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Failures in Manlitude: Stocking The Rivers Of America

In a change from our normal Profiles In Manlitude, this week, we try our hand (and fail) at manly activities so that you don't have to.

God and his boss, Teddy Roosevelt, commanded man to be steward of the Earth, taking from it as needed, but also maintaining it for our sons to one day assume custodianship. With that in mind, I ventured out to the Shetucket River (which is Indian for "Shetucket River") to help my old man stock the river with salmon. Why did I do this? I have no idea...

 It was no easy job, getting up as early as 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday, but when Lady Earth called for help, I was there to fetch somebody more capable. I did it for the glory. I did it for America. I did it for even more glory I'd missed the first time. But mostly, I did it because I needed an idea for a column.

You might think the manly thing is to pull fish out of the water, and then do to them what Wall Street did to the middle class, but no! Anyone can find a primitive beast in 400 miles of river and snare it with a tiny piece of metal. It's much harder to scoop one out of a barrel (literally: there were fish in a barrel), carry it 20 yards, and dump it in the water. Well, I didn't actually do the scooping, but I did the important part: walking. Did I mention I was carrying live fish?

It turns out rising water temperatures are one-two-punching the fish populations in conjunction with pollution. Without these regular infusions of farm-raised salmon, the slimy residents of the river can't keep up with man's desire to eat them, which is why Trout Unlimited - a transcontinental conservancy group with an admittedly hilarious name - works with the DEP (important note: Not the DERP) to keep the rivers teeming with salmon and even more teeming with fishermen anxious to catch one. I suggest throwing the fishermen in the river after the salmon to wrestle the fish on its home turf, but Dad says no.

We drive up to a sandy lot in southeastern Connecticut, where members are gathered around a truck full of fish canisters. Behind them wait a few salty New England Yankees eager to hook a fish the second TU drives away, but it's catch-and-release only at the moment. There are maybe three of us here whose kids aren't retirement age: Some clean up litter, while others load the nets with fish. A few have the important job of leaning against the truck so it doesn't get too much sun.

Morgan McGinley stocking the Connecticut River with salmon

As I strap on the waders, I consider myself Johnny Salmonslime, seeding the Earth with these 10-lb fighters. I can see myself wading deep into the cool water, nestling the beast in the stream like a modern-day Moses, and whispering its secret name into its ear before casting it out to replenish the Earth. This turns out to be an erroneous vision, and not just because fish don't have ears. Instead, the guy perched atop the truck snares a couple of salmon in a long-handled net, then passes it to me with strict instructions not to let it touch the water. The fear is that doing so might transmit foreign bacteria back to the hatchery when the net is used again, exposing the farm-salmon to fin rot, or worse, Ke$ha.

Reaching the riverbank, my net is taken from me by two experts at dumping fish in the river (you can really be an expert in this!), and with a couple of fat plops, the salmon enter the wild. This is a chain of pointlessly specialized labor not seen since everything the DoT has ever done, but it's nice to be in a group where everyone wants to help do some good. Also, the chance to mark a tree as your territory. Dogs are right: It's fun.

We drive up the road to the next stocking site, and are met by another truck that leads the way into the forest. As the all-wheel drive pickup climbs over a blind curve of railroad track, I know that we are rebels who can't be bound by the law (or personal safety). The fish are all that matter. Some call us crazy: Most don't call us anything, because they never heard of us. No matter. We do the silent work of protecting America's finny friends. And all we ask for this honor is a tree to mark.

Later, over a Damn Good Connecticut Grinder, I ask Dad if he thinks I'm an American hero for my work here today. No, he replies, but he's proud of me anyway. And I helped some fish meet new girls. That's helpful enough for one morning.  

Brendan McGinley is fishing for work.