Billy’s mom did a three corner turn and drove off down the gravel road, and that was when I learned what Billy’s plan was for the day. He said we would fish and walk from this culvert down to the first bridge, and his mom would pick us up around suppertime. I knew right away that with one peanut butter sandwich and one orange in my creel I was too lightly provisioned, and that no one could fish and walk fifteen miles of this stream between six in the morning and suppertime.

We began the long walk in knee high swamp grass, fishing in a narrow beaver meadow. We fished all the likely places, at the roots of alder clumps, in the deep bends, and we caught nothing for the first half mile. In two places we had to jump over small creeks coming down between hillsides covered in spruce and balsams.

At the foot of the first beaver meadow the stream ran fast into a thicket of alders. I worked my way through the brush to the first pool and caught five brook trout, one after another. They were dark blue and wild. I saw more of them in the little pool, but I went on downstream. In the second and third pools the fish were fewer, and below that, there were very few until we reached the next beaver meadow.

We spent the morning fishing and walking downstream. We caught most of our fish in the beaver meadows, and in the first fast water below each of the meadows. The trout were all brookies. Most of them were nine to ten inches. We caught a few little ones, and in the slow water at the head of a beaver meadow I caught one of twelve inches, and Billy caught two like that. The meadows were old ones with no new beaver workings, and it was easy to walk and fish from the banks. The new grass was knee high in the middle of June. We moved fast because I knew we had a slim chance of making it out of the woods before nightfall.

At midday we came to an active beaver dam with a pool of at least an acre backed up behind the dam. Billy ate his sandwiches and I ate my sandwich and my orange on the bank near the big pool. I threw a streamer into the deep water and we watched a large fish follow the retrieve in the clear water, but it turned away without hitting the fly.

After eating our sandwiches we continued fishing down the stream. The stream grew with each mile, with more water coming down from the hills, and the beaver meadows were fewer and further apart. The trees in the fast water sections were a mix of alders and birch, ash and maples. Mile after mile the stream was the same. By late afternoon we were both tired, we each had a basket full of trout to carry, and even Billy wondered if we would see the road before morning.

I had fished some of the lower water the year before, and I was watching for anything that looked familiar. Nothing looked familiar. The sun moved lower in the sky and I said we should leave the stream and follow the sun to the southwest. There was another gravel road to the west, and if we had come far enough downstream, we should hit the road in a mile, or at most two. We climbed out of the little valley to walk over the rolling wooded hills to the west. We walked toward the sunlight coming down through the trees.

A quarter mile from the stream we came to a piece of woods that had been churned by a high wind a few years before. Most of the bigger trees had fallen or were leaning toward the ground. We climbed over some of the trees, climbed under some of the leaners, and detoured around others. We were tired already, and this was too much work for our slow progress. Discouraged, we turned toward the south, around the worst of the blow downs. Ahead we saw a line of white cedars and decided to follow the cedars back to the stream, and then find a place to lie down for the night.

It was cool under the cedars. The deer had eaten away the lower twigs and leaves and the ground was covered with moss. We found a creek in there, small enough to step over. The water was stained light copper, and there was wood in the water. We followed the creek down a short distance, and then I saw the post standing on the bank. It was a bare cedar post, driven into the ground and graying in the woods. There was a little roof made of a piece of board nailed to the top of the post, and under the roof, from a bent nail hammered into the post, hung a tarnished tin cup.

The post and the cup were the first signs of people we had seen all day, and we knew when we found them we would not be sleeping in the woods. Billy and I both drank water from the creek. When I kneeled at the edge of the creek I saw five little trout in the pool, bright and clean fish with parr markings. When I dipped the tin cup the fish sped up under a log.

A narrow path led away from the post and tin cup, and a short distance away we found a hunting shack. There was not even a lock on the door, just a hook, and we went inside and rested on two old recliners. The shack had a gas refrigerator and gas lights, a wood stove in the middle of the main room, a round table with chairs and decks of playing cards, a kitchen corner with dishes and frying pans where the hunters cooked on a pair of green camp stoves, and two bedrooms with bunk beds for eight men. There were dirty curtains on the windows, and three framed prints on the board walls. The largest frame held a green Geologic Survey quadrangle map, with the location of the shack marked near the center of the map.

The sun was dropping and we walked fast and ran part of the way down the trail we saw on the map. It was more than a mile, and a lot of it was through ankle deep swamp water. We came out to the road at dusk, miles from home but out of the woods.

I grew up to be an avid and able fisherman. Billy grew up to be a fishing machine. We fished together after our walk to the tin cup, but I was wary and I questioned his plans ahead of time, and brought more than one sandwich. Billy was a dreamer who followed his fishing dreams. A fishing trip without risk wasn’t worth the effort to Billy, and in the long run his dreams came true.

I wrote that Billy was a fishing machine, but he was more than that. No one cared more about the woods and the streams and the fish, and no one cared more about his fishing buddies than Billy did. No machine could ever care the way that Billy cared.