The Improbable Mr. Fink
The Improbable Mr. Fink
Written by Scott McMillion
Illustrated by Parks Reece
Big Sky Journal – Fly Fishing 2010
Despite his improbable name and his unruly dog, Sterling Fink was a good neighbor. You could count on him for the loan of a tool or advice on the proper spacing of a set of stairs.
It seemed he was always in the yard, puttering away. He could spend an entire summer painting his big white house on the west side of Livingston, Montana, next door to my mother’s house.
Mr. Fink always had time to visit as I entered or left Mom’s place, especially if I had a fishing rod. He liked to know where I had fished and how I had done.
One day found me especially disappointed. I’d lost a huge brown trout that afternoon, though I assured Mr. Fink that my knots had been impeccable, I’d kept my line taut and I’d given the fish all the room he needed to tucker himself.
I killed more fish in those days, and I showed him the two fat browns in my creel. But the trout that was on my mind was still in the river. I’d been using a lead-headed, long feathered contraption meant to resemble a sculpin. It was difficult to cast and even harder to retrieve in the proper way, which required bouncing it along the bottom and trying to keep it free of the hazards down there.
I told Mr. Fink how tough this was, but assured him I had mastered the process, nudging my creel as proof. I told him where I had fished, the hours I put in, how that lost trout had run upstream and down. The fish had aimed for the beaver-chewed snags on the far bank, but I managed to steer him from that mess. He made my reel sing. He drenched me in sweat. He even knocked my hat in the river.
It wasn’t until I finally brought him to the bank that I got my first good look at this pugnacious beast, this brawler with golden flanks. The black spots on his back were the size of my thumbnails and his jaw jutted like the bumper of an old Buick. I do believe he snarled at me. But this fish was no hog: he was an athlete and I had made him mine, almost.
With my left hand I reached for this carnivore, this king of the aquatic food chain, my finger aimed for his gill. The back of my hand grazed his skin.
And that’s when I fell on my ass.
He flexed once and was gone, leaving me with a sodden backside and my leader dancing in the wind.
Mr. Fink had remained mute through this epic, engrossed and sympathetic, I was certain. When I finally came up for air, he asked again where this catastrophe had happened.
Oh yes, he knew that water very well.
He, too, had hooked into a similar monster there many years ago, and his excitement had rivaled mine. But when he hauled it to the bank he found it wasn’t a fish at all. He’s jus dredged up an old kerosene lantern.
“And the odd part was,” he said. “That lantern was still lit.”
Disbelief and astonishment surely splayed across my face, and only then did Mr. Fink crack a smile.
“I’ll make you a deal,” he said. “If you’ll take a few inches off that fish, I’ll blow out the light in that lantern.”
But he left me that story.
I like it better than any fish I ever caught.