Here's a piece on brook trout. I wrote "Light Tackle Speciality: Native Brookies," about five years ago for The Fisherman, though the words that follow aren't that article. Since then, a state biologist wrote--I could tell before I read a word--an excellent piece on these fish for the same magazine. I still haven't read a word of it, the issue got out of hand, but it's around here somewhere and I still mean to read that piece.
No, it's not just because she's a biologist that I could tell.
I don't know for certain if Rip in the name Rip Van Winckle means Rest in Peace though it seems obvious it does, and it happens on very rare occasion that someone all but dies to everyone he knew, yet makes the unexpected comeback. If I recall the Rip Van Winkle story rightly, they left him for dead.
People thought that in today's world, so highly dependent on credentials, there's no way to succeed without the supposed requisitions, and they walked away burying their memories of what we were together. Beginning my return with one special person other than myself, it was as if others frequented my presence as that of a ghost, but they didn't run. They slowly began to understand that their expectations for my life reduced to wage work obscurity and clueless disconnection, compared to the successful professional lives they had achieved, were not so objective after all.
I exchanged academic success in high school for fishing, about 250 days each of those years. Some would chalk it up to attention deficit. I did not pay attention in class and scorned textbooks, which is why I wound up at St. John's College, Annapolis, reading classics, no textbooks in the curriculum. But nevertheless, my first college semester, at Lynchburg College, VA, proved I could pay attention if I worked at it. A 3.8 average for 21 credits got me into St. John's, along with a great entrance essay on the philosophical question of natural law.
I didn't want to study in high school. So I did not. And to cut to the quick for the brevity of a blog post, fishing, hiking, camping, backpacking, birding, all this and more was just the start. I never graduated with a B.A. or B.S., though I enrolled at a total of eight schools. I set up my own commercial clamming endeavor on Long Beach Island and studied and wrote like mad, getting so far away from the people I began life with, maintaining a relative few friendships, that people who had known me, family especially, thought I had gone nuts.
They wrote me off as a loss and moved on. Little did they know that I was quite cognizant, had simply let go of the conventional social habits, and so for years could not quite communicate--though I wrote communicatively in journals--as if I had found a separate reality.
Well, what is America? First and foremost, it's the land, and it's the water. "In wilderness is the preservation of the world," Henry David Thoreau. Long Beach Island may not technically be a wilderness out there in the bays, but close enough, even though now fertilizers have all but destroyed the ecosystems. The same for Delaware Watergap National Recreation Area with the purity of Dunnfield Creek and 70,000 wild acres.
Somehow or other I got the figure according to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife that 123 native brook trout streams grace New Jersey. That figure stuck in my head and I've web searched it since to no avail at all. I'm particular about such figures--just not enough to have remembered exactly where I got it. But a lot of statistics exist. Supposedly, about 50% of native range populations still exist in our Highlands and Ridge regions--and even a small native population in Burlington County. The Pinelands aquifer is as cold as any, I suppose, and in this isolated case the steam flows pure enough. The Pinelands were never full of brook trout, but one watershed did have some natives and still does apparently.
My son and I found a hole way upstream in Lewis Morris County Park home to half a dozen adult seven-inch brook trout. We searched the tiny rill--a step-across stream--to the spring head a mile upstream without missing a foot of length, and found only two other brook trout, each about three-inches long. Were these fish descendants of the Wisconsin Glacial release about 12,000 years ago? It's known that many NJ natives are this, because genetic studies are now advanced enough to tell. How many years have just a handful of trout (actually char) survived in this tiny waterway? These trout we left alone, too precious to make sport of.
But Warren County's Dunnfield Creek, for example, is fair sized, and has so much spring influx that the holes are a pure-toned aqua marine that makes you want to drink from them and I always do. I know professional naturalists who fairly recently have told me not to do that. At the least, I could get an amoeba, they say, but I've done it since I was 17. Even though you supposedly get real conservative about your health after 40 or so, I feel only the slightest reservation, willing to recognize the water isn't really safe to drink, as I told myself at 17; it's risky to drink. Such is the nature of faith and willing risks.
I could write poetry about drinking wild New Jersey water, but not right now. If anyone tried to sell New Jersey bottled pure spring water, they'd be laughed at.
Beaver Brook, Flanders Brook, Van Campen's Brook, Big and Little Flatbrook in some stretches, even Jackson Creek just outside Dover serve as just a few names of places to try a two or three-weight fly rod or super ultra-light spinning.
I used to catch many nine and ten-inch brookies in the Dunnfield on smallest-sized shad darts. They were particularly effective when I angled a cast well ahead of myself to fish that hadn't spooked. The holes are not the only spots that hold larger brook trout. I caught some in moving water hardly covering their backs. Two-pound test monofilament is the way to go. Nowadays, nothing beats a trout magnet brass headed jig, unless you limit the game to fly fishing.
Fast water brookies less wary in any case, you need to combine careful hiking with fishing. These fish are so special--our NJ state fish designated by Governor James Florio in 1992--that they should all be released or maybe a handful allowed to be taken home over the course of an angler's lifetime so that he gets to eat a true, native brook trout, very special table fare. I released all of the brook trout I caught on the Dunnfield, but have eaten one native brook trout in my lifetime, this one from the Saco River in New Hampshire. I felt even at age 17 that fishing them about twice a year was enough. It's a minor pilgrimage to fish a pure water trout stream, because this rite does in fact connect you to some degree with earth's ancient, pre-manmade metaphysical essence. It does so maybe more than any other way of fishing, combining hiking and deep wilderness value.
I hiked alone all the way up the Dunnfield to the top of Kittatiny Ridge and beyond--where the stream is a step-across rill where I saw one brook trout about three-inches long. I was about six miles from Interstate 80. This is nothing like Alberta, Canada. But the forests are deep of these many thousands of acres, and the great, wide open field on a sort of plateau at high elevation, a place where no trails led, as far as I could tell.
If you ever read "The Mental Traveler" by William Blake--a long, deep, deep, deeply mysterious poem among the signature pieces of genius of all time--you will get a feeling for this mystery of setting out and returning. The poem, of course, is much more about inner space than environmental technicalities and statistics. Each of us has profound wild nature within us.
Go to the Star Trek archives. I don't remember the name of the episode, but it's unmistakably the standout for me, about the guy who actually moves the Enterprise clear across the universe by his mental powers alone. That one made the impression on me as a boy, the Mental Traveler theme.
The Dunnfield experience all the way upstream near the original spring feed involved something exquisitely fundamental and elevated contacting me that afternoon tucked away in New Jersey, far from anyone else's presence, after I had bushwhacked along the Creek. But I've had many experiences beyond the everyday in my lifetime, just as artists must. Somehow or other the memory of that place way up there on the Ridge where no one goes--wide open field--reminds me of the final scene of the movie Knowing. The girl and boy, the only people saved from Earth's doom, are running in a field...the Garden of Eden.