. I can't figure out how to stick ‘em.” Seventeen-year-old Joe was tall and muscular. While filming their football games I had seen him gracefully score on a hook and ladder pass a time or two, and so it seemed he might have requisite levels of grace, and his desire to make it happen was there, an even more essential ingredient than grace.
But, as life sometimes has it I did not fish with Joe right away. The life of a father, and teacher with four preps interceded, and I simply did not feel I had time for my old passion. At one point in my life I had moved to Wyoming, ostensibly for school, but in all seriousness because I was determined to become a competent angler of trout. I learned to canvass mountain streams for Brookies, and swing streamers for big Browns on the Laramie and North Platte Rivers. It was three years of fishing for trout in ice jig sessions, and fly- casting self taught nymphing sessions for bows and cuts on the Snake River up in Jackson. By the end of my experience, I even mastered the art of taking Yellowstone Cutthroats on big dry salmon-flies. My bug knowledge pales in comparison to some of you out there, but I knew the girdle bug, flashback pheasant tail combo that usually performed well in most places. I could swim a back swimmer prince nymph with the best of them too.
While walking the halls at my school a fellow teacher spoke to me about the trout fishing below Noccalulla Falls. Scott and I had always been cordial in the halls. We would pass and say hello, but normally I stay in my lane at my Christian school. I typically do not want to get to know people well that work there, because I fear that I will be discovered as not being a devout enough Christian. Perhaps this is a reasonable statement to an agnostic, but I am not an agnostic masquerading as a Christian teacher. I might have been at first, but I was actually on the path to firm belief. Scott teaches bible to middle school boys, and is also training to be a pastor.
I did not realize that Scott had been in the service until we went trout fishing together at Noccalulla. He told me he served on the way to the steep trailhead that was a literal rock climb into the gorge. I should have let him go first but in my rush to get to the stream below the 100 foot waterfall, so thrilled to be able to demonstrate the correct way to stick trout, I forgot Scott had been into the gorge before. In fact, he had plenty of knowledge I did not have. He might have assumed that I knew an alternate route, but I chose the wrong path. I led the way around a massive boulder, and in a “hold my beer moment,” I put my rod down. It was a five- and- a- half foot drop to the next boulder, and I could hear others gleefully catching fish below me which is when it happened. In my leap, I slammed against the boulder, and my wrist caught the brunt of the fall. My wrist was broken, a fact I did not realize until a day later.
I was glad Joe had missed my clumsy jump, especially as I yelled, “Fuck,” when I hit. Scott the pastor was really sympathetic and he did not even laugh out loud, which I appreciated. Surprisingly, I still had some fun wearing out hatchery rainbows with a broken left hand. I caught six, but I soon lost interest catching them. It was not because of the crippling pain in my wrist, so much as because all the trout were congregating right by the feeder that the local fishing club had set up below the falls.
It was ridiculous. I had almost killed myself getting into this gorge and I was combat fishing with four others to the same feeder. Why had I done this in the first place? If you go too long without a trout you long for them like a lapsed Christian longs for church during Christmas or Easter. The fish were not the real McCoy however. Their cement box youth was obvious by how they were congregating for fish food.
I have never broken a bone in my whole life. The night I broke my wrist I chaperoned a Christmas formal, and told my administrator that “if I dance, it is a subversive tactic for keeping a better eye on them.” Despite my wrist I was filled with the joy of trout in Gadsden, AL. I did so much dancing that I was sore everywhere else the next day. And when I showed Joe the picture of a trout caught below the falls he even started calling me Coach. The next day I drove myself to the Emergency Room. The trout may never be worth leaps of faith again, but they sure are good at making us feel human.
I decided to take Scott carp fishing after my wrist healed...