"Glory be to God for dappled things," wrote the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, "For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim . . . "
Hopkins, a 19th Century seminarian, was as much moved by the beauty of a trout stream as by religious faith, which will come as no shock to anyone who has spent time on a babbling brook in May. It's as uplifting as any church.
"When I fish for fun," said professional trout guide Bob Cramer, who has lived on the east flank of the Allegheny Range all his life, "I might come here, take a seat and watch the creek for hours."
Cramer grew up in the Shenandoah Valley near Harrisonburg. Most of his trout guiding is on Mossy Creek, a famous limestone stream that runs through farm fields and grassy meadows and boasts some of the largest brown trout in the mid-Atlantic region.
His flyrodding customers pay to be led to three- and four-pound browns that lurk in the deep holes of Mossy, and Cramer does well enough for them that he's won an endorsement from Orvis, the Vermont flyfishing dynasty, which sends him a good deal of his business.
But when he takes time off, the bushy-bearded guide repairs to places that brought him joy as a boy, and still do -- little, wild brook trout streams that bubble up in the mountains and tumble down to the valley. Here, on a clear day in May, sunshine pierces the forest's trembling leaf canopy in tiny bursts, lighting the stream bed kaleidoscopically to fuel the daily cycle of life.
"Fishing really doesn't get good until the sun gets high enough to warm the water a bit," said Cramer as we crept warily along the bank of a little stream he'd chosen to try for brookies last week. "That's when the insects start hatching and the fish move out of their holes and start feeding."
He waved a hand in the air to corral a tiny insect. "This one we call a yellow Sally," he said as the pale bug crawled along his thumb, then hopped off and lurched into wobbly flight. "It's a little stone fly. Brookies love them."
It was too early in the day for good fishing, but the morning was all we had. When I'd arranged this trip months ago, no one bothered to tell me that in addition to being a fine day to fish, May 12, 2004, also was my 25th weddding anniversary. The wife was not amused.
"Noon," I told Cramer. "I have to be out of here by noon to get home in time to take her out to dinner."
"Dinner?" said Cramer. "When we had our 25th anniversary last year, I took my wife to the Bahamas."
The little stream came alight slowly before our eyes. At 9 o'clock it was all shadow and chill, but by 10 the dappled sunlight began to penetrate the shallow, fast water, illuminating rocks and rills. "There, did you see that?" said Cramer, pointing his flyrod at a splash and the circle of watery rings where a small brookie had risen to take an insect hatching.
We rigged an Adams fly on 6x tippet, line so fine it was all but invisible. I stepped carefully into the water, frigid against my sandaled feet, and inched within casting range. The Adams landed softly a few feet upstream of where the rise had been, and we watched it turn and spin in the current over the little trout's head.
No soap. "If he does hit," said Cramer, "make sure you turn him and move him downstream so he doesn't go up in the hole and spook all the others."
On the fifth or sixth cast the brookie had seen enough. It launched from the bottom, a six-inch guided missile, and smashed the little fly. I jerked back and the tussle began. It didn't last long.
"Keep him in back of the hole," Cramer reminded, but as I yanked to turn the tiny creature the hook came free and the trout dashed right where it wasn't supposed to -- into the deep water at the foot of the riffle to warn its little friends.
"No matter," said Cramer. "The beauty of this stream is it's just one hole after another. You can stay here all day and never run out of places to fish."
As promised, the fishing got better the higher the sun went in the sky. "People say fishing is better on an overcast day," Cramer said, "but that's definitely not true with brook trout. With these fish, the sunnier it is, the better it gets."
By 11, insects were hatching in a steady stream, and each hole was dimpled by rises of feeding trout. We fished hole-and-hole, Cramer taking the rod at one spot, then handing it back to me to work the next. The three-weight graphite rod we shared was light as air, and casting was effortless.
By noon, big trout were coming out. I hooked and landed an 11-incher, which for wild brookies in a mountain stream is trophy-size. It's dappled marking were pale by comparison to the bright-colored ones I'm used to catching in October, spawning season, but it was still stippled by rose-moles, as Hopkins would put it, camouflaged perfectly for the sun-splashed stream bed and gorgeous in its own, modest way.
"There's bigger ones in here," said Cramer, gesturing toward the next hole. "I've caught them up to 13 inches in these holes. The longer we stay, the better it's going to get."
I checked my watch and contemplated 25 happy years, and 25 more if I play my cards right.
"One more cast," I said. And for once, stuck to it.
Bob Cramer guides for brown trout on Mossy Creek and brook trout on mountain streams, and runs drift trips on the Shenandoah for smallmouth bass. Overnight accommodations are available at the streamside Mossy Creek Lodge, owned by Bethesda anglers Moses and Leslie Albert. For fishing and lodging information, call 540-867-9310 or e-mail Rcramer174@aol.com.