Earlier this year I was standing in knee-high water at Gunpowder Falls State Park in Maryland, the light was fading fast and I had a long and brutal hike back to my car. I should have been underway by now, I thought, but decided that it was a good time to reconstruct a tangled leader, add some tippet, tie on a fly and get in a few more casts. The waning light was making things very difficult, however. If fly fishing has taught me one thing, it's that my up-close, low-light eyesight is deteriorating at an alarming pace.
So I'm about to give up on one knot or another, focusing intently at blurry little wisps of nothing in my hands when SMACK! Something hits the water with a huge splash, not more than two feet from me. Holy crap! Either someone just threw a dog at me, or that has to be the biggest trout in all of Maryland! And he was RIGHT NEXT TO ME! Well now I just HAD to get that tippet on and throw a fly out there. At this point I have almost enough light to tie my shoes, quite a bit less than the level required for threading 6X, and I see some movement through the long distance blur of my water-splashed reading glasses. I lift them up and see, about thirty feet downstream of me, a giant rodent of some sort crossing the stream. Looked like a freakishly large groundhog. No doubt he was spooking any monster brown trout lurking beneath the surface. I watched him, and started to get the dim sensation of almost understanding something, when the giant rodent dove underwater and SMACK! Slapped his big beaver tail on the surface of the water as he did. Dammit. My monster fish was a damn beaver.
I've seen plenty of evidence of beavers around. Those tell-tale conical stumps, just like in the cartoons, are all over the place. But I don't think I had ever seen a beaver in the wild before, and it took me an idiotically long time to piece it all together. When he got out of the water I saw that he was enormous! Labrador-sized. And I don't mind saying, it made me more than a little uncomfortable thinking that he had snuck right up on me in the water.