Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chris gets waders and walks into a river

my new stocking foot waders
As soon as the credit card was swiped and they handed me the box, I wanted to tear it open, put the waders on, and get into some water! Turns out, we still had some errands to run. So wading would have to wait...

That afternoon (Sunday) Claire and I got home, and I tried on the waders. I put my LL Bean boots over the stocking feet of the waders, this would work, I thought. Packed the car, and tried to figure out where I should go. My new fishing friend Rob (Osprey) offered a ton of extremely specific advice and tips on a particular spot on the Fox. As he explained what I should do, what I should use, and how I should use it, I typed everything in a text file so I could remember it later. I'm not so good at remembering things normally. It helps to have a record!

It was super generous for him to share all this information with me, I just hoped I could text him a picture or two of a nice fish. In the interest of not sharing secrets from other fishermen, I won't say where I went.. But I've seen pictures of monster smallies taken there. I was psyched. Hopped in the car, floored it, and I was off.

After a half hour drive through the countryside, I arrived at my destination. I jumped out of the car, and got into my new waders. I salvaged a broom handle they were going to through away at work; I drilled a hole in it and tied on some line, thinking I could use it as a stakeout pole for my kayak. Didn't work so well like that, but it might work as a wading staff (I think that's the right term). This would be my first time wading, and I was doing it alone; I figured better to be safe than sorry.

I had my clippers and jig buster around my neck, and used a carabiner to secure a small tacklebox. I suddenly understood why everybody has fancy fishing vests- this was a lot of weight on my neck! I clipped the wading staff line to my wading belt (didn't have anywhere else to attach it), and put on my boots. I won't lie, I felt like I was pretty awesome at this moment- it's one thing to dabble in fishing every few weeks (like I had done last summer)... But here I was, fully equiped with my own waders, tools, camo hat, and I even had some homemade lures in my box.

Who was this person in the car door reflection? Was this the same jazz-playing film-scoring hip-hop-loving video-game-playing indoor-kid I'd always been? It definitely was. But now, judging by my appearance, I was a real-life angler too.

There were a whole lot of people shore fishing, looked like they were going for carp or catfish. Their rods propped up, jingle bells afixed, they chilled out waiting to hear a jingle. Following Rob's advice, I entered the water in a very particular location- which luckily didn't interfere with anybody's lines in the water.

Immediately the rush of cold water swirled around my ankles. As I slowly, carefully waddled out deeper, the water got colder and I got a very weird sensation in my legs. It was just like when you get your blood pressure taken, but on my legs. I wondered if there was some pressure thing happening, especially since there was air trapped in the leg parts of the waders due to the wading belt. I stepped back to the shore for a minute, trying to figure out if something was wrong on my waders.... They seemed fine, and my legs' circulation wasn't being cut off, so I got back in the water.

the view from the water
It's a very unusual feeling, trying to walk in flowing water, feeling your way along with your feet and a broom handle. I couldn't see below the surface, so I was walking blind. I'd read a lot of articles and tips on wading, and I suddenly understood why everyone says it's best to present the current with the smallest surface area possible. If I faced the current, it definitely pushed me downstream a little bit, but if I turned and let it hit my left hip, everything was fine.

I was trying not to fall over, not drop my rod, and follow the detailed instructions Rob had given me. I wasn't sure that I found what he described, but it might have been. Being new to this, it was hard to figure out exactly what I was stepping on, whether it was sand or rocks or gravel or weeds. One of the most interesting things was the contour of the bottom. Intellectually I knew that there were holes and sand bars, but looking at the river with my unexperienced river-reading eyes, it just looks like it gets deeper and that's it. Not the case. There were boulders, holes, high points, steep drops, slow drops; all kinds of stuff going on just below the surface. Using my three "points of contact" - my wading staff and two feet - I made my way into deeper water, trying to position myself in a good fishing spot.

Not convinced I had reached my destination, but wanting to get fishing, I began casting a Heddon torpedo. This was one of the many lures I'd found floating at Busse while I was kayaking. It's not that I don't buy lures - I definitely do - but I also find a bunch!

A guy and a kid were fishing, perhaps doing a father-son thing, about 20' downstream of where I was. The kid was obviously bored with fishing, and decided to start throwing rocks into the water. Whenever I'm in these situations, I'm not sure what the right call is. I obviously didn't want him to throw rocks, possibly scaring away the fish. Not to mention the proximity to me! A few times rocks landed about 2 feet away from me. I turned around and gave him a stern look. His dad watched but said nothing. The kid saw me, then started throwing rocks in the opposite direction, away from me.

Back to the river, I was in my river-fisherman-impression mode. Riffles, holes, flats, these words tumbled around my head even though I didn't have a grasp on exactly what they all were. Remembering what Rob had instructed me, I fished accordingly. I found it frustrating trying to get my lure where I wanted it, only to have it pushed downstream by the current. There must be some trick to this. Maybe that's where waders come in- position yourself so you can get your lures in the strike zone. I tried moving out deeper, but once I was up to my collar bone, I had trouble casting and moved back to shallower water.

I threw the torpedo, big white spinnerbait, peanut-style crankbait (not sure if it was actually a peanut... I found this one too), chartreuse buzzbait, and I tried out some of my homemade inline spinners. I'm sure I tied on some other stuff, but right now I can't remember.

Either way, what I was doing was apparently not enough to entice the fish to play. I was starting to get cold. This water was like ice, even though it was well above freezing. At home, I was originally going to wear shorts and a t-shirt under my waders, but changed into jeans and a sweatshirt at the last minute worried about being warm enough. Good call Chris! Next time I'll need to wear some fleece pants, or long underwear, or both. Maybe some flannel would be good to. Wouldn't hurt my real-life-angler image either! Got to get some pictures of me in the waders, ideally holding a river smallie.

I moved around, trying different angles, hitting different spots, fishing with the current, against the current, across the current; I tried to hit the slower water next to faster water, the water downstream of obstructions (trees, etc), but nothing managed to get a fish on the end of my line. The whole time I was there, I didn't see a single fish jump or even bubble near the surface. Well, I might have seen one out of the corner of my eye, but I'm pretty sure that was one of the many shore anglers casting.

As the sun went down, I started to really freeze my ass off. The air temperature wasn't so bad, it was the frigid water that surrounded the lower half of my body. I looked at my old iPhone - also hanging from my neck (I used some fancy knots to afix it, by the way...) - and realized the clock wasn't right. It said 3:41am. I knew the park closed at sunset, but I didn't know what time it was. Seemed pretty close to sunset.

I carefully wading back to shore, the water flowing off the waders, hitting the rocks, and making its way back to join the rest of the river. My boots were rinsed clean of all the mud, I was warmer, and my new waders more than did their job of keeping me dry.

Packing up the car, I was satisfied. Although I had been thoroughly skunked by the Fox - my sometimes friend sometimes enemy - I did a new thing. In my mind, only a serious real fisherman type would do. In comparison to other fishermen I knew, either in person or on internet message boards, I know basically NOTHING about fishing. They've forgotten more about fishing than I know. But I was making progress.

Although I didn't have any smallie pictures to post, I definitely looked like a fisherman. And I felt like a fisherman.

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