Casey Creek is a nothing trout stream; a gurgling rivulet with a sand and gravel bottom and crumbling clay banks. But it was Garvin’s favorite place to fish, so here I am.
The stream rises in southern Trigg County and winds through the softly rolling western Kentucky farmland until joining the Little River, which eventually feeds Lake Barkley, the final impoundment on the mighty Cumberland River. This is not trout country. But Casey Creek runs clear, is spring fed, and flows surprisingly cold. So eight times a year, a truck from the state Division of Fisheries stops on the only county highway bridge that crosses the creek and dumps about 1,000 fresh-from-the-hatchery rainbow trout into the water. A couple of times per year, a handful of brown trout are added. The few trout that aren’t caught immediately by the locals quickly disperse and acclimate to their new surroundings. It was for these trout that Terry Garvin preferred to fish.
Garvin and I began fishing together more than 20 years ago, not long after we met. He wasn’t much of a fisherman then, but he became one by way of a curious, sharp mind that he could bend to unusual purposes. He is the only person I’ve known who could render trout fishing into a contest of wills between fish and fisherman. This may sound silly, but you wouldn’t think so had you ever fished with Garvin. It was remarkable to witness.
Garvin was a minister by profession and calling, a Biblical student and scholar, and so was aware that several of Jesus Christ’s disciples were fishermen, including John and Peter, the two favorites. I think he took a measure of satisfaction from this.
I am alone on the creek, which is not unusual for a weekday afternoon unless it is stocking day, which it is not. The last trout stocking was nearly three weeks ago.
The first pool upstream from the bridge was Garvin’s favorite spot, so that’s where I start even though a recent storm has wedged a cottonwood against the clay bank, clogging the run and pushing the current into a queer dogleg fronted by a bulge that makes it nearly impossible to get a decent drift or even successfully drop a weighted nymph down and around the submerged woody cover. It’s a good fishing holding spot, and Garvin would have figured it out, but after hanging up on three successive casts, I move upstream, wading through a knee-deep riffle to reach a narrow chute that empties into a long pool. A roll cast drops the gold-flecked, No. 14 weighted nymph into the head of the pool. I mend the line as the current pushes the fly downstream and toward the opposite bank. It sinks slowly, attracting a swarm of minnows.
I last saw Garvin on a rainy Monday afternoon on the top floor of a Little Rock, Arkansas, hospital, a building so large that it seemed to dwarf the surrounding landscape, which had dissolved into a misty fog from the relentless rain. The room was filled with devices that gave it a quietly efficient, mechanical sound. A wall-mounted TV was playing, but the volume had been muted. A few raindrops splattered on the large window. We talked briefly but mainly sat in the comfortable silence that exists between friends.
We had planned to trout fish on Arkansas’ White River later that week, a trip that had been scheduled for months. But Garvin had been felled by terrible medical problems no one saw coming.
I reminded him of the planned trip.
“Better reschedule,” he said, although we both knew it wouldn’t happen. The following week, I spoke at his memorial service.
On the third cast, the leader darts, and I set the hook. A thick, buttery colored brown trout comes to hand. I remove the hook and cradle the fish in my left hand. The trout, cold and hard, quickly regains its bearings and darts away toward the deep side of the pool. One is enough. I do not think I will fish here again.
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