Chapter 6: Michael Kilkenny’s Wake

Posted on April 5, 2013

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My 99th post!

A Coarse Fish

An hour later the whole party was on the road leading out of town. Roberta dressed again in her brother’s clothes and not looking any too happy about it. As we met, Mr Thompkins stretched out his hand. “Sir, what are your terms.”

I rubbed me palms together and looked up at the stars. “One sea trout, taken exclusively on American techniques, before me boy here, ahem, can land one on his gear. Shall we say a quid?” I choked a bit but finally spit on my palm and extended my hand.

He took it and asked, said, “I will pay him double that for every fish he catches beyond me. Bobby, me boy, why don’t you swing first through the beat?”

Roberta had my old 15’ greenheart. It dwarfed her, but she had fished since she was a child. Already tied on were a pair of classic wet flies Michael had chosen. “Don’t waste any time lass, fish only the deepest cuts where there is enough water for the fish to lie,” he had told her, and she had nodded solemnly.

Thomkins pulled a fine leather wallet out of his breast pocket, took out a long grey feathered fly, and held it up to the moon. Then he took a pair of needle-nosed pliers out and very carefully clipped the barb off the hook. Up till then there had been a steady murmur as bets were wagered and odds were made. The whole group gasped in hushed tones.

Roberta stuck her hand out firmly, took the pliers and did the same. “I kind of like the idea of there being just as many fish tomorrow,” she said.

I took me leave and went up to the bridge to have a word with Liam. “You take that lantern now, and wave back and forth should you see lights go on at the manner house.”

“Ah, I see your point.” I nodded and started to take my leave, and saw Michael and his band of miscreants sneaking down through the gorse on the far side of the river. I turned back to him. “And do you the same if our good friend the American should happen to hook the first fish.”

His eyebrows went up. “You don’t look like a welshing man to me!”

“As sure,” says I, “as I would be sad to cheat the young man of any money he may have coming his way, I do fear that if he wins the bet it will be far enough to raise Michael Kilkenny from the dead, with far greater odds at stake.” He looked at the rustling bushes as the men approached abreast of John and Roberta, crossed himself and said “We may yet meet the devil himself tonight.”

John was holding his fly against the moon again to tie it on. “This here,” he said as he held the fly up “is the fabled Grey Ghost, first tied by Carrie G. Stevens in the Western Maine community of Upper Dam between Mosselookmeguntic Lake and Upper Richardson Lakes on July 1, 1924. Her first time out using this fly she caught a large brook trout, weighing 6 pounds, 13 ounces and 24 3/4 inches long. She gave me this particular fly herself. It is a streamer fly, a new variety and has probably never before been seen in the British Isles, developed for a native American species, Salvelinus fontinalis, actually a char, and no relation to the native European brown trout the Salmo trutta, a nod to its cousin the salmon. I will fish it on the finest Tonkin split cane rod nine feet long as is the practice in the States. Does it satisfy the requirements as being ‘purely American’?”

“A more American approach could hardly be taken, good sir.” I said from the bridge. I nodded and headed downstream, thinking perhaps to keep Michael out of mischief and let the competition play out.

“I am very interested to see if Irish trout will dine on American morsels.” With that he gave the group a quick bow. More hushed tones from the group, and I heard a distinct rustle in the reeds downstream of me. The boys were probably wrestling Michael into submission before the sanctity of his water was breached.

Roberta went first, wading out on the rocks delicately and swinging her fly through only the deepest pools and runs. Thompkins watched her carefully in the moonlight, trying to glean any knowledge he could of the river. When she was about 100 yards down, he began to work line out, using a fancy back and forth motion I had never seen. “If you people would be so kind,” he spoke in a very polite voice, already sobered up considerably since the wake, much to my dismay. “I will need room behind me to cast and I do not want to hook any of you good folk. He turned to address the group, “As lovely as some of you are, I do not believe you would satisfy the bet.” Several of the girls giggled, and he looked over the crowd as if he was looking for somebody in particular.

He did not wade into the water, but stood on the bank and worked line out, then cast across the river and let it swing in the current. He pulled a bunch of line in to lie in the water at his feet, repeated the funny back and forth motions and took three steps downstream and repeated the cast.

“You will note,” he said as if lecturing at university, totally unaware that we needed the utmost stealth 60 drunken people stumbling through the dark and brush could supply, “that the shorter and more pliant bamboo rod allows me to impart great velocity and distance to the fly.” Despite studying Roberta’s tactics, he seemed to cover the water with equanimity. It was a beautiful night, soft winds off of the ocean, and between the murmuring of the stream and his hypnotic casts, the crowd was soon lulled into quiet observation.

As the stream worked down, a long deep slot formed under the far bank. On each successive cast he stripped more line to get as close to the bank as possible, without over reaching. This was made progressively more difficult as clouds began to cover the moon and the far bank was soon completely lost in the dark. Finally, he waved the rod back and forth, back and forth, and gave a mighty toss, longer than any cast I have ever seen. At the end of the cast, he waited just a heartbeat before giving a mighty heave. This was followed by an incredible splash by the bank, and the fight was on. . Surely, he had hooked the largest beast ever caught on the river.

Line alternately screamed off of the reel, and went completely slack, all the while accomplished by a great thrashing in the shallows. Thompson fought mightily, reeling in during the slack times and holding on so as not to lose the rod during the runs. In the dark it was hard to see what was going on but there was much splashing and spluttering across the bank. From my vantage on the bridge, I could see Michael holding his ear with one hand and the line with the other, while his cohorts cavorted in the river splashing around and trying to save Michael before he shouted out and ruined the whole thing. This went on for several minutes, although it seemed quite a bit longer with him running up and down the bank, the people alternately crowding him and giving him passage. It was a grand fight, sure to be told around many a pub, but in the end Thompson was simply out muscled and the line went full slack at last.

He reeled it in with a good laugh and checked his line. I was a bit shocked at his lightheartedness. “Surely, Mr. Thompkins you are not such a great fisherman that you can lose such a prize so easily,” said Shamus.

He was already busy tying on another leader and fly, “Oh, Mr. obviously that was a coarse fish, probably a carp or a bream, not one to take the bet. You will find, by the way, that as the fish get more practice, they will find it much easier to disengage from these barbless hooks.” He raised his voice and said the last almost as if he was talking to the fish itself in the marsh across the stream. I could see he was having a good chuckle under his breath.

“And now,” says he, “If Bobby has not yet beaten me, let us catch us some trout.”

In the excitement I had forgotten to look to the bridge. Liam was waving the lantern as if it was on the back of a banshee’s hearse, lights were going on up the hill and you could hear the dogs begin the chase. The crowd dispersed like milkweed in a hurricane and Roberta only had the good sense to grab Thompkins by the arm and drag him off. Michael was gone as quickly as if he had a bolt hole nearby, which put into my mind that indeed he might have, and I sulked off in the dark before I should get caught, an upstanding man like myself having poor reason to be on the river at night, and without even a rod at that.

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