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April 18, 2014
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An astonished deer


On August 8, after the meeting of the “Bamboo Gang,” I fished at one of my favorite spots on the East Branch of the Delaware. As I walked past where a small tributary runs under Route 30, I was surprised to hear the sounds of running water.

Never before had I ever seen water flowing in this brook. At its mouth, the brook had piled up a large mount of rubble, which indicated it carried a lot more water running downhill in the spring. This rubble first formed an upward slope and then fell away to the river. I was kneeling in a low point of the ridge when I heard the sound of someone unseen walking slowly along the rocks at the edge of the river. Another fisherman? I invariably had this bit of river all to myself.

I rose very slowly attempting to peer over the top of the rocky ridge. Aha, it was a doe picking her way along the river’s edge. I watched as she dropped her head to drink from the river. This deer was unaware of my close presence. After drinking she made a left turn from the river and began to ascend her side of the low ridge. The deer was now walking directly toward my still figure. I tried not to blink so much as an eye. Just below the top of the ridge she stopped dead. Her ears came up and her eyes seemed to become as big as saucers. What was this thing only some 15 feet in front of her? I could clearly see her nose twitching as she tried to pick up any scent from this object that did not belong there. Failing this, she proceeded to bow her head low, then quickly brought it back up. She repeated this move three more times. Was she doing this to challenge me or was she attempting to make me move? Several seconds passed with each of us as still as statues. Finally, the doe turned to her left and took a few careful steps downstream. She stopped and turned her head to look back at me. Had I moved? No. She then slowly picked her way over the rocks, down the ridge and disappeared from my view. I gave her 30 seconds and then climbed the low rocky ridge. She had vanished from my view into the downstream brush. In my entire life I had never been that close to a deer before. For what had seemed to be an eternity we had been no more than 15 feet apart.

The experience had temporarily taken my mind away from fishing. I now saw that trout were rising here and there on the river. I carefully worked my way over the rocks to get a bit closer to the nearest riser. I remembered to check behind me to see that there was room for me to make a back cast. When I fail to do that, I sometimes wind up fishing for trout up in the leaves of low tree limbs. I have found that one fly is as good as another when you are casting up into tree leaves.

The rod delivered the fly, a beetle tied with deer hair, dropping it some 18 inches above the rise forms of this trout. The fly hit the water with a tiny “plop.” In a flash, the trout rose and devoured the fly. I would like to tell you of the large size of this fish. The truth is this trout was only a foolish, fat, 10-inch-long brown. In the next 30 minutes, two of his like-sized cousins made the identical mistake. It was fun catching them. The memory of this night on a beautiful river, however, will not be of the fish I hooked and landed. It will forever be the look of complete astonishment exhibited by that doe when she first became aware of my presence. Memories are rarely made of the fish you may have caught. Memories are made by what happens while you are out on the river.