I did once fish with my silent uncle and neither of us said a word from six in the morning until four in the afternoon when my uncle asked me quietly to hand him a beer…”
by brian doyle
Having never fished for trout nor salmon nor steelhead in Oregon, someday I have to fish for trout or salmon or steelhead, mostly because I have children and it is a poor and doofus dad who does not at least once or twice take his kids fishing, which I never have and really should. I have thought about fishing for pike minnow, just for some beer money, and I did once catch a trout in Vermont, and I did once catch a sunfish in the Atlantic Ocean, though to be fair it was sunning or dead, because my silent uncle and I just hove to alongside and picked it up out of the water like you would pick up a piece of wood, which it, the sunfish, rather resembled, activity-wise. And I did once catch a small mean bluefish on the shore of Plum Island in Massachusetts by falling on it as it flapped on the beach after chasing smaller fish to shore. It bit me with those wild teeth and I thought about biting it back but didn’t. I did catch minnows and carp in green still New York ponds. I did catch a sea robin off a dock at Jones Beach, the ugliest fish I ever saw. My large younger brother who is a fisherman and was busy hauling in flounder for dinner stared at me for a while as I stared at the sea robin until I threw the sea robin back. I did once see a huge steelhead in a sea creek get chased out of its pool back into the ocean by a small boy with jelly in his hair. I have seen a huge nearly dead fungussed chinook slowly swimming backward in the McKenzie River. I do know a man who catches striped bass by fishing off tugboats and ferries in New York Harbor. I do know a man who when he hooks a large fish jumps into the creek or river and runs after it. I did once fish with my silent uncle and neither of us said a word from six in the morning until four in the afternoon when my uncle asked me quietly to hand him a beer. I did once watch this uncle gently break the neck of a sea trout and whisper a prayer for its salty soul. However I remain no fisherman and at age fifty the chances begin to recede, so that when it comes to fishing I retain one lovely glorious memory, the sort of memory every man should have, though not the sort of memory most fishermen have, theirs being brave battles with fish and such, whereas mine is catching a single small trout from a canoe in a lake in Vermont and paddling back to shore where a man in a white cook’s outfit awaits me. His name is Bob and he is the cook and jack of all trades for the private thousand-acre wilderness preserve and lake and lodge where I am a guest of the man who has the second-largest car dealership in New England, my friend Cam, who once broke both wrists in a ski race and kept racing anyway because the winner received a whole keg of beer, and he won. Anyway Bob the cook says to me politely when I land how would you like your trout today sir? And I say I think we should go baked today Bob and he says very good choice sir, and I say thank you Bob, and he says I will have your whiskey sent to the reading room sir, and I say thank you Bob, and he takes the small trout from me and I repair to the reading room where I read Roderick Haig-Brown for a few minutes before my whiskey arrives on a silver platter carried by a young woman who will not stay the whole summer with Bob, who has sort of a rotating girlfriend program as far as Cam and I can tell. The trout arrived a few minutes later, baked with rice and almonds, with a delicious salad on the side, and a bottle of excellent red wine from Spain. My wife, who is tiny but sinewy and who has been flyfishing for trout in streams so deep in the mountains of Idaho that you have to ride horses for a long time to get there, sneers at my trout story and says it’s not really fishing at all, it’s more like grocery shopping or plucking fish from a tank in the front of a restaurant, and anyway I wasn’t more than a hundred yards into the lake, but I don’t see where any of these objections applies to my fishing story, and that little trout tasted great baked with rice and almonds. My friend Cam tells me that Bob is not the cook anymore at the lodge because one summer he had not one or two but three girlfriends and the third one hit him with an oar and the members decided Bob should transition into auto sales, which he did, and today he is a member of the million-dollar sales club, which is certainly something to be.
Brian Doyle is a muddled male mule who has committed eight books rather like a series of venial sins: five collections of essays, nonfiction misadventures about hearts and wine, and a collection of “proems” that the great American poet Pattiann Rogers says darkly will ruin the word poetry for ever and ever. More from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke. (bio/2007)
Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall. He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved. Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017.
More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.