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
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–
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
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
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
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.