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The angler who stole Christmas (trees)

1/3/2006

I laugh and my face curls up all Grinchlike as I load another Christmas tree into the bed of my pickup.

It's cold and my face is more blue than green. And its twisted wrinkles are probably likely due to years of failure to use sunscreen more so than pure evil — but that just depends on whom you talk to.

Who cares, anyway?

It's after Christmas. I don't have to be good.

So I snake the neighborhood stealing Christmas trees from the curbs, long before the garbage men get the chance.

Maggie, my Chesapeake Bay retriever and partner in crime, moves over to make room for yet another tree. (The Grinch had a dog, too, you'll recall.)

Some neighbors peer out the window at my antics. I leave in a wake of evergreen needles, but to date no one has ever chased me down or turned me in over theft of a discarded Christmas tree.

You see, discarded Christmas trees make excellent fishing habitat. So much so that many game and fish agencies across the country organize groups of volunteers to gather and "plant" the discarded trees in area reservoirs.

I know Mississippi and California have such programs and undoubtedly there are others out there that take advantage of a good thing.

Because there are plenty of would-be/waiting-to-be fish attractors lying around. The National Christmas Tree Association estimates 37 million trees will be sold this year! That could represent a lot of fishing spots, even for me!

You can certainly do this in your favorite fishing hole. But you need to make sure — if it is a public place — that you check beforehand with local officials.

Basically, by sinking Christmas trees in winter, you create a food chain. Plankton soon covers the tree and attracts baitfish that, in turn, attracts game fish.

In fact, many anglers simply refer to these deep-sixed deposits as "fish attractors."

Many people are very secretive about when they put out their trees. Some have told me their favorite day to do this is on Super Bowl Sunday, because there are so few around to discover their hotspot-to-be.

Not only do anglers have the luxury of many fish attractors soon after Christmas, they also have the advantage that so many reservoirs are a winter pool or in low stages. This makes it easier to put the trees out and to pick prime spots along points, creek channels or drop-offs.

Some have told me it's better to age the trees and let the needles fall off or strip them yourself, before putting them in the water.

I don't do that because, 1.) I'm lazy, and 2.) my wife — as appreciative of fishing as she might be, since it gets me out of the house and all — doesn't favor my used Christmas tree collection in the yard for long. For some reason, she sees it more as a pile of garbage than a collection of any sort.

And, true, putting out fishing cover in the dead of winter is a task that can easily be ignored, especially when you consider that you have only just survived the Christmas rush.

But then, too, this spring or summer, when I'm catching fish on a water-logged Christmas tree, you're likely to be fishing nearby and wondering, "Just look at that guy! Why is he so lucky? And more than that, why the heck does he keep singing, 'You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch?'"