"Don't think he's going to—just hoping he might. You never know when your luck will change."
But the truth was, the fish had dashed my hopes. Closing day it was, and that alone would be the thing to make this one different from all the other days I had sunk in this folly of mine. At midnight tonight the Fish and Game Commission of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would extend legal protection over its most venerable trout. It was only out of a sense of obligation and to round out the fitness of things that I waded into the water—a sense that having challenged the fish, I owed him his total triumph over me. It was I who had made today's appointment with him, and there he was.
As often happens, now that I had lost confidence and, with it, the compulsion to perform, I excelled myself in my casting that day. Four times running I placed my fly—a No. 12 Black Gnat it was—over the fish without rousing his suspicions, without putting him off his feed and sending him to sulk beneath the bridge. Those repeatedly ignored casts made my young companion smirk; I, though ruefully, admired my unproductive accomplishment.
My fifth cast would have alighted in the same spot, some four feet in front of the fish, as the others had. However, it never did. Exploding from the water, the fish took it on the wing, a foot above the surface. Why that cast and none of the countless others, nobody will ever know. Instantly he felt the barb. Not fright, but fight, was what it brought out in him.
Out of the water he rose again like a rocket—out and out, and still there was more to him, no end to him. More bird than fish he seemed as he hovered above the water, his spots and spangles patterned like plumage. I half expected to see his sides unfold and spread in flight, as though, like the insects he fed upon, he had undergone metamorphosis. His gleaming wetness gave an iridescent glaze to him and, as he rose into the sunshine, his multitudinous markings sparkled as though he were studded with jewels. At once weighty and weightless, he leaped to twice his length. Then, giving himself a flip like a pole vaulter's, down he dived, parting the water with a wallop that rocked the pool to its edges.
The next moment I was facing in another direction, turned by the tug of my rod, which I was surprised to find in my hand. I had never experienced anything remotely resembling his speed and power. Nothing I might have done could have contained him. It was only the confines of the pool that turned him.
Straight up from the water he rose again, higher than before. It was not desperation that drove him. There was exuberance in his leap, joy of battle, complete self-confidence, glory in his own singularity. Polished silver encrusted with jewels of all colors he was, and of a size not to be imagined even by one who had studied him for weeks. I believed now that he had taken my fly for the fun of it. I was quite ready to credit that superfish with knowing this was the last day of the season, even with knowing it was his last season, and of wanting to show the world what, despite age and impairment, he was capable of. Reaching the peak of his leap, he thrashed, scattering spray. In the sunshine the drops sparkled like his own spots. It was as though a rocket had burst, showering its scintillations upon the air.
Another unrestrainable run, then again he leaped, and for this one the former two had been only warmups. Up and up he went until he had risen into the bright sunshine, and there, in defiance of gravity, in suspension of time, he hung. He shook himself down his entire length. The spray he scattered caught the light and became a perfect rainbow in miniature. Set in that aureole of his own colors that streamed in bands from him, he gave a final toss of his head, breaking my leader with insolent ease, did a flip, dived and reentered the water with a splash that sent waves washing long afterward against my trembling and strengthless legs.
"Dummy!" cried the boy on the bank. "You had him, and you let him get away!"