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Sneak look at my latest book

28 Dec

Jack McAllister knew every hatch on every trout stream of Central Pennsylvania. Much of his life revolved around casting dry flies, wet flies, nymphs and other food imitations at that elusive creature known as the trout. He would have it no other way. Jack had gained a reputation as one of the most respected fly fisherman in the state, a dubious distinction in that it gained him no great rewards or wide renown other than that realized in fly-fishing circles.

His had been a mostly quiet life–a true trout bum’s existence–one of fishing, guiding and tying flies. In Jack’s mind, nothing was finer than catching an evening hatch down at the Shad River, just before dusk, when the trout were rising. Jack built this life for himself, an unhurried and quiet existence in this remote mountain area where the living was easy, and a man’s word was as good as a handshake. But it all changed in the year of the Great Green Drake Hatch.

In the years before the arrival of the Great Green Drake Hatch, when Memorial Day weekend in the Green Spring Valley was nothing more than a camper’s holiday and many a fly fisherman would have been hard put to find the Shad on the map, things had been different. In those days, Jack’s home was a ramshackle cabin just a long cast from the Shad. He had lived well there, perhaps even somewhat happily, or at least in a state that didn’t approach anything that could be even remotely referred to as misery.

Happiness, as Jack liked to say, was a damn elusive proposition, but with proper planning, you could latch onto it, and then “hold on like hell” as if you’re hooking up with one of the Shad River’s healthy sized Brown Trout.

“Hell, even if it breaks your damn line, you can have yourself a nice ride,” Jack had said more than once to Max Soothsayer.

Soothsayer nodded and smiled as he gazed out toward the water.

Jack and Soothsayer had spent countless hours together wading the pools of the Shad and the other streams feeding into it. Soothsayer was getting along in years now, and didn’t head out to fish as much as he had in his younger days. A bum knee forced him to use a wading staff even in the calmest stretches of water. Most of his time was spent tying flies in the back of the Roll Cast, the general store off Route 6 he owned, where Jack dropped in nearly every day for a sandwich, to meet a client needing guiding, or for the latest gossip. Although it was in truth a store, it was also part barroom, part eatery and more or less the social center of the village, that is, if you could call the half-dozen homes clustered nearby along Route 6 a village of any kind. Many of the homes were summer cottages, used by hunters or trout fishermen who could be depended upon to show up at the Shad every spring.

Soothsayer was one of the few people Jack could stand to be around for any stretch of time. For one thing, Soothsayer had more knowledge about the Shad River hatches than anyone he knew. Soothsayer also had a keen sense of just what the fish would take. More than once Jack had come tromping into Soothsayer’s store in his waders, frustrated over a particularly troublesome hatch the trout were feeding ravenously upon, but which were ignoring his every cast. Soothsayer, always calm in a crisis, would make a few simple suggestions, or perhaps calmly trim the hackles off some of Jack’s flies before sending him back out to the water. Often, Soothsayer’s sage advice turned around what had been a horrible fishing day.

It was true that Jack loved to fish so passionately that he was thought to be a little off his nut by the local folks. Indeed, he was obsessed with the whole business of catching trout. Jack was never able to explain this fever or love affair or whatever the hell it was he had with fly fishing, but he didn’t have much time for folks who elevated fly fishing to art or religion or other nonsense either. Damn it. He just liked to fish. Being out on the water with a fly rod when the trout were surfacing to grab white mayflies or March Browns or sulphurs. Well … there was just no better time to be alive as far as Jack was concerned.

He’d fished the Shad and every one of its feeder streams from Green Spring Valley to the New York state line. And if there as any prettier stretch of God’s lush landscape or any more productive trout water in America than that fifty-mile swath of terrain, he’d be damned if he knew where it was.

He’d been on some of those legendary trout streams out West and wet his line on more than a few of the other rivers famous for big brown trout, in the Adirondacks and up through Vermont. He took trips every August out to Montana with the local Trout Unlimited group for some serious angling on the fabled waters of the Madison River. But the Shad River right back here in Pennsylvania remained his favorite.

Jack didn’t claim to be a poet but there was something about the Shad he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He knew damn well that to the non-fishing crowd there was probably nothing special about the Shad. It was hardly the sort of stream that drew the canoeists, the kayakers searching for a white-water thrill. A narrow meandering sort of stream, its waters often ran shallow. In a dry summer, it became little more than a trickle in a lot of places, creating marginal trout water and lean economic times for him and Soothsayer. Summer brought a few hikers and campers but few anglers.

Before the arrival of the Great Green Hatch the Shad had been a decently productive trout stream holding the usual amount and variety of insect hatches. It had a fly-fishing only section and a handful of the more noted members of the fly-fishing fraternity were known to occasionally make appearances at the stream. Then came the Green Drake Hatch. It had been something not unlike a religious awakening for the Shad.

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