Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Or… the road to perdition is paved with Wooly-Buggers…
Jr. Trout (proper family name Jr. Brown esq.) was a tad late arriving under the bank in the family domicile in time for his evening meal. As he nosed through the silt and rocks to munch vittles of fresh-water shrimp appetizer and awaited the main course of Hendrickson nymphs, his Grandpa eyed him suspiciously.
“Boy, you have been hanging out with those brook trout again haven’t you? Now don’t lie to me.”
Jr. kind of wiggled his fins in a guilty manner and looked askance at the old man. His grandpa was the oldest of the Brown clan in this part of the stream under the shade trees. He had scars on his back from disagreements with herons, and his fins were a bit worn with age. He was no longer the biggest fish in the pool, but he was the wisest, and all the extended Brown family looked to him for sage guidance.
“Sorry Grandpa, but it is hard to stay away ‘cause they are my friends. They even taught me a new game called ‘chase the tail’ today!”
“Son…” the old man began slowly with a frown, “I have told you before that those darn fish are no good for you. They are Yankees, and like Yankees, they hang around in gangs and get up to no good. Look at them there in the middle of the water just swimming around like they don’t have a care in the world. If they had any self-respect they would be in the shade being quiet, not doing acrobatics and water-polo where any darned otter or even uncle Fritz could make a meal of them.”
“Why do you call them ‘Yankees’ Grandpa?” Junior asked carefully.
“Because they are American Trout, boy! See their colors? Like the American flag; all gaudy in their red, white, and blue.”
“Catholics too I would bet, and just as catholic in their tastes… they don’t give a damn what they eat for heaven’s sake.”
“And we are Germans, right Grandpa?”
“Germans, Protestants, and gentleman too,” the wise one said, swelling up with pride and showing off his spots. “Just look at our colors… Like the German flag, gold, red, and black… quiet colors, respectful colors.” Like gentlemen, we Browns are not frivolous. We don’t play games, we shy away from bright places and street-corners, and we absolutely don’t eat wooly-buggers.”
“What’s a wooly-bugger Grandpa,” came the inevitable question.
“Well now, take a seat by this here rock, and I will tell you. Don’t tell your Mother or Father or they will get sore at me again for frightening you, but I think any Brown in this family should know a few things before they go out into the next pool. Served me well for years, even if I learned the hard way myself by making the mistakes I keep scolding you about.”
The old trout rested back on his little pile of gravel, and taking a caddis case from his pocket, began slowly chewing it as he always did when he was telling a story.
“You had a cousin named McSpotty once upon a time. Lot older than you. He was a distant cousin too from some island, on your Grandma’s side,” he recollected with a frown or a wink… it was often hard to tell the difference.
"This young trout got his name from the amount of spots on his side… all black and few red. He was wont to fraternize with those brookies, and even to tipple a bit of brackish water even at his young age. You couldn’t tell him anything or get any sense to stick in his noggin no matter how often we tried. He was always chasing the ladies, even the American gals that hung out in shallow water and had bad reputations. He went to worship on Sunday, but we never could find him for scripture during the week.”
“Well, McSpotty started to get a taste for exotic foods. I always blame those brookies for corrupting him, but he never would have come to trouble if he ate plain fare like us Continental Browns. He began to chase worms and leap at dragonflies like a hoodlum. He left home after a bit, and preferred the company of his new friends on the wrong side of the rocks.”
“One day there was a big commotion and splashing in the water. After a bit, some of your relations and me swam over from the bank to investigate. Your Cousin was nowhere to be seen. Story has it that there was something in the water that the Americans were chasing, but McSpotty got there first. From there it was hearsay. Some of those fish claimed that a giant hand came down from the sky and just scooped him up. Others said that he exploded all by himself. Anyway, he was never seen again. One old gal, the matriarch of the clan, by the name of Char or something like that, finally said that he had eaten a wooly bugger. None of us knew what that was at the time.”
“You can imagine that it put us off our food for a spell, and even the frisky fingerlings stayed close to home for the next week. Rumors as to what a ‘wooly-bugger’ was began to run their course among the youngsters, and even the old-timers began to tell stories.”
“Some said it was a ghost that appeared when the sun was high and the sand was shifting, others speculated that it was bigger than a beaver or a muskrat and only ate trout who missed church or lied to their parents. My own uncle Günter thought that they came with the rains, and lulled their prey to sleep with a song before they ate them.”
“Did you ever see a wooly-bugger yourself Grandpa?” Jr. asked with a shiver of his dorsal fin.
“I did see one once, not close-up like, but in the distance and in murky water. It was big and black and ugly, yet enticing. I felt my will tried as it shimmered and wiggled like one of those belly-dancers I read about once in my Pa’s magazines. I still shudder at that memory. Funny thing was, even with all my teaching and learning, my discipline faltered for a fraction of a second. I started to swim over to it when it just disappeared out of the water. Don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t have off and left. I might not be here now.”
That story made a bit of an impression on our young lad. For a month, he did all his schoolwork, and never swam in the shallows. However, as all boys are fickle, there came one day when his family was all out on some errand or another, and he swam over to find out what the brookies were up to.
At supper that evening, he claimed he had no appetite, and begged off his caddis soufflé. His Grandpa got suspicious.
“What’s that scar doing on your jaw there son? Have you been rubbing your nose on mussel shells again?”
“Mrrn…” was all Jr. could answer.
“Speak up boy, and come closer. Is that a hole in your mouth? You are getting a likkin if you got any body piercings. You know how we feel about that….”
“Well, speak up…”
“Mi mink mi mate a mooly mugger,” Jr. confessed with tears.
“No kidding. You don’t seem to have disappeared, so maybe it taught you a lesson. What did it look like?”
Jr. flexed his jaw a few times, shook himself, stood on his head, blew some water through his gills, and feeling a touch better, answered his Grandpa.
“Mit was morrible! First it looked big and black and ugly, then after I ate it, it tasted like hurting and changed to the hugest, most ugly thing I ever saw. It had a big floppy head and its fins were really long and pale. One of them had a long pole as big as this whole stream in it. I thought I was a goner for sure, but somehow I escaped!”
Grandpa stared long and hard at the boy…
“Now, seeing that you survived, how’s about telling me what you learned…”
“Hanging out with brookies leads to eatin wooly-buggers, and the road to perdition is lined with wooly-buggers!”
“Let that be a lesson to you son,” said the old trout. “Now come and finish your caddis, its getting cold.”
So…take a lesson from poor Jr. Brown. Stay away from those vagabond brookies. Keep out of the shallows. Eat your tiny bugs, and whatever you do, if you fly-fish, don’t have that extra glass of wine with dinner while looking out the window at the rains and flooded streams, it only leads to fables and parables… or wooly-buggers…