Nick Adams awoke as his tent heated up in the morning. He was excited, but he knew he should have breakfast before he started fishing. He started the fire and put water on for coffee. Then, he went to collect grasshoppers in a jar for bait. He took only medium-sized brown ones. He went back to his camp and make buckwheat griddle cakes with apple butter. He packed one in his shirt pocket and ate two more. He also made onion sandwiches, which he put in his other pocket. Then, he looked through his fishing equipment. With all of his equipment attached to him, he stepped into the river. The water was very cold. Nick tried to take a grasshopper out of the jar, but the first one hopped into the river and was taken by a trout. The second one he hooked and let out on a line. He caught a small trout with this grasshopper. He carefully picked up the fish with a wet hand, unhooked it, and set it free. He picked up the fish with a wet hand because he did not want to harm the mucus on the fish. If he did, a fish would grow white fungus in that spot. Nick hated it when fishermen did that to fish. He even disliked fishing with anyone around but his friends. They ruined it.
Nick went deeper to find bigger fish. He got a big bite, but the fish broke the line. Nick thought about the big, angry fish that he had hooked. He waded out of the water. He was careful not to rush any feeling. He had a cigarette. Nick rehooked and baited his line and went back out. He stood where he could see deep streams. He cast out a line and came up with a fish. Nick pulled the trout in with some battle. When he got it, he put it in a bag with some water in it, which was hanging from his shoulders. He moved down the river a bit. Nick cast into a hole where he thought he would get caught, and did. Then, he cast again next to a log. He got a big hit. The fish rested for a while, though, pretending it was not there. Then, the fish gave him some fight. Finally, he pulled the trout out.
He got out for a minute and had another cigarette. He looked down the river to where it emptied into a swamp. Nick wished he had something to read. He decided not to go into the swamp because swamp fishing was tragic. One could catch big fish, but one could rarely pull them out. He did not want to go any further down the river. He knocked the fish against a log to kill them. He looked at them, pleased. He cleaned them, both males. Then, he decided to go back to camp. There were plenty of days for him to fish the swamp.
The second half of "Big Two-Hearted River" shows Nick trying to enjoy himself and savor every feeling, being simply happy to be alive. It also finishes the themes of combat and masculinity. Nick fights these fish, but the battles are not nasty. They are mellower than the rest of the battles in the book. The entire battle is like the moment when Vallalta and the bull became one. The trout and Nick perform an almost ritual dance with each other. They are the two hearts of one river, and their battle becomes a moment of unity rather than separation. One reason that this battle can be so fraternal is that the fish are also male. From the other stories, it seems that the harmony would have been shattered if females were involved.
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