Of Rainbow Trout, Flies and a Goat named Beebee
By Gary Lewis
I turned my back on a career in professional basketball when I entered the seventh grade. You have to practice every night, they told me. With church on Sunday that left only Saturday for fishing. I was forced into a decision between the roar of an adoring crowd and a jerk at the end of a line.
The jerk at the other end of the line was my friend Greg. "No, I don't think I'll play basketball either. Wanna go fishing?" Instead of running lines inside a gym we cast lines down at the creek.
On the map it was called Possum, but those of us who fished it regularly conspired to name it Webb's creek after the doctor who owned the land. We had junior high reputations to maintain. How much credibility would we be given if it was known we fished in a place called Possum Creek? Real outdoorsmen fish in rivers with names like the Deschutes and the Battenkill not in streams named after marsupials.
Besides fifteen acres along the creek, Dr. Webb (not his real name) also owned a labrador, several cats and three goats. Every animal he owned was named Beebee. The good doctor, as I called him at first, gave permission to fish only the downstream water. The upstream ponds were off-limits. This was where he kept his other pets: hook-jawed trout he fed from a garbage can full of dog food.
High water swept many nice fish downstream. There was just one problem. The good doctor had provided buckets strategically placed downstream with instructions to transport these fish upstream to the ponds where I was not allowed to fish.
Slinging all those buckets around was going to take time, not to mention the effect that it would have on my fishing. Being an astute observer of nature and fairly good with numbers, I was quickly able to ascertain what would happen to trout populations downstream if I was to cart every fish I caught back upstream. So I began to move the buckets around in an elaborate shell game.
One day I would leave a bucket by the main pond, the next it would be downstream along a riffle. Some days I would actually transport a little fish up to the main pond and bring a couple of the bigger ones downstream for a little vacation. Fully intending to bring them back home if I ever landed them again.
One of my favorite holes was situated at the bottom of a grassy bank where an old dam held back a shallow pool. The far side was brushy right down to the water. Trout liked to hang in the shade of the branches. Upstream was marsh and grass that extended out into the stream. Sometimes, if you approached it right, you could catch a trout feeding in the grass.
There was only one drawback to fishing here: Beebee the billy goat. There are few things a billy likes better than to butt a fisherman equipped only with a fly rod and tiny, feathered hooks to defend himself. The evil doctor, as I called him later, took to staking the goat on the grassy hillside above the water. Staked to a pole there is little for a goat to do but chew the lead rope and wait for victims.
We learned to test him from a distance, catching his eye and provoking a charge. Ideally, the rope would leap from the grass and snap taut, his front legs coming off the ground. If, however, the rope was chewed through, we would retreat, returning to fish another day.
One day as I approached, I noticed no movement in the tall grass, no thunder of hooves, no beady eyes nor gleam of horn. Instead, I saw a tight rope that stretched over the bank and a goat-shaped depression in the grass. Beebee was no more.
The first three days I was able to fish that stretch without a care. But I noticed that instead of burying the animal, the evil doctor had merely thrown a blanket over the carcass. It was enough to keep the birds out, but it was certainly not sufficient to keep the smell in.
I developed an olfactory defense system consisting of an ability to hold my breath for a considerable length of time and a liberal application of Dad's aftershave. Approaching the goat hole I would hold my perfumed wrist to my nose. Stripping line from my reel was accomplished by bringing my rod hand close in to my stationary left then straightening my arm to cast. This worked well though it had an adverse effect on fly presentation.
I brought Greg along one spring morning about three weeks into Beebee's decomposition. I exhaled and plunged my nose into my wrist as usual then heard a gasp behind me as Greg's air supply ran out. I turned to see his eyes bulge as the wind bore Beebee's bouquet. I considered deftly changing the subject by commenting on the unusual number of flies, but before I could open my mouth Greg bolted. I think he sucked one in on his dash upstream but, by the sound of things, I'd guess it didn't stay down long.
I guess that goat did me a favor. The trout grew plump with the increased insect activity and I never had to worry about any of my friends beating me to the spot.
Much of what I learned there is still with me. I don't remove many trout from the waters I fish and my companions have learned to ignore my casting technique. Sometimes a friend will question why I'm so eager to get to the next hole but no one has ever complained about my aftershave.