We would fish in Aedre’s Pool, my friends and I, a can of corn between us, cane poles in our hands, teasing and punching each other as we waited for the bobber to bounce, bragging of kisses that had never happened, something boys will do. Now we wade, these same friends and I, our graphite fly rods paid for in installments, our reels machined from solid stock, presenting our hand-tied flies created on expensive vices, as if the angler with the most equipment wins. No longer do we thrill to every tug of the line; we must wait to see if the prey we have fooled is large enough and worthy of our effort. After all, it may be rabblefish, inexplicably condemned to the bottom of our unwritten taxonomy.
The late Robinson Hardy of Sycamore Shadows understood what I have lately realized. He would often fish in Sanderling’s Run, where a fisherman can only fool a darter or dace, where a two-inch catch is a prize. As he climbed the rocks and prowled the pools in search of tiny prey, we would shake our youthful heads in wonder, his obvious joy affirming our opinion that the strange recluse, the victim of a disfiguring disease, was mad. Friendless, he would fish alone in the shadows of dawn, delighting in the swirl of the small water as we trod in search of larger fish in larger pools.
Last year I bought a cane pole at Hibb’s Department Store, found some redworms beneath a stone, and while my friends shook their heads and laughed, I fished the pools and eddies of Sanderling’s Run for the first time. As I stepped into the cool water, holding only a line and a pole, alone except for a waterthrush who came to see the strange interloper in a place that people seldom visited, it seemed I was young again. I do not remember the last time I had so much fun fishing; I cannot understand why I waited so long.
I still wield my expensive rod in search of large bass and wary trout, but I often return to the shadows of Sanderling’s Run, where I climb the rocks and probe the pools for little fish that others would deign to use as bait. I realize that the size matters little if the stream delights in my presence, that a smaller fish is, after all, but a smaller fish, and often more beautiful because of its mystery. Too often, the patch of turf, the mossy rock, the hidden wildflower, the bird that flits in the treetops, and the swirling pool remain unseen; bigger is better and distant is best. And because that is what we believe, we miss too much of the beauty that surrounds us. A vermiculated dace, Clinostomous vermiculus, the “Poor-man’s Brookie,” two inches long, looking like a tiny trout, its flanks covered in pearly scales spotted with blue and orange, can be a beautiful thing—but we must look.