The perks of fishing

Red_winged_blackbird_-_natures_picsIf you would characterize yourself as someone who “likes to fish,” then I feel confident that some other generalizations also hold true for you.

1. In any given week between the months of April and November (maybe a little earlier or a little later, depending upon how far north or south you live), you will contemplate the weather and gauge how good the fishing might be on at least four out of seven days.

2.  If you travel to any place within sight of a lake, stream, river, ocean or canal (especially a canal), you will wish you could fish it, except you are actually there for a family reunion, or for a wedding or because there is an adjacent B&B that’s charming the pants off your spouse. Depending upon your level of audacity, aka shamelessness, you might even drop a few bucks on a cheap rig, “Just to toss something out there, honest to God, honey.”

3. You are a nature nut.

Given that fishing is exclusively an outdoor activity (as far as I know), an outing at the ol’ fishing hole assures that you will be up to your ears in nature in all her wet, cold, sweltering (and yes) magnificent glory.

As you well know, our pursuit of piscine quarry generally features intervals that can best be defined as “between bites.”  In a given fishing outing, these intervals can range anywhere from five minutes to the entire outing.  Whether your wading in the water,  sitting in a boat or working the shore, you will be in the very heart of our planet’s richest ecosystem — the convergence of land and water.

Have you ever fruitlessly pounded the water to the point that you just want to put your rod aside and take a seat?t one step further:  Assuming the ground is dry, have you ever been tempted to actually lay down, close your eyes and lose yourself to the burbling of water over rocks, the rustling of leaves in the trees, the rusty-hinge music of a red wing blackbird? Have you ever felt so at peace?

In my younger years, I consumed huge chunks of time sitting on the bank of a lake or river eyeing a red-and-white float bobbing in the current. On those occasions when”the bite was off,” so to speak, the lengthy, uninterrupted surveillance of an apathetic float could lead to weird trains of thought, like, “This is the world in entropy. Brown water. Empty sky. The last, feeble cry of humanity can be symbolized by the dead worm dangling limply on a hook, submerged in the infinite, algae-coated void.”

What inevitably nipped those bleak musings in the bud was my dawning realization that by virtue of having sat still and kept quiet for an extended period of  time, nature had ceased regarding me as an intruder and was now operating at full throttle. I have watched a pair of muskrats repairing their lodge while their children romped and wrestled with each other. I have watched a kingfisher crash dive into the water and emerge with a six-inch bullhead squirming in its beak. I can’t tell you how many times I have observed great blue herons moving with excruciating stealth among the lily pads, or how many times I’ve tried to get visual sightings of songbirds singing in surrounding trees, or spot woodpeckers drumming overhead.

In my early teen years, blissfully unaware that undiagnosed ADHD was at the controls, I would devise “outside-the-box” techniques for catching critters. For instance, I would tie a plastic worm to the end of my line and flip it in the direction of a bullfrog chuggling sonorously a couple feet off the bank. All a bullfrog needs to trigger its predator reflex is to see something in motion that will fit roughly in its mouth. I would reel in and even hoist bullfrogs, their jaws clamped like vices over plastic worms. There was no need for a hook.

Likewise,I would gently lift rocks half-submerged in the shallows, wait for the silt to clear and then induce newts or crayfish to scoot into a plastic cup slowly and carefully lowered unto the water. To catch a newt, you tap his tail. To catch a crayfish, you position the cup behind it and tap one of its antennae because crayfish scoot backwards when alarmed.

One way I would try to catch turtles at Camp Marydale (see my third post) was to requisition a canoe, and then drift inconspicuously toward a group of turtles sunning themselves on a half-submerged tree, hoping to get close enough to snag one of them with a landing net when the whole crew drops into the water.

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Every now and then while lifting rocks in search of newts and crayfish, I would expose a water snake tightly coiled in the muck. The northern water snake closely resembles the venomous water moccasin (or cottonmouth) down to the viper-like shape of its head. Indeed, herpatologists would strongly recommend not getting bit by a northern water snake because, notwithstanding the bacterial load of its saliva, the northern water snake,, along with the widely abundant garter snake,  may be in the early evolutionary stages of developing a functional envenomating delivery system. In other words, they may be half-assed venomous! Plus, the northern water snake secretes a foul-smelling musk when alarmed. Is it any wonder that I was almost unbearably intrigued with trying to catch water snakes?Incidentally, the method I employed in the capture of these and other large snakes was the classic “pin-the-head-and-secure-by-the-neck” technique. Speaking as someone who’s been bitten at least twice by northern water snakes, I would urge you not to put too much faith in the “pin-the-head-and-secure-by-the-neck” technique.

I can report that with advancing age (and declining reflexes) I have become less a player and more a spectator in nature’s grand pageant. What I wish I could also report is that I’ve become adept at identifying the various flies that constitute important parts of the trout’s diet. Unfortunately, no matter how voraciously trout are rising to a hatch, I hardly ever see anything flying near the water or off the water, for that matter. I’ve watched videos of anglers plucking flies from rocks or picking them out of mesh nets. Yet they elude my eyes. If I have to restrict my nature watching to things chickadee-sized or larger, so be it.

I’m not going to lie to you, though. The hardest thing for me to come to terms with, as you might have guessed, is reconciling the kid who seemed able to go anywhere and do anything he willed, to the man who would gladly trade an abundance of time to reflect for the ability to slip on a pair of waders and get knee-deep in the water.

 

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