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Part 6 of Trout Fishing in America

Written by: Richard Brautigan | Biography
 | Quotes (1) |
 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 your reflexes.
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- tance calls.
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 to me.
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 telephone booths.
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 keep up.
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 CHINGADER' 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- ACH ACHE.
"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 just vanished.
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- ting late.
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 purposes.
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, " she said.
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 ten-room trailer.
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 to fuck!" 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 NELSON ALGREN" 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.



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