I’ve not yet jumped in to join the fishing opener frenzy here in Minnesota, but the big event has sparked a bit of reminiscing about my angling past. I remember the first rod and reel I held in …
I’ve not yet jumped in to join the fishing opener frenzy here in Minnesota, but the big event has sparked a bit of reminiscing about my angling past.
I remember the first rod and reel I held in my hand was the toy variety, the kind with a magnet instead of a hook and fish that were easy pickins for a persistent eager five-year-old. I was never so proud as when I managed to “hook” one of those colorful little things. I was truly a champion angler.
Going after the real thing came when my family moved to a house overlooking the creek that ran through my hometown. Dad worked hard clearing brush and small trees along the bank to create a spot where we could toss in our lines and fish for perch, catfish, and for the sport of it, occasionally carp. I remember well the battle that ensued when a big ol’ carp sucked in my corn-laced hook for the first time, as the huge tug threw me off balance and nearly into the creek. It was hard work pulling it in, and I didn’t really understand why Dad immediately threw it back, though eventually I learned. Catfish were way better eating than carp.
The next memorable experience was when my best friend and his dad took me with them to try for northern pike in the relatively new and extremely big (to me, a fourth or fifth grader at the time) federal reservoir west of town. It was my first time fishing from a boat, and being out on those rolling waves was an exciting adventure. Pulling in a northern was as much of a tussle as landing that carp, but more fun. My friend’s dad was going to toss our catch back, but when I begged he let me take them home. My dad sent me straight down to the creek to dispose of them – evidently, at least in our neck of the woods, northern weren’t worth the trouble of eating, either.
I was in junior high when I “graduated” to the big time – Dad took me out with his buddies for an overnight fishing trip on nearby Clear Creek. The prey was catfish and flatheads, and the method was setting limb lines. We first seined for baitfish, of which perch were the prized catch. We dumped them all into buckets, loaded them into a flat-bottomed boat and set off down the creek, looking for branches in just the right spots to tie the lines to. Mission accomplished, we headed back to camp and dinner, and settled in for the first long wait. I think we went out every couple of hours to check the lines, and by midnight I was struggling to stay awake between trips, but I was determined to stay up all night with the big guys. We had good success that night, which helped to keep me going. And everything we caught, we kept and cleaned. Now that was fishing done right, as far as I was concerned. We even cooked some up over the campfire for breakfast.
In subsequent years, growing into adulthood, catfishing was my preferred form of fishing, first using chicken livers for bait. But at some point I ventured into the world of stinkbaits, and boy did the good ones stink to high heaven. It was impossible to wash the scent off my hands – I could detect the scent days after a fishing excursion. I finally decided to try concocting my own, looking for recipes on the internet and adding my own twists. Griding Meow Mix into powder and adding some canned cat food and chicken livers seemed to work pretty well, particularly when I left it out in the sun to “ripen.” But the most novel and least pungent of my concoctions was a mix of corn meal and strawberry jello. The catfish in the Missouri ponds I was fishing at the time couldn’t get enough of that stuff. I never came home empty handed using that mix. An added bonus was that my wife didn’t make me keep my distance when I came home the way she did with the stink baits.
Marriage brought with it my introduction to bass fishing, courtesy of my fafther-in-law, Dan. He was the sort of guy that made it OK if you didn’t catch a thing – it was just so enjoyable spending time with him on the water. Naturally he had a good bass boat, a Ranger, and living along the Kansas/Oklahoma border we frequented several Oklahoma lakes looking for smallmouth and white bass.
One year for Christmas, Dan gave me a top notch baitcasting rod and reel, and I couldn’t wait for spring to try it out. My first opportunity came on a fishing trip to Kaw Lake, and we got into a nice mess of white bass that gave me plenty of practice with it. We pulled in our limit pretty fast and headed back to the boat ramp. Dan got out to back the trailer down the ramp, and I circled the boat back out into the cove to wait for him. With several folks in line, I had a little time on my hands, so I decided to chunk a lure out to see if I could get anything to bite. I gave the rod a big swing with a hard flick of the wrist – and my brand new top-of-the-line baitcasting rod and reel went flying out of my hand, coming to rest in about 25 feet of water, according to the depth finder. I was horrified to lose such a nice and expensive rig like that, and wanted to disappear down the lake rather than face Dan. He had the most incredulous look on his face when I told him what had happened, and he ribbed me mercilessly the whole ride home. And of course he had to tell all of his buddies about it, bringing me more grief still.
When Christmas rolled around again, it appeared as if all had been forgotten. I could see under the tree a fishing pole shaped package with my name on it. Sure enough, it was another top-of-the-line rig, but Dan had certainly not forgotten my faux pas the last spring, and he wasn’t about to let me forget, either. This particular rod had been customized by him. The handle was covered with the hook side of strips of Velcro, and packaged with it was a glove with the palm and fingers covered with the other half of the Velcro. This one, he said gleefully, I should be able to hold onto.
I’ve not totally given up on fishing since moving here. I’ve been out a few times to Bear Head Lake State Park trying my hand at a little trout fishing, but so far have nothing to show for it. I know one of these days I’ll need to try my hand at the kind of fishing that draws all these hordes of anglers to these parts for opening day, but I’m in no rush. And that, my friends, is the catfisherman in me. No rush. Everything happens in good time. Just relax and let it come to you. And try not to create a big stink in the process.
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