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Adirondacks, New York, Resource Guides

By Francis Betters

Sometimes when I think back to an incident that happened over thirty years ago, I wonder if it all really happened or if it was just the vivid imagination of a young lad lost in the magic world of fishing. About a mile from my home, I often fished a small brook that wound its way lazily through the pines and cedars of the woodlands in the shadow of Whiteface Mountain. It was a bubbly little brook with lots of character, containing many deep pockets and undercut banks among the cedar roots that in turn created protected living quarters for the many brook trout inhabiting its waters.

I would usually make one or two excursions a week during the summer vacation to fish and explore my private little stream. I was particularly intrigued with one deep pool below a little falls that was created by a series of boulders positioned across the stream. There was a large dead birch tree that leaned out over the pool and cedars overhanging the far side. A large boulder about four feet in diameter sloped down into the water at a slightly reverse angle, creating a sort of overhanging roof under which a fish could hide.

It was a perfect spot for a large trout but in my many trips to the stream, I had not once caught a fish from this pool, whereas I had taken fish from nearly every other section of the stream.

My Father had taught me that when you come to an especially productive looking hole that fails to produce when the rest of the stream is producing, it is usually because a large trout is hiding there. I was persistent, but without results and my curiosity remained unanswered until one day in mid-June during the height of the blackfly season. I had fished about a mile up along the brook and had taken two or three brookies about ten inches long. Since it was nearing noon and my Mother had cautioned me to be back by twelve, I was hurrying back down along the brook.

Perhaps it was the nagging persistence in a young boy's personality, but instead of taking a short cut through the woods to my home, as I usually did after fishing, I decided to go back to the pool once more. It had rained the previous night and the stream was now beginning to rise, its waters starting to color slightly from the runoff. I approached the pool and leaned up against the large dead birch tree to study the water. As I did, I heard an unusual splashing sound.

Just below the tail of the pool, there was a small backwash in the shallow water between two rocks. Wedged into this tight area was a brook trout about fifteen inches long, his head facing downstream. Almost at the instant I saw the fish, I sensed it was in trouble. The water was rushing in behind its gills and the fish was drowning. Even as my mind and eye took in the scene, the fish turned on its side and started to turn belly up in the stream. I splashed wildly into the brook and gently lifted the nearly lifeless form of the large fish. I could still feel life in its body and I decided to try a little mouth to mouth resuscitation in an attempt to revive the fish. After a few seconds of breathing air into its mouth, it moved and I gently placed it back into the water, holding it facing upstream into the current until it regained its strength, and then it swam back to its place beneath the large boulder.

I don't know how the fish had gotten into such a predicament, but as I hurried home that day, I carried with me my own little secret and a sense of pride in having saved that big brook trout's life.

For the remainder of that summer and fall, I would always make it a point to stop off at that pool and lean against the large dead birch tree and look for that big fish. After a minute or two, he would appear from his hiding place beneath the boulder and swim over to the side of the pool where I was standing. I could detect a definite signal of greeting in the wagging of his tail slightly back and forth in the currents as we acknowledged each other's presence. The thought never once occurred to me to try and catch that fish. He did not insult me by trying to stay hidden, and I in turn could not attempt to deceive the fish by hiding a hook in his favorite food.

Our friendship continued through that summer and the next summer until the last weekend of trout fishing in September. It was a cool and very windy day and I decided to make one more trip to my favorite stream and bid farewell for the winter to my good friend, whom by now I had given the name Sal, short of course for salvelinus fontanalis, from my newly acquired knowledge of the Latin name for brook trout. Instead of stopping at the pool on my way upstream, as I usually did, I cut through the woods to a point about a half mile upstream and began to fish my way back down the brook. Even in the shelter of the pines and cedars, the air was cold and the wind was blowing the tree tops with a force that sent ripples of cold air down, taking much of the enjoyment out of fishing. It only took about an hour to fish the better pools before reaching my friend's abode. I had taken only one small brook trout about eight inches long and had returned the fish to the stream where it might continue growing throughout the winter. As I leaned against the big dead birch, a feeling of nostalgia came with the realization I'd be saying goodbye to my friend for the long winter.

I gazed intently into the pool waiting for the familiar flash or ripples against the water to indicate Sal's emergence from beneath the boulder when I heard a swish from above and heard the familiar sound of wood snapping. I turned and started to look up, but it was already too late.

About four feet of the top of the dead birch had snapped off and was falling straight down at me. A section of the top hit me on the side of the head and sent me sprawling beside the stream. I saw a galaxy of stars before I passed out. It must have been only for a few seconds because the next thing I knew, I felt water being splashed in my face and opened my eyes to see my large friend swimming a few inches from my head near the edge of the pool and slapping his tail - splashing water onto my face. At that same instant, from the corner of my eye, I saw the tree swaying and then another large section of limb came crashing down. I rolled sideways a millisecond before the huge limb crashed to the spot where my head had been.

I shuddered at the closeness of my escape from serious injury or death and slowly picked myself from the ground and stood, wobbly, staring at the retreating shadow of the large fish as it swam back to its domain. I had not been injured badly by the first blow, but the side of my head was skinned and bleeding.

I washed my face and head with cold water from the stream and made my way back home. The events of the day were inconceivable, but I knew the fish had saved my life by splashing water in my face and at that instant had repaid an old debt. I did not tell my mother what had happened, merely saying that I had fallen and hit my head. The next spring when I made my first journey back to the pool, the fish did not appear. I returned a number of times after and leaned for many moments each time against the stub of the old birch but my friend never appeared again. In the many years since then, I have fished that brook and sometimes taken other fishermen with me, but I have insisted that this particular pool be left unfished. The pool belongs to Sal.

The above story is from Fran's book entitled "Fish Are Smarter in the Adirondacks" and can be ordered from his website at

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