One August afternoon several years ago, I returned to my desk at Orvis HQ to find that my neighbor, Tom Rosenbauer, was missing. Taped to the back of his chair was a hand-scrawled sign that said, “At an appointment with Doctor Triceau.” Once I was done laughing, I realized that the true genius of the sign was that 90 percent of the folks who saw it would take pity on the poor man, who was clearly suffering from some ailment or condition that required him to miss work. Plus, those of us who understood that the Tricos were hatching on the Battenkill were like-minded souls who would surely not blow Tom’s cover.
Ever since that day, a few of us in the office have used the term “doctor” to describe small streams that we might not want to publicize to anyone overhearing our conversations. So Tom may text me a photo of a fish from the “Sunderland Doctor” or we may plan to meet at the “Sandgate Doctor” after work.
Last Monday evening, I headed for the “Bennington Doctor” in search of wild brook trout. It’s a stream that I’ve been fishing since I first came to Vermont 25 years ago, and to this day I’ve never encountered another angler on the water. As my friend Art Scheck explained, “Most folks around here won’t fish anywhere they can’t put a lawn chair.” That’s fine with me.
I rigged up with a size 12 Yellow Stimulator with a Beadhead Pheasant Tail dropper. I normally fish only dry flies on these mountain streams, but our recent spell of very cool weather and low pressure led me to believe that the fish might be hunkered down. Sure enough, I caught three or four on the nymph before the first dry-fly hit. After about an hour, I was doing just okay, picking up smallish brookies and browns from the places you’d expect to on a freestone stream, when I came to a deep plunge pool formed by current seams that entered from opposite sides of a large boulder and formed a V. My eyes lit up because, as I used to tell my guiding clients, “When it comes to trout lies, V is for victory.”
On my first drift through the V, my Stimmie was pulled under with a violence that suggested something weightier than a four-inch brookie had taken the Pheasant Tail. As soon as I threw my rod tip skyward, a gorgeous brown trout—twice as large as any of the other fish I’d caught—launched itself into the air. At the apex of its leap, it regally tossed its head and threw the barbless nymph. As the fish crashed back to the water, my flies flew past my head and into the tree branches behind me. I just stood there, dumbfounded, staring at the water . . . afraid to look back at the macrame nightmare that my tandem rig had become. Thankfully, a conveniently placed rock afforded me access to the tree branch, so I spent the next five minutes extricating my flies.
“Maybe, it will eat again,” I tried to convince myself, but I knew that my efforts would be futile. After five or six unproductive drifts, I reeled up and headed for the car. The vision of that trout hanging in the air plagued me throughout the evening and was right there when I closed my eyes at bedtime.
As luck would have it, I had an actual doctor’s appointment in town the very next morning, so afterward I headed right back to the stream. The morning was gray, with a slight drizzle, and as I wadered-up, I told myself that the goal was that fish and that fish only. (It was a work day, after all.) I made a beeline for the plunge pool, set up in exactly the same spot, and dropped the Stimulator just above the V. Nothing. I tried slightly higher up in the hole. Nothing. Doubts started to creep into my mind, as I made the third cast, but they didn’t last long, as the Stimulator dove below the surface once again. This time, I was ready. After a brief fight, I guided the golden brown into my net.
Of course, it wasn’t quite as big as it had become in my memory, but it was still considerably larger than anything else I’d ever caught in that stretch of river. In Montana, it would be a dink, but in a tiny Vermont mountain stream, it was a trophy to tell my friends about.
Miles of unfished water lay before me, but I held firm, reeling up and heading back to work. The satisfaction of completing that piece of unfinished business kept me smiling all morning.