Vermont still shivers in early April and anyone with any sense keeps a warm jacket nearby.
But chilly temperatures cannot keep a good fisherman at home in bed on the first day of trout season.
And Bruce Elliott is a good fisherman.
Welcome to Carding, Vermont.
Bruce Elliott had been awake since 3 a.m. Fishing season started in just a few hours, his favorite day of the year. He craned his neck to peer at the lighted numerals on the alarm clock resting on top of the bookcase head board.
“Why don’t you just get up now?” his wife murmured. “You know you want to.”
“Are you sure it’s okay?” Bruce whispered.
Cate yawned. “Of course I’m sure. I’ll get more sleep if you do and the kids will be up early enough. Go—and take the sandwiches I made for you. They’re in the fridge.”
Bruce leaned over and peeled back the quilt over his wife’s head until he found her cheek and kissed it. “You’re the best,” he whispered.
“I know,” Cate moaned. “Now go.”
Ordinarily, Bruce Elliott was the consummate family man. He took his sons out to play baseball, coached a soccer team, and taught them how to use simple tools (“Never pay anyone to do anything you can figure out yourself,” was one of his favorite sayings.)
He took them fishing, too. Except for the opening day of trout season.
“There are holidays for every occasion,” he opined. “The first day of fishing season is my personal holiday, and I want to spend those first hours alone.”
Cate didn’t mind. Everyone needs a spot of solitude now and then.
Bruce scanned the sky while downing coffee and a bagel. The clouds were pewter-colored but he detected a couple of thin spots. “It sure would be nice if it all got a bit thinner,” he thought. “Last year, it snowed!”
All his gear was ready in the car—rod, lures, waders. Bruce stuffed Cate’s sandwiches into a compact cooler, filched a few Oreos from the stash he knew his oldest son kept behind a gallon jug of vinegar in a bottom cupboard, and filled his largest thermos with more coffee.
After closing the back door, Bruce stood in the mud room to ask the deities governing the sport of fishing for a good start to the season. Then he pulled a checklist out of a vest pocket to double-triple make sure that he hadn’t forgotten anything key.
The streets of Carding were deserted except for the newspaper delivery folks and Ruth Goodwin on her early morning run for the mail in White River Junction. When they waved to one another, Ruth grinned and gave him a thumbs-up.
Bruce had favorite fishing spots all over the state but he always stayed in Carding for the first day so he could get there at first light without driving all night. He’d been pouring over a detailed map of Half Moon Lake, especially the marshy areas in the backwater behind the Crow’s Head Falls and the wide turn at the east end of the lake where the Corvus River gathered itself together once again to head toward the big waters of the Connecticut.
He and Stephen Bennett, Ted Owens, and Peter Foster had stalked the lake’s perimeter, evaluating the state of the riffles where rainbows like to hide on chill April mornings. Bruce figured he’d see each of them during the course of the day to discuss lures and catches in detail.
But right now was his time—just the water, a fishing rod, and silence.
He parked in the town lot at the community beach, grabbed his gear, and headed out on an almost invisible track that would take him down to a pair of very large, flat boulders renowned among the local teenagers as a great place for night moves on a summer evening. Bruce grinned as his own memories of those nights played inside his head.
But the memories didn’t stay long because the track was slippery with half-frozen mud and round stones. Bruce slowed to a crawl in the sepia light.
Then it happened, the omen he’d been waiting for. The clouds in the east thinned just a bit more, and the piercing light of a new fishing season dawned in the land.
Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find a short story in your inbox every Thursday morning.
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The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):