Sunday, June 3, 2007

Haunted By Waters

"I am haunted by waters." That's Norman Maclean's famous last line of his novella A River Runs Through It, of course.

Me too. The Lamprey River once nearly drowned me when this waterfowl hunter tried to retrieve a downed mallard on his own. I thought the half-submerged log extending out into the steady October current would hold me, and it did, sort of. That my waterlogged watch died at exactly 8:47 a.m. indicated something worth noting: namely that it was my watch that bought it, and not this writer. I got the duck, and shimmy-swam back—a fool who had made a successful retrieve. (I can hear you waterfowlers hissing over your coffee and Danish: “Get a Labrador retriever, Hickoff!”)

I’ve caught and released more trout from its water than likely any other in the state of New Hampshire (and eaten plenty too), excluding maybe the upper Connecticut, Isinglass, Stonehouse Pond, and well . . . let’s just say, I’ve caught plenty of fish here. This particular season has been more of a challenge—turkey hunting has gotten in the way, and a guy can only do so much in a day on a steady diet of five hours of sleep a night. Summer’s coming though.

I like how the Lamprey has that serious look of an official river (no creek here), and that anthropomorphized power that surely lets you know it can knock you on your butt if you don’t watch out. Pardon the analogy, but it holds you hostage in many ways.

I used to take my English setter sweetheart Midge, then a pup, along with me when flyfishing its banks for trout, as we were bonding then in all the usual ways. Mixing bird dog puppies and angling isn’t a troubling thing for me—though elitists have occasionally targeted several high profile magazines with letters for running photo essays on the subject (dogs, guys fly fishing with dogs, dogs with trout).

Mostly I remember the catnaps my little white pup and I took in the sun along the Lamprey River banks, my cap over my eyes to shadow out the sun, the muscular tumble and roll of the water within earshot, my sweet girl sleeping her puppy sleep on my chest—now gone just ten years later.

The Lamprey was part of all that.

--Steve Hickoff

(Steve Hickoff photo)