The Laughing Trout

A Novel of Fly Fishing in a Mad, Mad World of Love and Utter Pandemonium

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The Laughing Trout by James W. UreWhen fishing guide Jud Buckalew decides to play a practical joke on a zealous wildlife officer (who just happens to be his dislikable cousin), the blowback is far more than he bargained for, especially when a beautiful television reporter falls for Jud and announces to the world that a large reward is being offered for the fisherman who catches the illusive “Lago Popo Trout.”

A cast of bizarre and colorful characters descend on Buckalew’s beloved river. Utter mayhem ensues as each tries to outdo the other in pursuit of this odd new species.

Meanwhile, will Jud come clean and destroy what may be his last chance at love? Or will he watch with anguish as the joke brings thousands to thrash his river, ruining its beauty and threatening his livelihood.

Chapter Twenty Seven/The Day’s Events

Toward sunset that day there was a traffic jam at Mack’s Inn. An elderly woman from Ogden, Utah, became angry and shattered the window of a honking pickup truck by throwing a jar of her strawberry preserves against it. A family from Eugene, Oregon, reported a naked singer at Coffee Pot Rapid. The missus, an opera buff, said she was certain he was singing The Entry March from Aida.

Beal Finnegan’s Last Chance Gas and Tackle ran out of non-resident fishing licenses. The store at Pond’s Lodge ran out of bread and milk. Vera’s ran out of Bud, Millers and Schlitz. Wine coolers were getting low.

A short fisherman from Reno stormed into the Idaho Fish and Game Office and angrily reported a naked man had swum through his fishing radius at Coffee Pot Rapid, singing Captain Jiggs of the Horse Marines.

Two frightened students from Boise reported the death of an in-dash stereo and CD player from causes due to sledge hammer blows. The assailant, they said, was courteous and helpful, if somewhat estranged from their tastes in music.

A wide-eyed young fisherman from New Haven reported accidentally hooking a naked man in the Snake River as the man struck at his fly. He lost a number sixteen

Tango Triumphant to the seedy-looking swimmer who was singing Never Gonna Let You Go.

A skinny little middle-aged Salt Lake City man screeching vile oaths of retribution reported an outboard motor stolen from his boat while it was beached at Island Park Reservoir.

Mark Harvey Bosham set up an electric shocking grid and hired six men to move slowly down the Snake, shocking fish to the surface so he could examine each one. He was excitedly determined to bring up his namesake trout by wholesale means.

Jud Buckalew told Suzanne Hsu of hunting feral cats to collect a dollar bounty offered by his Uncle Bernard  Bosham. He made 80 dollars one year. Bob was his first amend to the feline race. Suzanne kissed Jud Buckalew, touched by his string of painful admissions.

Chapter Twenty Eight/Whoops

Col. Sponzini reigned magisterially over his big bass boat, eighteen glittering feet of anodized aluminum whorls. It had been the project of his dreams, executed as precisely as meshing gears.

Directing a metal shop to construct him a comfortable pedestal chair that could be raised and lowered and tilted in back for comfort, Sponzini then commissioned an auto upholstery specialist to design a leaping gold bass in the royal blue leather seat. A matching blue seatbelt was installed and the chair was then bolted to the deck.

Foot pedals and an upright console at his right hand gave him speed and direction control over the stern-mounted one hundred twenty horse outboard engine, leaving his arms free for casting and reeling. A ten horse outboard and an electric trolling motor joined the big engine on the transom, each controlled from the console.

Just forward of Sponzini’s perch was a sonar repeater, pedestal mounted, that indicated the presence of fish as well as underwater objects such as sunken trees and shoals.

To his left was a collapsible map pulpit, built like a music stand with clips at top and sides, on which he could place charts. A piece of clear vinyl was fitted over the chart to protect it from spray and fish blood.

In the bottom of the seat forward of Sponzini’s perch was a circulating tank in which fish could be kept in ambient water. Many were the bass that had tailed in its water, Sponzini thought smugly. This trout business is really just the same. Organization is the key.

At both stern and bow of the johnboat were two Danforth anchors, each with a neatly furled line carefully attached to securing eyes.

A 25-foot safety line was attached to an eye welded onto the chair pedestal. At its other end was a clip that Sponzini attached to his belt loop. Finally, for times of rain or hot sun, a canvas top with a clear plastic windshield could be raised forward of the pedestal seat.

The outfitting of this boat had sent a dozen craftsmen and boat workers into fits of frothing indignation as Sponzini insisted on micrometer perfection in selection and placement of all its parts. Two men had even quit, returning only after Sponzini’s project left the shop.

Sponzini stood at the boat ramp on Island Park Reservoir, admiring the boat’s fine lines and shiny, waxed aluminum surface as it gently lifted and fell in the light midday breeze.

He had taken two hours to prepare the boat, securing lines, seating, testing and adjusting motors, calibrating the fish-finder, packing the boat to be certain of proper weight distribution. After that he turned to his fishing equipment. He prepared half-dozen leaders with lures purchased at the Island Park Lodge tackle shop, and organized his tackle box for trout, moving all the bass plugs and plastic worms into lidded poly storage bins. The tackle box compartments now shone with Flatfish and Daredevils and SuperDoopers and Hotshots.

He pulled on his day-glo life jacket, carefully securing the clips across his chest, and checked the emergency light to make certain it worked. Then Sponzini untied the bow line and stepped aboard.

He clipped the safety line to his belt and settled onto the pedestal seat, lowering it several clicks to assure himself he was properly perched for running at speed. He placed a blue baseball cap with colonel’s scrambled eggs on his head, adjusting it carefully according to the angle of the sun and the wind that would be whipping across his face.

Sponzini clicked the parts of the seatbelt together and looked straight ahead, his nose tilted upward. He reached for the console without looking at it, found the starter button, and stabbed it. The big engine bubbled to life instantly.

Sponzini backed from the ramp moorage slowly. Pressing his left foot on the turn pedal, he pushed the throttle forward and the boat lifted her bow and shot forward with a growl in a wide, creamy arc, then settled on a pulsing steady course for the far side of Island Park Reservoir.

Sponzini, perched like a dog on the cab of a pickup truck, sniffed and surveyed as the wind took his breath away and sent tiny streamers of tear tracing along his temples from the corners of his eyes.

The rhythmic thump of the boat as it crested the afternoon chop made Herbert Hoover Sponzini feel alive and, well, heroic, he thought, sliding the throttle back as he looked around the lake. It was time to fish. Losing way, the boat’s bow dropped and it began to bob in the back-wake.

Drawing the six foot trolling rod with its big, shiny reel from the storage grips on the side of the boat, Sponzini carefully removed the frog Flatfish from its hook protectors and tested the sharpness of its points with his finger tip.

Satisfied, he lowered the lure over the stern of the boat and began feeding out lengths of colored, lead core line, thirty feet per color, about a hundred feet, the tackle shop had suggested. He watched the lure disappear in the green water, glimmering till lost to view at a depth of fifteen or twenty feet.

Feeding line, Sponzini reached back and pushed the starter button for the small trolling engine. It sputtered to life and settled into a comforting chug-chug-chug, deemed about right, Sponzini thought, for trolling at depth. Maybe two or three miles an hour the man had said.

In less than thirty seconds the motor revolutions began dropping as the small outboard strained. At the same time Sponzini felt the steady pull of the line. He looked back at the engine from his seat. the problem was readily apparent: the tough trolling line had wrapped around the propeller shaft. This trolling business would take some getting used to, he thought as he put the little engine in neutral and set the rod in a rod holder.

Sponzini, checking his safety line, moved back to the engine to unravel the trolling line. He lifted the engine out of the water, revealing the small rat’s nest of colored line twisted around the motor shaft. He carefully untwisted the line, piling it in the bottom of the boat as each twist was removed. Using his hands he pulled in the trailing line and set the lure to one side.

The shaft clear, Sponzini returned to his seat and reeled in the slack. Now the Flatfish hooks bit into the anchor rope as the line moved toward him. He angrily stood up and moved to the back of the boat again where he carefully worked the sharp hooks out of the rope.

The lure free at last, Sponzini stood up in the transom, braced himself on the little motor, and threw the lure and line behind the boat. This effort, timed coincidentally with the arrival of the wake of a passing powerboat, dislodged his braced hand and it struck the manual speed control of the trolling motor, which sent the boat jumping sharply forward, and dumped Sponzini unceremoniously backward over the transom and into Island Park Reservoir. He was shocked as he splashed head-first into the cold, green water.

In a moment he felt himself tugged by the safety line, now stretched tautly over the stern, pulling him along behind the boat at a steady walking speed. The position of the safety clip at the front of his trousers caused him to be pulled head first, then legs first, as he fought to grasp the rope. He gasped as he tried to get hold of the line, only to be rolled head-and-tail by the frothing green water. At last he got a grip by working his hand from his belt to a point several feet up the line. He now held on to it with both hands, his nose splitting the water like the prow of a canoe.

Sponzini briefly felt in control. The stern of the boat was only 15 feet away. His life jacket kept him afloat. He would pull himself up to the stern and climb on board.

The drag of water against a man is surprisingly powerful when a boat is moving, Sponzini thought. He pulled himself ahead, but found it very hard to move even inches against the pull.

Most of the water that fills Island Park Reservoir originates at Big Springs, one of the sources of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. When it spews forth from the ancient basaltic depths it is about fifty two degrees fahrenheit, and it warms but little as it is joined by snow-fed tributaries in its five mile trip to the waters of Island Park Reservoir.

And so it was that Sponzini felt himself getting an erection as he struggled to get to the boat.

It was then he remembered the doctor’s admonishment.

Worse, in his struggles with the line he had caused the motor to turn hard-aport, which now meant it pulled him in a circle in the center of the lake. Sponzini was frightened–as frightened as ever he had been in Vietnam. His strength was ebbing and he could not pull himself upthe line against the icy, moving water.

In spite of the loss of dignity, his fear caused him to begin crying out.

“H-H-H-HELP!” came the call, barely heard by the Wixoms, a couple from Twin Falls who were still-fishing a couple of miles away in a small inlet.

Through binoculars they found the source of the calls–a bassboat circling in the center of the lake. It was driverless and seemed to be pulling something. After some discussion, the Wixoms reeled in, started their engine, and put-putted to the bassboat, warily waiting to snag it as it made one of its passes.

“I don’t understand it,” Mr. Wixom told Town Marshall Beal Finnegan at the boat ramp as they poured the limp, blue-lipped, glassy-eyed Sponzini in Beal’s vehicle. Sponzini moaned slightly and clutched at his tumescent crotch.

“When we pulled him in he had a hard-on that woulda done a pony proud,” Mr. Wixom continued.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Wixom. “We could hardly pull him over the side of the boat. It kept catching on it. What do you suppose he was trying to do out there?”