December 18, 2014
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It’s a tiny state even in woods of Arcadia

Free.

The word jumped out from the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) press release.

There would be a free weekend of fresh water fishing. License requirements were being lifted. A trout stamp wasn’t needed.

No question, people would be interested. I edited the release and filed it under “must run” for the Thursday edition.

It didn’t stop there.

I thought of the weekend and the Wood River. Might there be time to visit Arcadia Park and try a few spots below the dam in Hope Valley?

Rhode Island isn’t renowned for trout fishing, but there are a few favorite places. The problem is that they are usually everybody else’s, too. Opening day can be like that. At least, that was the case 15 or more years ago when I gave up on the spring rite.

When she was alive, our fishing columnist Anna Minicucci and her husband Richard would take me to one of their fishing clubs. The crowds were gone and the fish were educated. Often you could see the fish, like submarines, their dark forms patrolling the shallows, their shadows visible against the sandy bottom.

I imagined the gentle rise, the sipping of the tiny #16 Royal Coachman fly Anna had carefully tied to the one-pound leader tippet – a dimple on the water’s surface – and then the sudden tug when the fish realized it was hooked.

I false cast to get the desired range for what seemed to be the ideal spot about three feet in the lunker’s assumed path. Then, hopeful neither the wind nor some branch behind me would spoil the presentation; I went for it. It was one of my better casts; the line did not slap the water and the fly landed on the surface, a perfect float. The fish spotted it. I was sure of that by its ever so slight change in its direction.

But the trout wasn’t going to be fooled. It glided under the fly and disappeared into the deep.

“See what I mean?” said Anna, who had watched the performance. She had warned me I would see plenty of fish and maybe catch a few.

The experience was a reversal of most fresh water fishing I’ve done, where rarely, if ever, you see the fish unless they are feeding. The outcome, however, was identical.

Fortunately, there’s more to fishing than catching fish. At least that’s what I’ve convinced myself.

I set off for the Wood River Saturday afternoon, hopeful that the kayaks were off the water and for an evening hatch that had the fish feeding. The parking lot off Route 165 was surprisingly empty. No one was standing on the banks as I had expected. A young couple was loading their kayaks on their car. He had pulled off his wetsuit.

“I don’t see any, maybe you can look,” he was saying as I got out my rod and started rigging it. She came over and inspected his bare back.

“Ticks,” she said, catching my questioning look, “You can never be too careful.”

With that word of caution, I buttoned my long sleeves and made a mental note to check for ticks. I made a few casts to get the feel again – fly-fishing is like skating, it comes back quickly –and then headed down stream. The woods were still, the first leaves providing a yellow-green canopy. The path had been well traveled but was remarkably clean. I found the same of the riverbanks. The river was low for this time of year and serenely beautiful. Its black waters reflected the afternoon hues of orange and blue. I followed the banks, occasionally walking out into the waters to get a clear cast or, as happens, retrieve my fly from a low hanging branch. I didn’t see the sign of a single fish and I saw no one until I started back.

I heard their voices, or rather his voice, before rounding a corner to come face-to-face with actor James Woods.

He looked as surprised as me.

He introduced me to his companion, Kim.

“She’s a world class fly-fisherwoman.”

Kim smiled. She wore jeans and a lot of makeup. Neither carried a rod, yet they had been looking into the river.

I learned that Jimmy has a house in the area on a pond and he enjoys getting out on a kayak. Kim is from the south and confessed she has to travel north for trout fishing.

“There’s a paddle down there,” Jimmy said, turning back to face the river. It wasn’t obvious at first. A black kayak paddle was in the shallows that blended in to the bank of low hanging branches.

I retrieved the paddle and returned to talk. A fisherman, heading for the parking area, said hello and kept going. We talked about Warwick and I brought up that Martin Sheen would be the commencement speaker the following day at New England Institute of Technology. Jimmy told me how he had done that one year and been given a crystal bird in appreciation. He regretted that the bird had been shattered in an accident, as his late mother especially liked it. We shared stories about Robert Shapiro, who Jimmy had as a high school teacher, and we talked about the classic yellow Porsche he ended up selling “at a loss.”

Finally, they headed down the trail and I went back to the lot.

The fisherman who had passed us was just about to pull out.

“Was that James Woods?” he inquired.

The angler lingered and we chatted. He recently moved to Rhode Island from the Boston area. I asked where he is working. I knew a co-worker. Rhode Island is small, even when you’re off in the woods. I was inspired by his enthusiasm for the state.

I had returned to the parking lot pool for a few last casts when I heard Jimmy and Kim again. They came over to watch and I handed my rod to Kim. Jimmy looked at the fly, identifying it as a nymph. I was impressed. We watched as she cast into the head of the pool, allowing the fly to sink and drift. She knew how to fly-fish. World class? Probably not. There were no sudden swirls, no hits – not even dark underwater forms to raise hopes.

But that’s the thing about fishing – the reward is often what’s least expected.


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