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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Trout Fishing in America 2015

Dad used to take me and my brother fishing from time to time, when we were tiny kiddos. We moved from Baldwin when I was just about to turn five years old, but when we lived there I remember going to Douglas State Fishing Lake and fishing off the stone piers. I remember throwing rocks in the water, my brother threw a big one and forgot to let go, Dad caught his ankle as it was about to disappear. Personally, I think he would have let go of the rock and bobbed to the surface, but yeah, it was a scene.

The other big memory I have of those trips, and I don't know how many there were, might have been just a couple or a couple dozen I really don't know. But I caught my first fish down there. A bass, I know because Dad told me so, and it was 12 inches long, I know because we measured it. I remember the scales flaking off, the head being cut off, and soaking the carcass in salt water in a Pyrex bread pan overnight in the fridge, then Mom dredged it in flour and fried it for dinner the next night. She must have cooked some other food, too, because a 12 inch bass won't feed a family of four even if two of the family are pre-K.

So a few years later, when we were adults, my brother turned me on to fishing for trout at Bennett Spring.

My couple of attempts in the intervening years, fishing was pure frustration. Standing on shore catching nothing but rocks and twigs. Hot, sweaty, boring, pointless.

I don't know how Brian talked me into going down to Bennett that first time, I was pretty negative on the concept of fishing by then. But he did, and we caught fish. From shore, I remember thinking waders must be outrageously expensive. We sight-fished with ultralight rigs, mine newly purchased at Wal-Mart for I doubt much more than $25.

We camped, my brother brought some mesquite chunks to flavor the fire. I don't remember how many fish we caught but I think it was few enough that a camping neighbor gave us a couple to supplement our catch saying, "I got more than I'm supposed to have anyway." Back then you could keep six a day and have twelve total in possession provided you had the licenses and tags to warrant it. That's down to four and eight these days, no doubt thanks to guys like that camping neighbor.

So then we went the other day. I mean eight years ago. Me and my brother and my Dad. We rented a cabin, waders (they only cost $10 a day), and ever since at every family gathering around Christmas, Easter, birthdays, etc., we say we should go do that again. When are we going to Bennett again? Soon, for sure, soon. It was a fun trip, besides catching some fish, we had a good family bonding time.

This year we finally did it. We farted around until there was only one cabin and one campsite left on the last catch and keep weekend of the year, but by golly we got it done. And with my nephew who is the same age I was when I caught that 12 inch bass. He got to camp with his Dad, in a tent with a fire (that he almost backed into, to my horror).

I did as thorough a job packing as one can do when one goes to a bar a couple miles from home by bike to watch the Royals get into the World Series. With a rain delay. Yeah, I woke up Saturday hungover with a deadline to get to my Dad's house and packed with no sense of what time of year it was or where we were going. I brought my laptop, but not a sweatshirt of jacket. Just so you know, if you're heading to Bennett, you'll be lucky to get a cell signal, my T-Mobile phone sure couldn't, WiFi hasn't reached there, leave the laptop at home. If it's late October bring a hoodie, maybe a coat, too.

I'm pretty warm blooded so I was more okay than I should have been with what I brought. And I was able to buy the toothbrush I also didn't bring at the park shop when renting my waders and buying redundant flies I already had with me. I don't think of myself as much of an angler, I hadn't fished in eight years and my gear was in disarray to prove it, but I was stoked. So stoked I had trouble going to sleep then woke up at 4:00 a.m. unable to get back to sleep. The horn blows at 7:30, and we were about a ten minute walk from the river, so that was a tad excessive.

Of course I didn't bring my Nikon down to the water because what if I fell in the river? Alternately, what if I left it on shore and it Bermuda triangulated? Not that I think camera thieves are as rife as fish poachers at Bennett, but still, it'd suck to be wrong. I almost didn't bring my phone, but did so I'd be able to tell when the siren was coming.

When the horn started to blow, 40 minutes after my premature arrival at the water, my fly promptly came off the line in my hand. By the time I got it retied, there were people who already had two fish on a stringer. After an hour or so I decided to try a a different fly a bit further from the floater, and the fish weren't having that either. As I struggled to untangle my reel, a teenaged girl fishing with her dad encouraged me saying, 'Same thing happened to me yesterday, I had to take the whole thing apart.'

I decided the black and olive thing the guy said worked best first in the morning might be the problem after a few people had cleaned their limit by me, so I switched to a white/red/yellow that looks a bit like fish guts and got an investigational taste from a fish. I was so excited that when I tried to set the hook I think I ripped his lip open and got nothing. Or he just got away, either way, it wasn't working and I was freaking freezing from standing in 45ºF water in waders with a long sleeved t-shirt and Aloha up top to keep me warm. My rig wasn't really functioning properly but I decided my only chance was to fish with it as it was, I wasn't about to pull a miracle fix out and if I hooked something I could land it. Probably.

When it was time to check out of the cabin (which was awesome and I hated that we were there for such a short time with such great accommodations at such a reasonable price), I decided I was done fishing even if I hadn't caught anything but a chill.

But by then my nephew had landed his first fish and was engrossed in watching a couple of guys who might have been over the limit filet their catch. His excitement at landing a fish, getting a 'Larry's Lunker Club' pin and seeing fish cleaned more than made up for my frustration and not getting a single fish for two and a half shivering hours of effort.

It was a good trip even if I didn't catch anything (neither did my Dad or brother actually). Before I try it again I'll see about getting a new spool of line installed on my cheapie ultralight rig, that should fix the issues I battled all morning aside from the fish not liking anything I offered in terms of a fly.

Or maybe it'll be time to graduate to a proper fly rig, though a guy was expertly casting one of those near me and when I expressed frustration he said, 'Yeah, I can throw the thing out there but I haven't figured out how to get them to strike.'

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