By Debu Majumdar
An excerpt from Debu Majumdar’s book From the Ganges to the Snake River: An East Indian in the American West
The summer came and I bought a fishing rod, a Mitchell reel, lead sinkers, forty-pound nylon line, and a few shiny metal lures. I was ready, but my two sons were more ready than I. They used a hobby horse stick and practiced fishing in the small living room of our apartment. They jumped up and down and told us, “We’ll catch big fish.” I loved watching their excited, happy faces. “This is what Idaho is all about,” I thought. They would grow up loving what nature offered here.
I bought a detailed map of the area and looked for streams and lakes where we could go for fishing, but everything was far away—one would have to drive miles to go there. I consulted my colleagues at the office. They all poured over the maps, traded fish stories, but no one told me where to go.
When I asked directly, “Well, suggest to me a place I can try out this weekend,” they talked among themselves. “Hmm, he can try the Buffalo River, that’s good.” Someone said, “Perhaps Silver Creek. What do you think?” Another said, “That’s good but the current is fast now, try out Indian Creek.” And they all dispersed.
I looked at the map. The Buffalo River was fifty miles away. “Do I have to drive that far to go fishing?” Silver Creek was nearby, but I found the name in several areas. Was it a common name for several streams? How do I get to Silver Creek for fishing? Was there a public place where people go for fishing? I bought a fishing license, but did I need permission from the landowner to fish from his property?
Willis, my coworker, told me “Go to Birch Creek or the Camas Creek in the Mud Lake area. It is very easy. Drive north, and when you see a stream, park the car and fish.”
So, the next Saturday, I took my family out for fishing and drove north along Route 15. “We’ll have fish curry for dinner tonight.”
In ten minutes we left Idaho Falls behind and passed by green fields, acres after acres, and mountains showed up in the distance. We gazed at the mountains, white snow still on their peaks, and exclaimed, “What a beautiful country!” After about half an hour of driving through side roads, we saw a stream. Willow, birch and aspen trees grew along the banks, and its water looked silvery—rippling through pasture land. It was very pretty to watch the stream. “Is this the creek I’m supposed to fish?” I wondered. “But how do I get there? Through the farms?” Fences bordered the lands and occasionally one or two horses roamed in the fields.
I couldn’t see any path to the stream, and no place to park. Finally, in desperation, I parked the car on the shoulder of the narrow road. We walked along the road with my fishing gear but found no path to the stream. We found an open field and walked across it. There was no other way to reach the water. The few cows grazing nearby looked at us once and went back to grazing: “Strange humans. Don’t know what they are doing.”
I hooked a small lure to my rod, the one the store owner told me would be good for catching trout. The stream was clear, I could see its bottom very clearly, but the flow was fast. “Are there trout in this stream?” I cast my line and waited. My older son went to the water and called for the fish. He ran back and forth between the stream and his mother, telling her how it was proceeding. My other son went straight into the water and wanted to catch a fish with his hands.
While my two sons talked, ran around, and cheered me on, I tried over and over again to cast my line at different parts of the stream, but got nowhere, no bite. “How long do I wait with the line?” I asked myself.
Time passed by. Catherine sat quietly and read a book, but she could not concentrate because our two sons were running back and forth and telling her what they were finding in the stream. “Daddy, when are you going to catch a fish?” my older son asked several times.
I questioned if one could fish with young children around. But how could I go fishing without taking them along?
The surrounding was uniquely beautiful—my family was there and no one else under the wide blue sky. The few trees along the stream provided shade for us, and the fields around were lush green. Distant mountains stood still in the sky. What a contrast to New York. Then I wondered, “Have we trespassed on someone’s property?”
When I was totally frustrated, and the children disappointed, two teenagers came along walking in the stream with fishing rods in their hands. They had several small trout in a basket. They threw the lines in the same spot I was fishing and little trout appeared magically and bit their hooks. Suddenly I could see many trout in the water. They were small and shiny. The two boys caught several and ran along the river. They were having such fun. All this happened in a few minutes and they were gone, and we were back to the same place.
“How come they caught fish and I don’t get a bite?” I asked myself.
We returned home empty handed.
July came and I hadn’t caught a fish. I had stopped talking about fishing in the office. Out of the blue one day my boss, George Miller, asked me, “Are you ready for an experience?”
I didn’t know what was in his mind, and looked up. He winked and said, “I’ll take you out fishing, if you want to.”
I was elated because he was a great fisherman. Stories about him abounded in the office.
He closed the door, stared at me for a few seconds, and said, “You have to promise that you won’t tell anyone about my fishing place. It’s a secret. I’ll kill you if you tell anyone.”
I had stopped being surprised when it was about fishing. I said, “Sure. I won’t tell anybody. Besides, I am still new, I wouldn’t know where we go anyway. You are safe.”
One afternoon we went fishing straight from work. He came prepared; he had everything in his truck: his clothes, the cool beer, worms, snacks, everything. Before we started, he reminded me that I must not tell anyone where we were going.
We went to Bone Road, and continued driving for what seemed like hours to me. We went by many hills; soon I was totally lost. We passed by an isolated, dilapidated outhouse. Finally he pulled the truck on top of a hill and parked. He pointed down below and stated, “That’s Willow Creek.” I saw with horror that if he hadn’t put on the brakes just when he did, it could have been a disaster—a steep downhill below, no road, only boulders scattered all over.
He looked around, and said, “We will have good fishing. First I have to take a leak.”
We went down the hill and came to a creek with bushes on both sides. The sun could set in an hour.
“This is the time the fish will have their last bite,” he told me in a low voice. His mood was changing, and I thought he was transforming to a fisherman. He got down in the middle of the stream and waded through the water. I followed him: “I must get in to catch fish. So be it.”
He opened a can and said, “Worms are the best for brook trout.” I put a worm through my hook; I was disgusted, as its soft body wiggled and protested.
“Don’t take that long to hook a worm,” George whispered to me. “Just do it.”
I threw my line and it went straight to the other side and caught a bush. “Oh, sh—” he shouted. I struggled to free the line. Finally he untangled the line and went ahead of me.
It was late, and the shadows in the canyon made it darker. I cast a line. I proceeded in the direction of George. The river took a bend, and I could neither see nor hear him. Fishing in such a stream down in the canyon was new to me—especially being alone. Sunshine lit up a small portion of the eastern canyon wall, and the stream made a gentle, soothing sound as it flowed on its rocky bed.
I looked back and the darkness had a dense, almost solid quality to it. Suddenly a thought came to me: what if a bear or a wild animal came over? George had moved ahead of me. A chill ran down my spine. It was the spirit of adventure I didn’t have. “I’m really a city boy,” I thought. People came out alone in these wild places purposely. Strange! What would happen if there was car trouble, and it wouldn’t start? What if bad guys surprised us? Could bears be around in this area? I had heard of many horrible incidents that happened to people in the wilderness.
I cast a line and told myself, “I’m here and nothing I can do about it now.”
Soon, however, those thoughts vanished and I immersed myself in the quiet beauty of the stream and wondered how many New Yorkers had a chance to experience this? I remembered this time of the day is called “Godhuli Lagna” in India—the time when cows come home from fields and raise a cloud of dust in their path. This is an auspicious moment between day and night, a quiet time, a time to meditate.
A village in India came to my vision: I could hear the chime of bells hanging from necks of returning cows, mothers calling their young ones to come home, and birds noisily settling in large trees. Soon lights were lit in houses, and crickets started their droning concert. If it were rainy season, frogs would join in. Otherwise, quietness fell on the village.
My line suddenly became stiff, and I pulled. A fluttering sound in the stream. I shouted, “George, George, I
think I caught something.”
George was just at the bend, and came over. It was a small trout, only five inches, a black and silvery thing, which tried to free itself from my palm. I looked at the beautiful brook trout. Is this why people fish—to feel a live fish in your hand, experience the last few moments of nature’s creation?
“Do you want to keep it?” George’s question pulled me back from my stray thoughts.
“Sure. It would be fun to take home something.”
We put the fish in a small bag. He went ahead again. Soon I caught another, a small trout. And then another. I didn’t call George anymore. It was not a good day for George, however. I yelled at him, “George, how are you doing?”
“I got a few, but they are very small. I released them.”
It was getting dark; we decided to quit and climbed up the mountain. “At least you got one. Isn’t that great?”
“Yes. It’s my first trout.”
I wondered if fishing was pure luck. I didn’t know what I did, but I caught five.
Fishing seemed so difficult. Why couldn’t someone teach me how to fish easily? I figured out what I would have to do to catch trout for my fish curry. I would have to buy a heavy-duty four-wheel-drive car that could run on mountain terrains for the unexplored streams, or I should buy a boat and fish from lakes. Most important, however, was the time—time away from home, from my family. Why couldn’t I just buy fish as I could in New York?