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But not the love for home water. I've known many fisheries since then, East and West, North and South, across the seas and in them. Beaverkill, Willowemoc and Delaware; Penobscot, Housatonic and Spruce Creek. Madison, Bitterroot, Henrys Fork; the Frying Pan and the South Platte, above Decker's. The Togiak, the Situk and the Ogilvie north of Dawson. Even the Tongariro and the Mararoa and the feeders of Lake Te Anau in New Zealand. I've fished bonefish flats and tarpon passes, from Andros to Roatán to Parismina and back up to the Dry Tortugas. These waters are famous; my time on any of them makes me the envy of other anglers. But none is home water to me.
You have to live in a place for it to take, know the birds and the trees and the texture of the weather through the seasons; know the old-timers and something of its legends; know the good spots to stop in after a day on the water, for a beer, a cup of coffee, half an hour of down-home talk. Only then do the quiet places—the runs and pools, riffles and channels—take on the required resonance.
It's a summer day again. Getting on toward 3 p.m. Lots of daylight left in the mountains of southwest Vermont where I now live. I jounce down a two-track through the field corn. It's not a fat-wheeled Schwinn anymore but a half-ton GMC pickup with 80,000 up-and-down miles on the odometer. I park near the bank. The river crashes down toward me through a narrow granite gorge, but I know that above it lies a stretch of deep pools alternating with sinuous riffles, flanked by rocky, pine-topped bluffs. It will be still in there, no wind, no other anglers. And very hot. So I'll wade wet, no waders, as much for old times' sake as for comfort.
I joint up the rod—an 8½-foot, 2¾-ounce product of the latest in composite technology—and pull on my vest, then head up an almost invisible trail along the left bank, through young pines and briars. Along the way a woodcock jumps almost from underfoot and twitters off, dodging canes and branches. I file away the memory for autumn.
At the top of the gorge, the river widens, gathering itself for the plunge, and I squat at the edge, watching. There's nothing coming off the water. I string up the rod, knot on a number 14 gold-ribbed hare's ear nymph, add a single split-shot a foot and a half above the fly and then I wade out into the current.
The water is cold, refreshingly so on such a hot day. I used to carry a thermometer and record water temperatures assiduously, copying them into my fishing log, comparing them with insect hatches, then comparing both with data from seasons past. Pretending to make a science out of what should be a sport. Then one cold day on the Yellow Branch of the Nulhegan in upstate Vermont, the thermometer slipped from my numb fingers and rolled away in the current. I haven't bothered to replace it.
Dredging the channels with my nymph, I work slowly upstream from pool to pool. I am getting into it now, the hypnotic focus of nymphing, feeling the split-shot tick the bottom as it bounces downstream, imagining the nymph imitation down there, swirling and eddying now and then, up and down, sideways, flashing its golden come-on to the trout.
I pause at the bottom of a long, deep, fast run that has always produced at least one good-sized fish, sometimes three or four. There's a bit of a breeze stirring the tops of the white pines on the bluff to my left, but no wind here on the river. Behind the pines, I know, starts an old cemetery. A friend of mine is buried up there. He wasn't a fisherman or a bird hunter, but he was a helluva guy, anyway—a driver of harness racing horses. I think of him buried up there, on the bluff overlooking the river, whenever I fish past.
I flip the weighted nymph up into the head of the run and watch the yellow fly line for that telltale twitch. Once, twice, three times, the nymph probes the channel, and on the fourth dead drift, the line jumps six inches upstream. I set the hook. Something heavy, vibrant, almost electric shoots its charge up leader and line and rod into my arm. Once again the fire lights in my heart. The line cuts up through the water and the surface erupts once again, old but always new, forever thrilling, and a bright, broad-sided rainbow trout vaults into the sunlight in a scatter of spray, the red stripe down his flanks and gill covers brilliant in the air.
The Menomonee lives on. Home water is where the heart is.