Richard Gary Brautigan was a 20th century American novelist, poet, and short story writer. His work often employs black comedy, parody, and satire. He is best known for his 1967 novel Trout Fishing in America.. American novelist poet and short story writer
Part 6 of Trout Fishing in America
THE HUNCHBACK TROUT
The creek was made narrow by little green trees that grew
too close together. The creek was like 12, 845 telephone
booths in a row with high Victorian ceilings and all the doors
taken off and all the backs of the booths knocked out.
Sometimes when I went fishing in there, I felt just like a
telephone repairman, even though I did not look like one. I
was only a kid covered with fishing tackle, but in some
strange way by going in there and catching a few trout, I
kept the telephones in service. I was an asset to society.
It was pleasant work, but at times it made me uneasy.
It could grow dark in there instantly when there were some
clouds in the sky and they worked their way onto the sun.
Then you almost needed candles to fish by, and foxfire in
Once I was in there when it started raining. It was dark
and hot and steamy. I was of course on overtime. I had that
going in my favor. I caught seven trout in fifteen minutes.
The trout in those telephone booths were good fellows.
There were a lot of young cutthroat trout six to nine inches
long, perfect pan size for local calls. Sometimes there
were a few fellows, eleven inches or so--for the long dis-
I've always liked cutthroat trout. They put up a good fight,
running against the bottom and then broad jumping. Under
their throats they fly the orange banner of Jack the Ripper.
Also in the creek were a few stubborn rainbow trout, sel-
dom heard from, but there all the same, like certified pub-
lic accountants. I'd catch one every once in a while. They
were fat and chunky, almost as wide as they were long. I've
heard those trout called "squire" trout.
It used to take me about an hour to hitchhike to that creek.
There was a river nearby. The river wasn't much. The creek
was where I punched in. Leaving my card above the clock
I'd punch out again when it was time to go home.
I remember the afternoon I caught the hunchback trout.
A farmer gave me a ride in a truck. He picked me up at
a traffic signal beside a bean field and he never said a word
His stopping and picking me up and driving me down the
road was as automatic a thing to him as closing the barn
door, nothing need be said about it, but still I was in motion
traveling thirty-five miles an hour down the road, watching
houses and groves of trees go by, watching chickens and
mailboxes enter and pass through my vision.
Then I did not see any houses for a while. "This is where
I get out, " I said.
The farmer nodded his head. The truck stopped.
"Thanks a lot, " I said.
The farmer did not ruin his audition for the Metropolitan
Opera by making a sound. He just nodded his head again.
The truck started up. He was the original silent old farmer.
A little while later I was punching in at the creek. I put
my card above the clock and went into that long tunnel of
I waded about seventy-three telephone booths in. I caught
two trout in a little hole that was like a wagon wheel. It was
one of my favorite holes, and always good for a trout or two.
I always like to think of that hole as a kind of pencil
sharpener. I put my reflexes in and they came back out with
a good point on them. Over a period of a couple of years, I
must have caught fifty trout in that hole, though it was only
as big as a wagon wheel.
I was fishing with salmon eggs and using a size 14 single
egg hook on a pound and a quarter test tippet. The two trout
lay in my creel covered entirely by green ferns ferns made
gentle and fragile by the damp walls of telephone booths.
The next good place was forty-five telephone booths in.
The place was at the end of a run of gravel, brown and slip-
pery with algae. The run of gravel dropped off and disap-
peared at a little shelf where there were some white rocks.
One of the rocks was kind of strange. It was a flat white
rock. Off by itself from the other rocks, it reminded me
of a white cat I had seen in my childhood.
The cat had fallen or been thrown off a high wooden side-
walk that went along the side of a hill in Tacoma, Washing-
ton. The cat was lying in a parking lot below.
The fall had not appreciably helped the thickness of the
cat, and then a few people had parked their cars on the cat.
Of course, that was a long time ago and the cars looked dif-
ferent from the way they look now.
You hardly see those cars any more. They are the old
cars. They have to get off the highway because they can't
That flat white rock off by itself from the other rocks
reminded me of that dead cat come to lie there in the creek,
among 12, 845 telephone booths.
I threw out a salmon egg and let it drift down over that
rock and WHAM! a good hit! and I had the fish on and it ran
hard downstream, cutting at an angle and staying deep and
really coming on hard, solid and uncompromising, and then
the fish jumped and for a second I thought it was a frog. I'd
never seen a fish like that before.
God-damn ! What the hell!
The fish ran deep again and I could feel its life energy
screaming back up the line to my hand. The line felt like
sound. It was like an ambulance siren coming straight at
me, red light flashing, and then going away again and then
taking to the air and becoming an air-raid siren.
The fish jumped a few more times and it still looked like
a frog, but it didn't have any legs. Then the fish grew tired
and sloppy, and I swung and splashed it up the surface of
the creek and into my net.
The fish was a twelve-inch rainbow trout with a huge hump
on its back. A hunchback trout. The first I'd ever seen. The
hump was probably due to an injury that occurred when the
trout was young. Maybe a horse stepped on it or a tree fell
over in a storm or its mother spawned where they were
building a bridge.
There was a fine thing about that trout. I only wish I could
have made a death mask of him. Not of his body though, but
of his energy. I don't know if anyone would have understood
his body. I put it in my creel.
Later in the afternoon when the telephone booths began to
grow dark at the edges, I punched out of the creek and went
home. I had that hunchback trout for dinner. Wrapped in
cornmeal and fried in butter, its hump tasted sweet as the
kisses of Esmeralda.
THE TEDDY ROOSEVELT
The Challis National Forest was created July 1, 1908, by
Executive Order of President Theodore Roosevelt
Twenty Million years ago scientists tell us, three-toed
horses, camels, and possible rhinoceroses were plentiful
in this section of the country.
This is part of my history in the Challis National Forest.
We came over through Lowman after spending a little time
with my woman's Mormon relatives at McCall where we
learned about Spirit Prison and couldn't find Duck Lake.
I carried the baby up the mountain. The sign said 1 1/2
miles. There was a green sports car parked on the road.
We walked up the trail until we met a man with a green
sports car hat on and a girl in a light summer dress.
She had her dress rolled above her knees and when she
saw us coming, she rolled her dress down. The man had a
bottle of wine in his back pocket. The wine was in a long
green bottle. It looked funny sticking out of his back pocket.
How far is it to Spirit Prison?" I asked.
"You're about half way, " he said.
The girl smiled. She had blonde hair and they went on
down. Bounce, bounce bounce, like a pair of birthday balls,
down through the trees and boulders.
I put the baby down in a patch of snow lying in the hollow
behind a big stump. She played in the snow and then started
eating it. I remembered something from a book by Justice
of the Supreme Court, William O. Douglas. DON'T EAT
SNOW. IT'S BAD FOR YOU AND WILL GIVE YOU A STOM-
"Stop eating that snow!" I said to the baby.
I put her on my shoulders and continued up the path toward
Spirit Prison. That's where everybody who isn't a Mormon
goes when they die. All Catholics, Buddhists, Moslems,
Jews, Baptists, Methodists and International Jewel Thieves.
Everybody who isn't a Mormon goes to the Spirit Slammer.
The sign said 1 1/2 miles. The path was easy to follow,
then it just stopped. We lost it near a creek. I looked all
around. I looked on both sides of the creek, but the path had
Could be the fact that we were still alive had something
to do with it. Hard to tell.
We turned around and started back down the mountain. The
baby cried when she saw the snow again, holding out her
hands for the snow. We didn't have time to stop. It was get-
We got in our car and drove back to McCall. That evening
we talked about Communism. The Mormon girl read aloud to
us from a book called The Naked Communist written by an
ex-police chief of Salt Lake City.
My woman asked the girl if she believed the book were
written under the influence of Divine Power, if she consid-
ered the book to be a religious text of some sort.
The girl said, "No."
I bought a pair of tennis shoes and three pairs of socks at
a store in McCall. The socks had a written guarantee. I tried
to save the guarantee, but I put it in my pocket and lost it.
The guarantee said that if anything happened to the socks
within three months time, I would get new socks. It seemed
like a good idea.
I was supposed to launder the old socks and send them in
with the guarantee. Right off the bat, new socks would be on
their way, traveling across America with my name on the
package. Then all I would have to do, would be to open the
package, take those new socks out and put them on. They
would look good on my feet.
I wish I hadn't lost that guarantee. That was a shame. I've
had to face the fact that new socks are not going to be a family
heirloom. Losing the guarantee took care of that. All future
generations are on their own.
We left McCall the next day, the day after I lost the sock
guarantee, following the muddy water of the North Fork of
the Payette down and the clear water of the South Fork up.
We stopped at Lowman and had a strawberry milkshake
and then drove back into the mountains along Clear Creek and
over the summit to Bear Creek
There were signs nailed to the trees all along Bear
Creek, the signs said, "IF YOU FISH IN THIS CREEK,
WE'LL HIT YOU IN THE HEAD." I didn't want to be hit in
the head, so I kept my fishing tackle right there in the car.
We saw a flock of sheep. There's a sound that the baby
makes when she sees furry animals. She also makes that
sound when she sees her mother and me naked. She made
that sound and we drove out of the sheep like an airplane
flies out of the clouds.
We entered Challis National Forest about five miles
away from that sound. Driving now along Valley Creek, we
saw the Sawtooth Mountains for the first time. It was cloud-
ing over and we thought it was going to rain.
"Looks like it's raining in Stanley, " I said, though I had
never been in Stanley before. It is easy to say things about
Stanley when you have never been there. We saw the road to
Bull Trout Lake. The road looked good. When we reached
Stanley, the streets were white and dry like a collision at a
high rate of speed between a cemetery and a truck loaded
with sacks of flour.
We stopped at a store in Stanley. I bought a candy bar and
asked how the trout fishing was in Cuba. The woman at the
store said, "You're better off dead, you Commie bastard. "
I got a receipt for the candy bar to be used for income tax
The old ten-cent deduction.
I didn't learn anything about fishing in that store. The
people were awfully nervous, especially a young man who
was folding overalls. He had about a hundred pairs left to
fold and he was really nervous.
We went over to a restaurant and I had a hamburger and
my woman had a cheeseburger and the baby ran in circles
like a bat at the World's Fair.
There was a girl there in her early teens or maybe she
was only ten years old. She wore lipstick and had a loud
voice and seemed to be aware of boys. She got a lot of fun
out of sweeping the front porch of the restaurant.
She came in and played around with the baby. She was
very good with the baby. Her voice dropped down and got
soft with the baby. She told us that her father'd had a heart
attack and was still in bed. "He can't get up and around, "
We had some more coffee and I thought about the Mormons.
That very morning we had said good-bye to them, after having
drunk coffee in their house.
The smell of coffee had been like a spider web in the
house. It had not been an easy smell. It had not lent itself to
religious contemplation, thoughts of temple work to be done
in Salt Lake, dead relatives to be discovered among ancient
papers in Illinois and Germany. Then more temple work to
be done in Salt Lake.
The Mormon woman told us that when she had been mar-
ried in the temple at Salt Lake, a mosquito had bitten her on
the wrist just before the ceremony and her wrist had swollen
up and become huge and just awful. It could've been seen
through the lace by a blindman. She had been so embarrassed.
She told us that those Salt Lake mosquitoes always made
her swell up when they bit her. Last year, she had told us,
she'd been in Salt Lake, doing some temple work for a dead
relative when a mosquito had bitten her and her whole body
had swollen up. "I felt so embarrassed, " she had told us.
"Walking around like a balloon. "
We finished our coffee and left. Not a drop of rain had fal-
len in Stanley. It was about an hour before sundown.
We drove up to Big Redfish Lake, about four miles from
Stanley and looked it over. Big Redfish Lake is the Forest
Lawn of camping in Idaho, laid out for maximum comfort.
There were a lot of people camped there, and some of them
looked as if they had been camped there for a long time.
We decided that we were too young to camp at Big Redfish
Lake, and besides they charged fifty cents a day, three dol-
lars a week like a skidrow hotel, and there were just too
many people there. There were too many trailers and camp-
ers parked in the halls. We couldn't get to the elevator be-
cause there was a family from New York parked there in a
Three children came by drinking rub-a-dub and pulling
an old granny by her legs. Her legs were straight out and
stiff and her butt was banging on the carpet. Those kids were
pretty drunk and the old granny wasn't too sober either, shout-
ing something like, "Let the Civil War come again, I'm ready
We went down to Little Redfish Lake. The campgrounds
there were just about abandoned. There were so many people
up at Big Redfish Lake and practically nobody camping at
Little Redfish Lake, and it was free, too.
We wondered what was wrong with the camp. If perhaps
a camping plague, a sure destroyer that leaves all your
camping equipment, your car and your sex organs in tatters
like old sails, had swept the camp just a few days before,
and those few people who were staying at the camp now, were
staying there because they didn't have any sense.
We joined them enthusiastically. The camp had a beautiful
view of the mountains. We found a place that really looked
good, right on the lake.
Unit 4 had a stove. It was a square metal box mounted on
a cement block. There was a stove pipe on top of the box,
but there were no bullet holes in the pipe. I was amazed. Al-
most all the camp stoves we had seen in Idaho had been full
of bullet holes. I guess it's only reasonable that people,
when they get the chance, would want to shoot some old stove
sitting in the woods.
Unit 4 had a big wooden table with benches attached to it
like a pair of those old Benjamin Franklin glasses, the ones
with those funny square lenses. I sat down on the left lens
facing the Sawtooth Mountains. Like astigmatism, I made
myself at home.
FOOTNOTE CHAPTER TO "THE
SHIPPING OF TROUT FISHING
IN AMERICA SHORTY TO
Well, well, Trout Fishing in America Shorty's back in town,
but I don't think it's going to be the same as it was before.
Those good old days are over because Trout Fishing in Am-
erica Shorty is famous. The movies have discovered him.
Last week "The New Wave" took him out of his wheel-
chair and laid him out in a cobblestone alley. Then they shot
some footage of him. He ranted and raved and they put it
down on film.
Later on, probably, a different voice will be dubbed in.
It will be a noble and eloquent voice denouncing man's in-
humanity to man in no uncertain terms.
"Trout Fishing in America Shorty, Mon Amour. "
His soliloquy beginning with, "I was once a famous skip-
tracer known throughout America as 'Grasshopper Nijinsky.'
Nothing was too good for me. Beautiful blondes followed me
wherever I went." Etc. . . . They'll milk it for all it's
worth and make cream and butter from a pair of empty
pants legs and a low budget.
But I may be all wrong. What was being shot may have
been just a scene from a new science-fiction movie "Trout
Fishing in America Shorty from Outer Space." One of those
cheap thrillers with the theme: Scientists, mad-or-otherwise,
should never play God, that ends with the castle on fire and
a lot of people walking home through the dark woods.