I went to the nursing home to pick up my wife. She had worked a double shift because of the bad weather here in Wisconsin. The nurse that was to work the shift could not make it in because of blowing snow. Barb left her little car in the parking lot. I barreled through the snow with my SUV. My wife was at the curb waiting for me. She was really tired from working a double shift. As we went home, she told me there was a new intake in the nursing home. She met the guy briefly and introduced herself. The 80ish year old man introduced himself as Trout . Barb asked the guy if that was his real first name. "Trout" said that his real name was something else but he has been known as "Trout" since his childhood.
The nasty Wisconsin winter continued for an eternity. Barb logged many long shifts at the nursing home. She found out Trout's nickname was given to him by his grandfather. My wife told me many "Trout stories." My wife told me that he seemed quite lonely and I should visit him. I decided I needed to meet "Trout". The visiting hours that day were 5pm to 9pm. Off I went to the nursing home.
My wife usually worked the third floor. I went right up to the Nurse's station. The charge nurse told me that my wife was not working. I smiled and told her that I knew that. I was there to visit Mr. Trout. The charge nurse smiled and said, "I wondered how long it would take before you came to meet Trout. He is in room 312." I walked down the hallway and walked into room 312.
I knocked on the door and introduced myself. There were 2 names on the door. One of them said: Trout Swenson There were two beds in the room. It was quite obvious which side Trout lived in. The right side of the nursing home room was like a shrine to trout. There were photos plastered all over the wall and four huge trout mounts on the wall.The mounts were old and awe inspiring. Three of the mounts were male trout and all of them were over 30 inches. Each trout was mounted on a gnarly piece of driftwood. The alligator teeth on each trout were fearsome looking. The final trout on the wall was at least 36 inches. It was the deepest female trout I had ever seen. I guessed the trout's weight at between 16 and 18 pounds. The wall also was adorned with three fishing rods. And there was a HUGE net mounted directly over his head.
I told Trout I was a husband of one of his nurses. He said, "You must be Spinner." I smiled at Trout and nodded my head. I asked him if we could swap some lies. He smiled and said, "Sit on down." Our conversation quickly turned to trout fishing. Trout had been born and raised in Richland County. He has fished the local streams his whole life. He told me his"temporary" stay at the nursing home was putting a cramp on his fishing outings. Trout had injured his hip on the stream last fall.
We talked for quite some time . I asked him about the four trout mounts on the wall. I asked him the lengths and weights. He started out the descriptions with the same opening line .
" If my memory serves me right I caught that trout on a night crawler on my fly rod."
The four mounts varied from 32 inches to 36 inches in length. He said he never weighed any of his trout , only measured them. All of his small stream trout fishing was done locally. All of the trout on the wall were caught in a 100 mile radius of Richland Center. Trout told me he always fished alone. He liked his solitude.
I asked Trout how he got his nickname.. As a young pup "Trout" was enamored with trout fishing. He spent every waking moment either trout fishing or talking about trout fishing. His grandfather gave him the nickname on a spring day when Trout caught a huge trout in a tiny stream near their home. Trout's grandfather said: "Boy, you could catch a big trout in a mud puddle in the middle of main street." The initial nickname was "Big Trout" but it morphed into Trout through the years. We yakked for a little while longer until one of the nurses shooed me out of the room. It was bedtime. We had talked for four hours, and the time had flown by.
I made many visits to the nursing home to talk to Trout that winter. We always talked about trout fishing. I asked him if the four trout on his wall were the biggest trout he had ever landed. Trout's eyes squinted and the tone of his voice rose with anger ....
"There was this one SOB that got away at shore. It was a massive male brown. I played it for almost an hour and I had him next to shore and grabbed my net and tried to net him. That darn trout just straightened itself out in the net and made one more shake of its head and it got away. I can still remember the blasted thing mocking me as it slowly swam away, and I swear on my momma's grave that durn thing just turned right around just like it was lookin' right at me. Then it just swished its tail and it was gone."
Trout turned and pointed to the huge net on the wall above his bed. He said: "I bought that net the next day. You'll never hear any "real" trout angler say "I wish I had a smaller net." I went right out that next day and bought three nets as big as Trout's.
Spring was approaching quickly and I was getting really fired up about opening day. I stopped to talk to Trout to pump him for some information on where he thought I should fish opening day. Trout looked at me and said he was quite puzzled,. "You want me to tell you where to catch a big trout? Where is the fun in that? You need to earn your own trout. Get out there and catch a big one and report back to me on your outing on opening day. I don't want to hear about any little ones you caught."
Eight days flew by quickly and It was opening day. I caught a couple decent trout and lost one big one. I thought about what Trout had said throughout the winter. I fished all day and went to the nursing home at dark to tell Trout about the day. I walked directly to his room to talk to him. His bed was empty and all of his belongings were removed from the room . I was really freaked out. I went directly to the nurse's station. I was afraid to ask the charge nurse where Trout was. The charge nurse handed me a sealed envelope. It had "Spinner" written on the outside. I opened the envelope and read the shaky hand writing scrawled on the wrinkled paper inside."Dear Spinner,
By now you must have figured out I have moved on. I always told you I'd get out of here one way or another. And at my age, I should be able to get what I want. Now I've been plannin' for a long time to just pack right up and get on outta here and do some real fishin'. And I am plumb sick and tired of sittin' on my old behind just talkin' about it, so I just went ahead and finally did it. Now don't you worry about me none. I'm doin' just fine. Just picture me on a perfect trout stream, and by golly, that's exactly where I am. Now don't go askin' the nurses about me, they'll just tell ya some cockamamie story that, well, just ain't true. And don't come lookin' for me none neither. I like my solitude and well, I just don't want to be found. Just consider me this...
I looked up at the nurse and she quickly looked away, tears in her eyes. The question rose up in my throat, stopped at the tip of my tongue, then faded away. I didn't need to ask. Trout had already explained it to me exactly the way he wanted me to understand it. There was nothing more to say. I turned and slowly walked out.
All of this happened the winter of 2001. I have not seen Trout on the streams and have not heard of him since our last lie swapping at the nursing home. I sometimes think of Trout when I am fishing these days. I smile when I remember Trout's eyes squinted and hearing the tone of his voice ringing in my ears about the big one that got away.