Friday, April 6, 2018

The Tale of Alan's Tiger

Editor's note: This is another good story from my friend Chad Wilde in the Quiet Corner of CT. It's about tiger trout, a sterile cross between a male brook trout and a female brown trout. Most of CT's tigers are raised in hatcheries and stocked as adults (3,768 tigers stocked in 2017), but once in a blue moon anglers will catch wild tigers in streams with good spawning habitat and populations of native brookies and wild browns.

Chad noted that listening to this song while reading along will enhance the story. 

Living on the brook, I sort of got to know some of its fish.  Like a particular tiger trout that found its way into a prime hole.  It’s an angler’s culvert sort of place.  Easy to fish, consistent.  I got him there three times over the course of a year.

The funny thing about that particular tiger is that I caught it on three different flies and three different fly rods.  So after a while I just stopped fishing that hole.  I started saving it for a friend.

Each time I caught him over the year, he looked a little more colorful, a little more robust.  I could swear he had grown an inch. Vermiculate back like a convolute network of misevolution.  Black pupil that looked oddly innocent.  But it was a brawler.  Not leader shy, this fish.  He fought well, and ruined the hole each time I got him with his ruckus.

Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

Fool me three times, ah fuck it.

I knew my friend Alan had never caught a tiger trout.  So I held off on the easy fish to hopefully put him on it.  Alan is a good friend, and a helluva rod builder.  He can tie a good deer-hair bug, and he’s handy with a stick.  I haven’t fished with him as much as I’d like, but I have fished with him enough to know that he could figure it out pretty quick, whatever it was.

In the past I had brought him to some of the places I knew on the brook, but never to the hole with the tiger in it. 
I debated the tiger, mind you.   I knew and know there are wild fish in the brook.  I knew this dude was voracious and would eat just about anything.  Maybe I should have offed it.  But of the stocked fish in Connecticut they are perhaps the most interesting.  And I struggle with killing anything.  Even for a good reason.

We got up one day, went directly to the spot with the tiger in it.  I gave him the tit water.  I said, “Right out there buddy.”  I was already proud of myself.  The water was low.  It was late November.  There was ice in our guides.  Naturally, since I had talked the hole up so much, we didn’t catch shit. 

Now, I had been thinking about the Fenton River for some time around then.  It was badly damaged when UConn sucked it dry in 2005.  Where I used to find wild fish in high school now I only found stockies.  But when I’d catch them in the winter I’d tip my hat to them and say go on and lay down some roots.  I’d hope for them.  Against hope.  We’d try it anyway.

On the drive, I wondered if the tiger was dead.  I have always handled my fish with utmost care, but after you release a fish you never really know if it survives unless you catch it again.  Do the chances of its life decrease with subsequent catches?  I know there is stress in catching fish, but I do my best to reduce it.

My friend Dave caught a dubious fish in the Fenton years ago.  A 29- inch brown trout.  The hypothetical fish that could be.  A leviathan of a small stream.  A beast.  He caught it out of an out-of-the-way hole.  I wanted to check out a series of these type of holes I knew of and they weren’t buying what we were selling in the brook.  Alan was game.

I secretly hoped the tiger in the brook was dead since the thing would gladly eat a two-inch fry.  I secretly hoped it alive, stalking some deadfall or tucked into a bathtub sized two-foot deep plunge.  Treating it like a conveyor belt of forage, chasing off all others.  Eating them.  Grown fat and greedy, and strong.  I just hoped for fish.  So we’d try the Fenton.

I couldn’t get it out of my mind that the tiger wasn’t there.  I was disappointed, they’re pretty rare to catch and I thought I could put a buddy on his first.  Maybe it wised up, went feral as stocked fish will and learned to hide better.  Find deeper culverts to haunt.  Mice to eat.  It had, after all, grown an inch in a year.

I had just begun to tie flies at the time and was working on a squirrel leach pattern.  I gave a couple to Alan.  Purple squirrel with a green bead head.  “Broom Hilda-style,” I told him.  Halloween and all.  These flies were the first of my own that I was successful with, and they remain a staple in my box 10 years later.

I worked some water below him and he found his way up to a nice cutbank.  He approached it from below and took a small trout.  After a while he put on the squirrel leach and began to fish it.

I called his cell to find out what he was doing.  He told me he saw a big fish go for the squirrel leach and miss.  I began to head up.  I had just arrived at the cutbank to watch him roll cast upstream along the deep foreboding grey November cutbank.  He began to take short strips.  I looked away.  He said aloud, “I got ‘em.”

I turned and saw Alan on a nice fish.  It’s always exciting to see a friend get a good one.  You want to help, share in the experience.  I saw the fish boil the surface.  It was very light in color.  Was it a huge washed-out brook trout?  I couldn’t tell.  We had a great view of the fish, in the deep colored late fall water.  I enjoyed watching him fight it. 

It was a good fish.  After he fought the fish, I was able to slide a net under it.  This too is special, to help a friend net a fish. 

“No way,” I said.  I couldn’t even believe it. 

It’s a big tiger.

He released it and I never saw it again.  Though no doubt I went looking for it.

Alan's tiger

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