Opening Day

Springtime in the mountains can be a bit elusive. Despite the date shown on the calendar, winter often keeps a firm grasp, with snowpack clinging to the high peaks long into April, but as kids, as if we could coax a change in seasons, we’d get the bikes out, get the baseball gear out, and do our best to experience spring.

Our small mountain town was nestled in a valley along the banks of a picturesque stream. Starting high in the mountains, small tributaries would spring from the earth and make their way to the valley floor, joining forces to form the Batavia Kill. Not only was this a source of water for the Big Apple, just a couple hours downstream, but it also served as the perfect playground for the neighborhood kids. Much like the mighty Mississippi was the perfect backdrop for the adventures of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, the Batavia Kill was the birthplace of many of the adventures of childhood, but probably the most anticipated adventure each year, was the first day of trout season.

With a rocky creek bed, a path that meanders through the valley at times cutting deep in the banks that contain it, and pools both shallow and deep, a native brook trout would be hard pressed to find a more perfect habitat…and we knew that. So, as March started to come to a close, the excitement for April first, trout season’s opening day, grew with each passing day.

Planning started early. First was the matter of gear. Yes, my trusty Zebco 202 was propped up in the corner of the garage, exactly where I had set it the October prior. But what about hook, line, and sinker…was I properly equipped? The bait of choice was the trusty night crawler or garden worm; however, winter’s deep freeze often did not relent in time to go that route, and lures often were the only option. Next on the list of things to decide on was the location…and there were several to choose from. Where would we head opening day? Would it be the catfish hole, named for that one and only catfish ever caught in the slow moving current beneath the damp bank of a neighboring cornfield. Maybe we should go to the stumps, or the spillway, or even Davis’ rock. All fine choices, providing equal opportunity to catch that perfect spring Brook Trout, if Grandpa or Uncle Lem did not beat us to it.

The final detail was just down to opening day logistics. A lot of years have passed since those days back in the mountains, but I don’t remember an opening day that ever fell on a weekend…it had to, but all my memories of this day involved a school bus ride to school, a long day of anticipation, a school bus ride home that felt like it took an eternity, and a mad sprint to get our fishing gear so we could hit the stream before daylight made an early exit. We’d ride our bikes down to Willy’s barn, just to ditch them and head upstream by foot to get to our chosen fishing hole.

Daylight is often scarce in the early spring, and even more scarce in the valley, as the sun would hide away behind the mountains long before it officially set for the evening. We’d stretch every minute out of it that we could. Cast after cast…proclaiming the news of every nibble, both real and imagined, and we’d all secretly hope to be the first one to catch a trout that season. It didn’t matter if the air was cold or even if the snow was still falling. It didn’t even matter if we caught a fish that day. This was spring in the mountains, the opening day of trout season, the moment we’d been waiting for to officially kick off the next season of longer days and warmer afternoons. A more perfect moment could not be created.

I imagine we all have our mental images of what heaven looks like…but I think there is a corner in heaven where there runs a small mountain creek, and by that creek are two boys, fishing poles in hand, standing on a bank wearing winter boots and unzipped sweatshirts, watching with anticipation as their fishing line floats down stream, waiting for the moment when they feel a tug…and their line drifts no more.