Even though it happened more than four decades ago, I still remember vividly the day I caught my first trout.
I was about 11 years old and somehow had managed to convince my mother to take me to a nearby stream for the opening day of trout season. Back then, the season started at 5 a.m., but my mother saw no need for me to be there quite that early. As I recall, she dropped me off around 7 that morning with specific instructions regarding when and where she would pick me up later in the afternoon.
I shivered as I made my first few casts, partly from the chilly air of that April morning and partly from the anticipation of the moment. As I watched my line drift along with the sparkling currents, I was certain one of the speckled beauties that were surely hiding there would grab my bait any second now. I'm not sure where all that optimism came from, but I would need all I could muster as things turned out, because I fished the entire day without a single bite.
Less than a half hour of fishing time remained as I approached yet another pool on the little stream. I impaled a fresh garden worm on my hook, flipped the bait into the water, and allowed the current to carry the offering beneath the undercut bank across from me. As I held the line between the fingers of my left hand, I felt three sharp tugs that went through me like an electric shock. A bite, at last.
Taking a deep breath, I reared back with my rod tip to set the hook, but I brought back only an empty hook. My young fingers trembled as I rebaited my hook and drifted the worm under that bank twice more with no results. On the third try, however, the line stopped, and I again felt the slight throbbing of a fish at the other end. I gave a mighty heave, and my first trout sailed past my shoulder and into the woods behind me.
I instantly pounced on the flopping fish, a hatchery brook trout about 10 inches long. Catching that trout that day launched an odyssey that would in part shape the rest of my life. A couple of years later, I developed an interest in fly-fishing and fly tying. I became a fly-fishing guide and tied flies professionally. When I started my outdoor writing career, my first several articles were about trout fishing.
After that first successful opener, the first day of trout season was always an important springtime ritual for me during the next 20 years or so. But as my fishing skills and experience progressed, dealing with the crowds and hoopla started to make opening day less appealing or necessary. Finally, I reached a point where I often found other things to do on opening day, or I waited until later in the day after the crowds of anglers had thinned out.
This spring, however, I felt the urge to revisit my trout-fishing roots and be out there at the opening bell on the first day of the season. I decided that it would be fitting to return to the stream where I fished for trout the first time, although sadly, the spot where I caught my first trout is now posted against fishing.
I don't have to remind my fellow anglers just how lousy the conditions were last Saturday for the first day of trout season. But in spite of the rain, cold and high water, I managed to catch several nice brook trout, which helped to satisfy my nostalgia streak.
Although I love to eat fish, I never cared that much for trout, so although I have caught thousands of trout during my fishing career, I rarely if ever kept many of them to eat. My grandmother, however, enjoyed trout, and every spring until she passed away in 1987 at the age of 94, I would always bring her several trout, which she liked to pan-fry for breakfast.
As a tribute to all the trout breakfasts with my grandmother, I decided to keep a few of those brook trout this year for my own breakfast. I fried them in bacon fat, just as she did. I know the cholesterol-conscious cooks of today would probably balk at that cooking suggestion, but they taste so good that way, and the memories they evoked made it even better.