Monday, May 14, 2012

Kids throwing rocks, me catching fish

Suburban fishing

Originally Claire and I were thinking about going camping this weekend. We had a tent (thanks Kim and Leo!) and sleeping bags, but not much else. Instead of scrambling to purchase everything we needed at the last minute, we decided to get stuff now and camp next weekend. That meant two things: we ended up at L.L. Bean, I got some early birthday wading boots (!!) and we wanted to be outside. The temperature and sun were just right. Claire suggested we go fishing at a local reservoir, so we did.

We brought our new camping chairs, a little cooler, three rods, beverages, and Walter the Boston terrier. I'd like to call him our fishing dog, but he doesn't seem to care about fish whatsoever. He'll sniff for a second, then wander away, unimpressed. I visited this water before, noticing a couple doing exactly what we were doing: relaxing with a bunch of rods in the water. I remember looking down on their style of fishing. Why would you want to just sit there when you could be actively fishing? Only now do I think I know the answer. Well, there are two: carp and catfish. In fact, the same trip (in the kayak) I found what I later realized was a whole mess of catfish fry. I'll need to do some catfishing here later...

So we hung out, enjoyed the sun, and I watched what I could only assume we're carp wakes all over the water. I tried corn on a hook, then white bread squeezed around a hook; I even threw out little smushed pieces of bread to try and bring the carp in. I wonder if that technique is more of a cumulative thing, meaning I should do that every few days to create some awesome carp fishing...

Retention pond crappie
Claire hopped on her bike to do some laps around the trail, and no sooner had she left than I got my first and only fish of the day: a white crappie, around 8". My first of the year! It attacked a gulp minnow under a slip bobber, and didn't mind I used a piece of grass to keep the bobber in place. It works remarkably well, and grass is readily available and biodegradable. Walter was unimpressed. He was much more interested in watching the bike path to see who would be riding by next.

After a couple hours enjoying the sun, Walter rolling around in the mud like a little pig, and one single fish, we headed home.

Not too soon after getting back home and unloading the car, I got back in and made my way back to the Fox River. I have a great wife who lets me go fishing frequently and for long periods of time. The one stipulation is usually that I prepare some kind of food to eat; this time I fed her tomato soup and cast iron grilled cheese. I'm not a grilled cheese fan, but I'm fairly positive grilled cheese in cast iron is superior to every other kind out there.

Muddy dog
Anyway, soon I found myself back on the fox, the weather even nicer than the day before. I didn't even bring my jacket. In fact, I wore shorts and a t-shirt under my waders, and must say I enjoyed wading barefoot, so to speak. There was some kind of bug hatch going on, which started docile enough but would eventually crescendo into an all-out Chris attack-fest. At least it felt that way.

It must have been my third or fourth cast when I hooked into the first beast of the evening- and it felt very big. Based on my luck the previous day- 3 smallies and 10+ almosts- I was excited to jump back into the fray and fight some scrappy river smallies. This first one seemed big; it headed down, fighting with raw power. It took a minute or two to horse it in, and that's when I realized why it felt so big.

Somehow I had gut hooked it, the hook stuck in its chest instead of its mouth. I brought it close, and quickly lipped it so I could get the hook out in as little time as possible. This is where I face the eventual certainty of fishing: although I never want to hurt an animal for the sake of hurting it, and will only kill if I intend to eat it, the very act of fishing can hurt the fish. Although I certainly didn't mean to harm the fish, I was after all dragging a very sharp hook through the water, hoping a fish would out it's lip through the sharp point. There's some debate on whether fish feel pain or not, and like most people I can't know whether they do or not. I could rationalize and explain how it is I sleep at night, but the short answer is I try to avoid hurting fish as much as possible when fishing.

I felt horrible having harmed this beautiful creature in this way; I looked at its wound and it reminded me of some bird-inflicted wounds I'd seen on other fish. It occurred to me that although I don't intentionally hurt fish, there are plenty of animals who would love to make a quick meal out of any smallie, and we certainly can't find fault in that. They are animals, and all animals need to eat. Including us.

For a moment I considered keeping the fish for the table, as it was at least 14" (the legal minimum) and would rather eat it than let it suffer and die wantonly. But as I carefully removed the hook, I noticed the wound wasn't deep at all, and the fish seemed fine. I got the hook out, and held the bass in the water to see if it could swim away on its own. After a second, the bass chomped down on my thumb - hard- as if to scold me for injuring it. It burst away like the annoyed little rocket it was.

I'm new to the outdoors, to nature, to animals, but there's something that seems to be a recurring theme: nature doesn't care. A blade of grass growing in the sidewalk doesn't care it's not in the forest; a heron doesn't care if it eats an endangered fish; nature doesn't care if you're there or not, it will continue to do its thing. To the smallmouth bass, I was just another predator, and a dumb one at that. What predator would voluntarily set his prey free?

I was happy the bass was fine, hoped it would prosper, and wondered if the run-in with me would make it smarter and more wary in the future. Perhaps it would live longer because of this brush with death. It had a new lease on life. But perhaps it would die in a day due to an infection or something else. Either way I was pretty sure nature wouldn't loose sleep over it, even though I might.

Pretty nice fish right there, I think
But back to fishing. I managed to pull out two more bass with that same tube jig, standing in the same spot from the night before. One jumped from the water a few inches, shaking its head when it saw me. The other swam so fast and seemed so strong I was convinced it was some species new to me. Then I saw its bronze back, stripes and fiery red eyes and knew it was another smallie.

There were some teenagers hanging out near the shore, having an animated leaf race as they put leaves into the current. Then they started throwing rocks into the water. Although they were quite far from me, I found myself getting angry at them for disturbing my peaceful (well almost) fishing. Then I thought back to the few times I'd been on the water as a kid, and my first instinct had always been to pick up rocks and throw them into the water. It makes a fun splash!

Instead of yelling at the kids, I wondered what the fish thought of it. Stuff falling into the water happens all the time naturally, so really this wasn't anything fish hadn't seen before. I guessed they would swim away from the rock explosions, which just so happened to be in my direction. Turns out I might have been right, as that third smallie was caught seemingly escaping the rock explosions. It didn't care what or who was causing them, it just wanted to get away.

I kept fishing, but just like the day before the fishing suddenly dried up. As usual, I was faced with a few choices, not sure which would be the right one. Should I try a new spot? Should I switch lures and/or vary up my presentation? Did I catch all the fish in this part of the river?

What an awesome looking fish
The current was very strong, and a few cursory attempts to wade to other spots convinced me not to continue. Since I was pretty sure there were more fish there, I tried to entice the fish with a variety of other lures. Crankbaits, twisters, spinners, more tubes, but nobody would bite.

Recovered gear! And trash cleanup
Reluctantly I tried heading downstream, staying close to the shore and wading very slowly. The water was rushing fast even though I was far from the main current; a few times I felt close to loosing my footing in the river. I made my way to some fishy looking spots, managed a few hits on a twister, but no other luck. Besides the big eddy I'd been fishing in, almost the entire remainder of the river around me was a gushing torrent of water, constantly threatening to push anything and everything downstream. Nature didn't care.

When I looked over to pick up a Gatorade bottle trapped in some branches by the current, to my surprise I saw my lure from yesterday! You know, the one that snapped off my line and went flying downriver in the dark.

The sun was setting; I had hoped to fish a trench I knew of just a few yards out in the river. As I slowly attempted to wade out there, the sound of water bombarding my waders became deafening. The river was bullying me to go back to shore. This wasn't a fight I would win, so I let the river push me around and made my way to the shore. I found a trail and hiked back upstream to the eddy.

On the way back I saw a little snake, which turned out to be dead. Although nature didn't care, I enjoyed seeing a snake up close. Too bad he died, I thought, but he'll be a nice meal for some racoon or fish or bird sometime real soon.

I've been paying close attention to the ground lately, curious about what other animals hang out around the rivers' edge. I saw some shockingly big footprints in the mud, next to a few bike tracks. At first I though it was just a big dog, but I'm fairly positive they were coyote tracks based on some Internet "research." Don't know why I didn't take a picture. Maybe because it was dark and there was a coyote running around.

I fished the eddy until it was definitely dark, throwing most of the arsenal in my fishing vest. Even the stuff in my little backpack. No walleye obliged, nor did any more smallies.

Once again, my last cast was chosen for me, with a snap I saw my lure slowly arc into the air, flying away into the darkness. Maybe I'd find it next time.

1 comment:

Tell me what you think!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.