It was difficult to hear against the roar of the fast moving water, but standing on a bank of the stream, after hours of fruitless casting with a fly rod, I swore I could hear trout laughing.
"These fish are not easy to catch. They just don't make mistakes," said Ken Miyata, whose sympathy would have sounded more convincing if he hadn't caught so many fish that day on the same stream, using the same lure.
The trout fishing seasons in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania will not officially begin until the first week in April. But for true devotees, the all-weather stalkers of rainbows, brookies and browns, there are a few rivers and streams open all year where an angler using a fly rod can satisfy a compulsion.
Last week I was invited by Miyata and Dick Blalock to fish one of them, a cold water tributary that feeds the Yellow Breeches, which is one of Pennsylvania's limestone trout streams famous throughout the world.
The calendar said we were a few days into spring, but the radio weather man was talking snow as we finished a two-hour drive and prepared, with rapidly numbing fingers, to rig our rods.
There was no doubt about the presence of fish. From the banks overlooking the clear water run we could see dozens of trout, hugging the bottom and facing the flow.
But fooling these wary fish into swallowing hooks camouflaged with feathers and fur would be another matter, particularly for a neophyte fly fisherman whose casting technique has been compared to a man beating a snake with a stick.
"This wind won't make things any easier," said Blalock, a retired Foreign Service officer and the treasurer of the National Capital chapter of Trout Unlimited. Blalock is a congenial man who has survived a quadruple heart bypass operation and can talk trout with the best of them. But he is the first to admit that when it comes to catching them, Miyata is the master.
"Ken is a scientist. To see him in action is to see how it should be done," said Blalock. "When he sees a fish, he tries everything in his repertoire in order to get him. Ken will catch five fish for every one I get."
Miyata has a PhD in zoology and a home computer that he has programmed to keep a record of every fish he hooks. After Miyata returns a sore-lipped trout to the water, he pulls out a notebook to record the time, place, water temperature, type of lure used and manner of presentation. After one particularly big trout was netted, Miyata used a suction tube to discover what the trout had been eating.
"There is a certain kind of personality attracted to this that just goes overboard," said Miyata, 32, explaining why he spent $150 for fishing permits in New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Idaho and Montana last year but released about 99 percent of the fish he caught in those states.
There is a trout circuit traveled by dedicated anglers. In the spring they can be found on Pennsylvania's limestone streams and rivers and in New York's Catskills. In the summer they go west to places like West Yellowstone in Montana. Miyata is an ardent follower of that clear water trail, despite the fact that he is a freelance writer and, by his own description, "mostly unemployed."
He recently finished a book on tropical rain forests and a year's fellowship at the Smithsonian, where he studied the ecology and evolution of South American frogs.
"Having a steady job really interferes with fishing," he said, laughing.
Being hooked on trout has advantages over other kinds of addictions, casino gambling for instance. When Miyata is pursuing his obsession, it is usually in a setting that would make a great picture for a calendar.
"The nice thing about trout is they won't live in a dump," he said.
Trout are so particular about where they will live that most can't survive year round in local rivers and streams. Pennsylvania's limestone streams do support wild, reproducing trout. But most are stocked with fish that grew up in cement tanks at state and federal hatcheries.
Purists don't like the stocked trout because they are not as wary as wild ones. And the beautiful, delicate lures, intricately tied to imitate bugs and winged insects that native trout normally would eat, are not effective with trout brought up on "trout chow" in hatcheries.
"Did you see what those two guys are using as lures?" asked Blalock, pointing toward two men fishing upstream. "It looks like pieces of Wonder Bread."
We were using round, orange fluff balls, tied by Miyata to resemble salmon eggs. If I had been fishing alone, I could happily blame that lure for my lack of success. Unfortunately, Miyata and Blalock, using the same lure, began pulling in trout while I still was fitting my rod together.
Miyata was something to see. He worked standing and stooped, casting overhand and sidearmed, with a calm, unbroken concentration. By the end of the day he had caught and released 13 trout, including one more than 16 inches long. Blalock caught only three, but he took a fair number of rest breaks.
"I don't really care about catching fish," said Blalock on the ride home. "That's not the reason I'm out there."
Miyata thought about that for all of half a second.
"It's always better to catch fish."
Miyata will give a talk and slide show on Henry's Fork of Idaho's Snake River Tuesday night at 7 at the National Wildlife Federation building on 16th Street NW.