Greetings once again. Today I had the chance to get out and do an activity that I truly enjoy…fishing. It’s something that I learned to do at a young age and it’s something I continue to do now (though not nearly as frequently as I would like). I’ve done it several states and in Canada and it’s something that I’m now sharing with my sons.
I don’t know why I like it as much as I do. Maybe it’s the idea of trying to gather food in a relatively primitive way; maybe it’s just being outside and communing with nature. Maybe it’s matching wits with creatures in their element and trying to figure out what tactics will work in this particular instance. Maybe it’s just the fact that a bad day fishing beats a good day doing about anything else.
Today’s trip was to a local pond that my brother has found and secured permission for us to fish at. The morning dawned bright and early and we rolled out from our house, a box of donuts and some coffee fueling our way. We procured some live bait at a local store and wended our way to the outskirts of town.
After we arrived and unloaded our poles and tackle boxes, we walked down a short dirt road and found our spot…a small pond, perhaps one-half of an acre or so. There was a large earthen dam and several cove-like areas for us to cast from. My youngest was the first to cast in and the first to catch a fish, a bass that was about a pound or so in weight. We sent it back to the waters we pulled it from and then commenced to fishing in earnest. The fish were biting, but they were what I would call hesitant; they wouldn’t really attack the bait, just sort of work at it for a while. We all managed to catch fish, though. It was a good morning fishing and one that will hopefully spark a greater interest in both my sons.
I learned to fish from my father at an early age. Our fishing had a purpose; with a large family, it was nice to have another source of protein and fish is full of it. I learned how to bait a hook with worms or minnows or even chicken livers to entice a catfish off the bottom and onto my hook. I never learned how to properly remove the claws from a crayfish (or crawdad as we call them here in flyover country) or else I would have used them as well. I fished for perch and bluegill and occasionally for bass, but catfish were our go-to fish.
My dad had, at one time, rented land from a farmer that sat on Mill Creek near the town of Paxico. We would spend weekends there, camping and fishing and even swimming in the creek. My dad would set trotlines – stout pieces of cord dotted with baited hooks – and we would have to check them several times a day and night. Ideally, we would find the hook occupied by a catfish, but very often there were other things on them as well. Carp, gar and the occasional snapping turtle would be caught and have to be released (or in the case of the snapping turtle, quickly dispatched) before the hook was re-baited and the line was once again lowered in the water, where it would hopefully catch our dinner.
As I grew older, I found that I enjoyed fishing with artificial lures for bass and crappie. The idea of having a fish pursue the lure was exciting and it was (and is) a thrill when you feel the line tighten and realize you picked the right lure this time. There’s an air of mystery around each fishing hole…where is the best place to cast to entice a big fish out of its cover? Is that area as deep as it looks? What about the area near that submerged tree? That could be a good place for a big fish to wait for its dinner.
I remember one time when I was again fishing with my older brother. It was at a pond that was supposed to hold some really large bass and I was looking forward to trying out some new lures. I remember that my oldest brother and my youngest brother were there as was my nephew; I also remember that it was a brilliant summer day. The only other thing I remember was casting towards an old stump and putting the lure just where I wanted it…close to the bank, left of the stump. I began reeling it in and then I saw a swirl of water near the lure’s path and I knew that this was going to be a fight.
The line tightened rapidly and I pulled up on the rod to set the hook and then, the fight was on! The bass exploded from the green water, shaking and wriggling, water flying off of its glittering scales. I continued to reel, keeping the line tight and slowly bringing the fish closer to the bank I stood on. My oldest brother was dashing around with a net and got there just as I brought the bucket mouth to the bank. He netted it and his eyes widened. “That’s a nice fish!’ he said with a grin. We weighed it and it was a little over six pounds. It was a very nice fish.
I remember when my son decided that he liked fishing. We had done some fishing for little fish off of docks and some bait fishing locally with a moderate amount of success. When we went to Minnesota on a camping vacation, my son decided he wanted to catch a “big fish”. I agreed and we decided that we would rent a boat and a small electric motor to get out where the “big fish” were. So we set out, my oldest and I, to match our wits against whatever dwelt in the depths of Bearhead Lake.
The lakes in Minnesota are very interesting; they have shallows that go for some way into the lake and then there is a steep drop off into the dark, cold depths. We placed ourselves near one of these drop offs and my son cast a spoon into the water. As he was retrieving and casting again, I realized that I had come onto the water woefully under-equipped; I had no fishing gloves (to hold onto fish without damaging their scales) and I didn’t have any long-nosed pliers to take the hook out of any toothed fish we might catch. It was my hope that my son would tie into a nice small mouth bass so that these things wouldn’t be necessary. Of course, I think you know how that turned out.
My son was retrieving his cast when the line went very tight and he pulled up on the pole. His eyes widened as he said, “I’ve got something!” He began to reel and I began to silently pray, “Please come up and splash. Please come up and be a really good sized small mouth so I don’t have to deal with anything with teeth.” As we know, God answers all prayers. As we also know, sometimes the answer is “No”.
The fish stayed stubbornly deep, putting up a strong fight against the youthful enthusiasm of my son. I reached for the net and my son said, “It’s over here, Dad!” and I looked over the side and lowered the net to help my son land a large, toothy fish and actually pull it into the boat. We later identified it as a muskellenge and our small scale showed that it was well over thirty pounds.
After photos were taken and pulses returned to near normal, I endeavored to remove the lure from the toothy jaws of our finny foe. I realized that I would be unable to remove the spoon and decided to return the fish to its home with a metallic souvenir (which it would soon shed with no ill effects). My son basked in the glow of that fish for quite a while, as well he should. He had, at a tender age, out-fished his father…and his father couldn’t have been any more proud of him than I already was. It was and is quite the fish story. I have included some pictorial proof at the end of this article showing the intrepid angler and his fine fish.
And so I hope that at some point in the future, my son will take his son (or daughter) to a lake or pond or river or stream and put a pole in their hand and show them how to cast and help them develop the motion needed to put the hook in the water and not in themselves. And I hope he feels the same pride I felt and still feel as he watches his child reel in their first fish and I hope he takes that moment and places it very deep in his memory and in his heart.