The new creel-basically a canvas bag lined with plastic-swings loosely from my shoulder as I skid down the bank to the water below. The brook, as this waterway is euphemistically called here in New Jersey, is running slow and shallow, as opposed to its only other type of flow, which is slow and deep. Its permanent ochre hue reveals no presence of the trout that the state is supposed to stock here today.
I put a garden worm on the hook and make a few drifts, soon realizing that the water in front of me contains no structure that will hold a fish. I walk downstream and eventually see a fisherman in waders standing just under the bridge I had driven over on my way here. His rod is bowed, and he is reaching for the net behind his back.
I climb up the bank, cross the road, and drop down to the creek on the other side of the bridge. An empty lawn chair is perched at the water’s edge. I look over at the fisherman, a man of retirement age, and see he has another fish on. I cast over to the abutment and hook a sucker a few seconds later. The fisherman begins wading over to me as I rebait and cast out.
“Get one?” he asks.
“Sucker,” I say. “Looks like you did okay, though.”
“Yeah. Got my limit.” That means six.
“So the state did stock here this morning?” I ask.
“Yeah. They just stopped the truck on the bridge and dumped them over the side.” He folds up his lawn chair and tucks it under his arm. “They went over there,” he says, pointing with his rod to the spot he had just left. He begins walking sideways up the worn path on the bank to the road. “Stay out of trouble now.”
Two hours later, same creek, half a mile downstream. I park the truck in the pullout before the bridge and walk down to the water. I hear the muted clop of a bail closing on a spinning reel coming from the other side of the abutment, so I stay on the far side and drift a salmon egg through the run in front of me, my own clop a mistimed echo beneath the bridge.
A car door slams shut above. Seconds later a tall man in hip boots walks into the water next to me and begins flicking a silver spinner around. He walks as he retrieves, head swiveling left and right, every part of his body moving as he fishes. He works his way to the far side of the abutment and begins shouting to the fisherman I haven’t seen yet. The two apparently know each other but are pretending to be strangers trading insults-“You won’t catch nothin’ there, buddy.” “Yeah, whatta you know about fishin’?”-before they tell each other how many fish they have caught.
“I got two, but they’re hard to hook. They’ll hit the minnow and kill it but won’t take it,” says the voice.
“Just two? I got four today,” says the fisherman in hip boots. By now he is on the opposite side of the creek, still walking and tossing the spinner. One cast lands 3 feet to my right but incredibly misses snagging my line. “Oop! Make that five,” he says, as a little rainbow splashes the surface. He reels in the trout, puts it on a chain stringer, then kneels down and guts it with a long knife.
I put another egg on the hook as he crosses the stream to go back up the bank to his car. “Well, I got my share,” he announces.
A woman and a young boy, both in waders, slowly walk across the current and position themselves right next to me. They talk quietly to each other as they ball brightly colored artificial bait onto their hooks. A car crosses the bridge above us, its shadow scudding across the water like a cloud. A minute later, a car door slams.