<
>

Gone fishin'

2/16/2009

Now that the hunting seasons and my annual post holidays depression are done, it's time to go fishing. Warm weather hit this past weekend following a devestating ice storm, and it's time to chase trout. The walleye run will start later this month and soon after that, smallmouth and largemouth bass will get active. I'll spend a week playing with my fishing equipment getting it ready and then hit the streams. It's easy to become a boy again when fishing.

I saw an unusual but most welcome sight the other day when driving home. A teenager with an iPod and backpack was walking down the street in the middle of town. Nothing unusual about that, but this kid was also toting a fishing rod. He was headed towards a local park by the interstate where a small pond is stocked by the state fish and wildlife agency. I was taken aback to realize how surprised I was to see this sight. Here was a kid who obviously lived in one of the nearby old neighborhoods walking to a place to fish in the middle of the city. If that doesn't warm your heart and blow winter away, nothing will.

It brought back memories. I had a purple South Bend 740 spinning reel that my grandfather got me with coupons from no telling how many packs of cigarettes he had to smoke. (Thanks grandpa. I'm glad you quit and lived to 81.) I also had a telescopic traveling rod, a Schwinn 10-speed and a plastic worm box and aluminum lure box I could put on my belt. Armed with these and a package of hot dogs to skewer on a forked willow stick over a small driftwood fire I'd build, and I was ready to fish. I grew up six miles outside of New York City in northern New Jersey, but there were still places to fish if you looked hard enough.

My friends and I would get on our bikes and ride wherever we heard a rumour that the fish were biting. I remember hooking something heavy during a trout outing on the Raritan River on a cold spring day. The rain-swollen river hadn't given up any fish that day, but I knew I had a lunker brown on the red and white Daredevil I was throwing. The rod pulsed against the heavy pull of the current and throbbing weight at the end of my line. My buddies all reeled in their lines, dropped their rods on the bank and gathered around me to offer encouragement. It was dead weight that felt like I was hung on a log, but I slowly gained line. Finally, I worked it near the bank and only had to lift it out of the water and up the 3-foot incline to where we all stood. This was the moment of truth. Timing was everything. I'd either land it or it would throw the hook and flip off while airborne.

I lifted with a grunt and swung my prize toward the bank. It landed heavily in the wet sand. My friends gathered around. We stared, quizzical looks all. On the ground was a neatly wrapped and taped, square package of heavy duty plastic. The disappointment of it not being a huge brown trout, quickly gave way to the boyish excitement of it being $10,000 of mob drug money stacked in hundreds. Whatever it was, we were going to keep it. We glaspsed wrists in the square, seat-like shape of a fireman's carry and swore an oath of secrecy.

Quickly a knife came forward and sliced open the package. A collective sound of disappointment rose from the group. It wasn't $10,000 in drug money. It wasn't even a kilo of pure heroin or cocaine worth that much. It was about 150 rounds of various bullet calibers — .38s, .44s, .45s and even some .30-30 and .30-06 rifle cartridges — a bunch of old live rounds covered in cold, wet oozing mud.

That was it for fishing that day. The disappointment was too great. I hauled the ammo cache home much to the chagrin of my mother. Dad confiscated it immediately.

That old purple South Bend reel eventually locked up and died during a frenzied walleye run in Loveland, Colorado. It couldn't take one after another walleye smashing a shallow-diving Rapala minnow. Good thing, too, as I was about to get a bad case of hypothermia while standing thigh-deep in Loveland Reservoir in blue jeans and sneakers. The water was snowmelt cold. My legs were cherry red when I stripped off my jeans back at the motel. I couldn't stop shaking for several hours even after a long hot shower. Man, the fishing was good!

Boyhood memories of fishing. There are plenty more like them.

I wonder what that kid I saw with the iPod, backpack and fishing pole will remember? I'm glad he's getting a chance to make those kind of memories.