I live a half mile south of a spaghetti sauce factory and an amusement park. Two Class A wild brown trout streams converge between my house and the factory and park.
One of those streams runs along and behind a roller coaster, a miniature railroad, and some food and game stalls and pavilions. Bumper car horns and sirens announce grand prizes and ricochet off skinny trees that compose the riparian buffer.
As I wade up the cobble, a six-inch trout torpedoes the width of a riffle and takes the caddis pupa dropper dangling from my Royal Wulff. My 3-weight bends and the trout jumps twice before coming to hand. Half its tail is gone, healed over from last year, the clean cut from a turtle’s beak still visible.
I admire wild fish, in a wild sliver, that carves through a tame place.
In the early 20th century, to entertain central Pennsylvania factory and railroad workers, the owners built small amusement parks for employees and their families. Many closed when factories shut down and the railroad was replaced with interstates and semis. Luckily, the Italian population loved the spaghetti sauce, and this factory survived, along with its amusement park.
I miss two rises in a deep cut bank where I bow-and-arrow cast to reach under the roots. My rod tip is low and I don’t set properly. At the bottom, through the clear water, a drowned box of popcorn blinks, and the fuzz of a purple elephant—some kids’ consolation prize—sways like algae.
No one ever asked me what I was doing. During my first trip up this stream, I expected park security to check my license and question my intentions. I memorized the state’s wading laws and planned my entry on public land. I was prepared for confrontation, however mild.
But it never happened. The moms corralling cotton candy–buzzed children and fathers eating pizza weren’t interested in my stumbling walk. Packs of middleschoolers orbiting around each other didn’t bother with me, as they were casting their own lines, begging their teachers for one more ride.
I hide most of my favorite streams from friends and even family. I’ll park and walk farther than I should. I’ll ride my bike instead of driving. I don’t post a lot of pictures to social media. Because of this default secrecy, I feel both a release and an even greater level of salmo-espionage by fishing in front of this amusement park crowd, a collection of humans that likely couldn’t distinguish a brook trout from a creek chub.
Early in the season, trout like to chase a sunken fly through the run. I let my caddis sink and strip back slowly. An eight-incher short strikes, then turns quickly, in what I can only assume is anger, and engulfs the fly. While I release the fish, I watch two crows fight over a basket of spilled onion rings.
The factory makes different sauces on given days of the week. While fishing, I’ve smelled spicebush, coyote-cached deer, hay-scented fern, bear scat, and rhododendron after rain, but tomato, garlic, and basil drifting across the stream at the same speed as my fly is both pleasant and unsettling.
I love trout because they demand so much from us. They need cold, clean water, a combination best found in places people don’t often frequent. I’m glad there’s been a spike in interest when it comes to urban fishing. People living in the suburbs and city need to fall in love with the wild that remains around them, remnants of natural beauty growing between iron and concrete.
I fish for amusement park trout because they endure in a place so many people visit, and somehow thrive. I admire wild fish, in a wild sliver, that carves through a tame place.
The amusement park closes at nine each night, and the PA system blares a last call for rides. I crouch at the head of a pool and feed line to a trout rising in front of a short waterfall. The merry-goround music stops as my fly passes over the fish’s head. For a moment, all I can hear is the hum of go-carts and the closeness of moving water.—Noah Davis
Noah Davis studies poetry at Indiana University. His essays have appeared in American Angler, The Drake, The Fly Fish Journal, Angler’s Journal, Fly Fishing & Tying Journal, and Southern Culture on the Fly.