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“Trout Can Be Cute” (Part One)




  1. attractive in an endearing way.

  2. clever or cunning, especially in a self-seeking or superficial way.

Ever since I first saw one of these silvery animals, I have loved watching, or for an even more tantalizing experience, touching a trout. They have their own behaviors and interesting reactions to human beings – trout behaviors and reactions. To get to know them, you have to watch them over time. Their underwater lives aren’t that secret if you watch them without disturbing them. So, where do you start if you want to become a trout observer? For me, my relationship with the pescas started when I began to release them, rather than keep them for food.

What do I want to say about cute fish? What do I mean by that? Do I mean a trout flaunts its charm with me by blinking its little eyelashes? Is a trout clever and playful? Does anthropomorphic idealization drive you crazy? I can say this: when you release a trout by means of letting it slip out of your hand on its own accord, you will witness a thinking animal evaluate its situation and weigh its options. Let your trout slide under its own momentum over the rim of the net or out of your hand. Watch how it evaluates and chooses its action.

Experience One: The Clearwater River near Delta Junction, Alaska.

I gently released a calm grayling from my hand and watched it sink to the river bed and nestle between my feet to recuperate. Persons who hate anthropomorphism will squirm at the use of “nestled” but it is as I said: that grayling nosed the area between my ankles, then entered this sanctuary after having deemed it safe. It wiggled left then right, turning around until it fit exactly between my feet. It stayed there even as I continued casting and hooking and netting another grayling, which also nestled between my ankles. These fish met each other at my feet and they both aligned in the same direction, oblique to the current and seemed to be content to just hang out. The Clearwater River is known for great grayling angling, so it was no surprise that I caught a few of them in a short time. The enlightening observation was that as I released them each gently, allowing them to leave the net or my hand under their own momentum, they began to accumulate in a herd at my feet, all undulating slightly from side to side, gills casually opening and closing, their mouths only slightly ajar. They were not in a stressed state and I realized that they were simply recuperating from the event of being hooked and dragged by their snack across the current.

It wasn’t hard for me to project my human interpretation: they were thinking about what had just happened to them. They were hanging out. They were reflecting. They had a lot to think about. They were an emotional lot, these graylings.

The next day fishing the same stream in a different location, I sat on my butt in the water with my legs stretched out in front of me. The shorter you can get, the less visible you are to a trout. I was casting across the current to rising grayling less than 20 feet away. I caught the first one and carefully dragged it over to my side of the stream’s channel and into the area surrounded by my submerged legs. I used my hemostats to release the hook (uncrimped barb) from its mouth and watched it settle, as the others on the previous day had done, to the bottom of the river bed. It “nestled” against the inside of my left knee. Grayling after grayling nestled in this arena after I hooked and freed them. Eventually, I had a healthy herd of six graylings hanging out, like ponies in a corral, between my legs. I was stuck. I couldn’t get up and leave without disturbing them. So, I just watched them.

Experience Two: Rock Creek near Toponas, Colorado

I was fishing a really narrow, deep channel through a mountain meadow – a channel connecting a sequence of beaver ponds like pearls on a string. The creek varied from a few inches deep running through riffles over loose cobbles to much deeper pools in bends that undercut the banks through marshy meadow. The margins of the creek were overgrown with tall grass. When I approached the channel, I spooked trout – ZIP ZAP GONE! I took to crouching and walking on my knees to get close enough to accurately drop my fly into the current. The trout I caught were brookies about 8 inches or less. Nothing spectacular (though, brookie fishing in itself is a wonderful way to spend the day). At one bend up river from me, I noticed a dense bush hanging over the creek casting a shadow. I carefully backed off the bank and approached this bush crouching as I got closer. I utilized the bush to obscure my presence so that I might look over the bank to see if there was a trout in that bend below.

I was surprised to see a fish - a big one. This was no brookie. I could see that it was silvery and fat. ‘Rainbow of some kind,’ I thought to myself.

I realized it was totally unaware that I, predator, was hovering over it. I could be a racoon! – A blue heron! ‘What was this trout thinking? Is he daydreaming?’ I wondered.

I remembered an event on a similar tiny creek (Four-Mile Creek in Teller County, Colorado) when my 14-year old nephew leaned over the bank and noodled a trout (reached in and flung a fish over his head onto the bank). At that time, I could not have believed such a thing was possible if I had not witnessed it. I looked at Evan back then like he was some kind of magical shaman.

Now, hovered over this unwary trout, I adjusted my stance and wondered exactly what kind trout-grab mano-y-mano I should undertake. I knew I was in a unique situation and I felt I should do something significant. I could snatch it up. If I did that, would I grab it tightly? Or, would I fling it overhead open-handed, like my nephew had done. Then, I remembered that my nephew told me that he used to “tickle” the trout – just reach over and gently stroke them. He said they like their bellies rubbed the most. (Though, I’d seen him noodle a trout onto the bank, I did not believe him about the tickling part).

‘Tickle. That’s what I’ll do.’

I had no faith in this endeavor. Despite my lack of confidence, I pulled up my sleeves and stealthily moved to a position directly above the loitering trout. I slowly lowered my hands fingers leading into the water and reached to this unsuspecting fish. When I first touched him (it had to be a guy trout, a lady trout would have giggled and run away….) I was astonished that it did not flee. It allowed me to touch it. I moved my fingers along its sides. This was simply an EXHILERATING experience for me. This trout is where I trace my love of this animal to. He let me caress him. I used the palm of my hands to cup under his belly and indeed, he liked it. I pet this fish for a rather good long minute or so. Eventually, when I removed my hands, he seemed to realize that I was an alien from outer space and he darted out of the hole.

No one was going to believe this.

(…more to come)


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