SI Vault
Denis O'Neill
September 24, 1984
Jim and I are afflicted from time to time with the need to stand next to a body of fast-moving fresh water and remove trout from the stream. When we're in fishing stores checking out hardware that might abet the removal, we have a shared and glaring weakness for any contraption that claims to drive fish crazy. Anything that says that drives us crazy: We rip it from the display rack, whoop it up and then race to the cash register to make it ours. Of course, nothing we've ever placed in any stream has driven a trout crazy. But anticipation is the siren song at the headwater of any decent pool or riffle, and we dream that one day we'll turn the tables and drive the fish crazy. With our track record, what else could keep us going?
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September 24, 1984

You Want Fair Weather And A Full Creel, Stay Away From These Guys

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Four days later it was still raining. The old guy down at the store where we bought the licenses said he'd never seen it rain so much at this time of the year. Jim asked if he'd ever heard about the time it rained four days straight in New Mexico.

When we asked him where the trout were hiding, he told us we'd find them where we found them.

"But you might try the Missisquoi," he said.

Back at the house, we were looking over the Vermont Fish and Game map when it hit me.

"You know what, Jim," I said. "We ought to hire ourselves out. We could push the Sahara into the Med if we showed up in Ouagadougou with fishing poles in hand. Turn Arizona into blue-grass country. All we have to do is plan to do some fishing in these places. Soon as we get off the plane—whoosh—it starts raining and doesn't stop until we leave. We charge them a fortune and catch up on a little reading."

Sometimes when we fish we'll each take a side of a stream instead of leapfrogging. That's how we fished the Missisquoi that afternoon. Which is how I came to be standing across from Jim on a bend, dunking worms below me in a deep channel that cut into the soft bank. Jim shook his head when I whisper-asked if he'd had any luck. Then I saw him eyeing this tree that had fallen into the steam, creating a good pool below its branches. There was only one way to fish it—and by now you probably realize Jim and I will try anything when it comes to trout. Dignity, reason, fair play have all been slashed and bashed away—leaving two guys who'd fish naked with Christmas tree bulbs as bobbers if we thought we'd get more bites.

So I knew he was going out on that limb even before he did. And I was glad I was on my side of the river. Otherwise I'd be out there with him now. He was inching along the wet bark, holding his pole out in one hand, his right arm around the trunk, muddy water boiling below him.

I was fishing around in my bait can for a new worm when I heard the crack. The tree had shifted, and there was Jim dangling like a sloth a few inches above the water. Both arms and legs were clamped around the trunk, one hand holding the pole. His shoulder creel was in the water, ballooning out like a sea anchor in the current.

At first he had me worried. But I think I told you Jim can take a joke. Next thing, he was laughing so hard I figured the tree was going to shake free, and I was in the wet grass clutching my sides. First, he'd howl, then lose his breath—then I'd catch mine and start laughing again until we were both gagging and sobbing, and all the time Jim was hanging upside down from this tree, and I couldn't imagine how.

That went on for five minutes, the longest I ever laughed at one stretch. Finally I got my breath, heard nothing from Jim to set me off again, parted the grass and asked him if he was O.K.

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