Fishing America Stories
In September 1990, I was driving home to Minnesota from Oregon after a combined fishing and business trip in which no fish had been caught and no business had been done. Covering 1,800 miles in 46 hours, I drove by rivers and lakes, with no time to stop and fish. I began to reflect on the many times I'd passed this way before, always promising myself that I'd return some day just to fish. By Montana, I was really upset because I knew I'd been fooling myself. I'd never make it back to fish these rivers. It had been just a fantasy.
By the time I got to North Dakota, I was feeling better. I had the idea to fish all 50 states, do a print representing each state and write a book about my experiences. It would be called “Fishing America-A Work of Art”.
Maybe a call to the "Guinness Book of World Records" would be in order. No question, this was a big-time idea, and I'd support the project by selling my art to museums and galleries along the way, between fishing experiences.
As soon as I got home, I called my artist-fisherman friend, James Holmes, in Kansas and told him the plan. He said he liked it, and then he asked, “You’ll need help, won’t you?”
"Holmes, we've had so many fishing trips planned that didn't materialize, I wouldn’t plan another with you unless you signed a contract.”
“So send one down, I’ll sign it.”
I called my attorney the next day and asked him to design a contract. When I picked it up, he said, "I want to sign the first one." That's when I realized I could fish with a different person in each state and everyone would sign a contract to fish with me.
I spent days in the library reading about fish and places to fish. I spent more time writing letters and balancing data to figure out what to fish for and where and when to do it. I spent a ton of money on my telephone bill--trying to locate fishing partners. Generally, my fishing partners were people who had the knowledge to fish for a targeted species. Some were chosen because they are interesting, others because they are my friends.
In selecting the targeted species, I took into consideration the state fish, the person available to fish with me, his or her particular fish interest and what fish were waiting to be caught.
Here’s an example of the fish finding process:
On November 2, 1990, I was sitting in front of Cyclops, my computer, trying to decide how Carp fit into the picture. The field had been narrowed to three states: Massachusetts, Missouri and Illinois. The phone rang, and I answered, “Fishing America-A Work of Art”.
“Is Larry Carp there?”
“You mean Larry Stark?”
“No, I mean Larry Carp.”
"You have the wrong number, but before you hang up, tell me, where would you fish for Carp, in Massachusetts, Missouri or Illinois?”
I would have had a quick solution to my problem if only she had answered my question before hanging up. I had to solve the problem some other way, so I called a friend in Massachusetts, who suggested we fish for Striped Bass there. The field was now narrowed down to two. I called a friend-of-a-brother-in-law-of-a-friend in Missouri, and he said I should fish for Small-mouth Bass in Missouri. He suggested a guy who fishes for Carp in Illinois and that’s how my problem was solved.
It might seem like an easy task to fish all 50 states. One scenario that was suggested to me was to leave Minnesota and fish every state going east to Maine, then work my way down to Florida and across to the West Coast. After flying from Los Angeles to Hawaii and back, I'd drive up the coast to Washington, fly round trip from Seattle to Alaska and then fish my way back to Minnesota. This would cover the 35 perimeter states, and after a rest of a day or two, a smaller loop would get the last 15 states.
Another method would be the same trip with more zigzags to get everything in one trip. Still another possibility would be to fish the western states on one trip and the eastern states on another.
It doesn’t work that way. All fish species are unique, with individual traits and habits. Some fish are easier to catch in the fall, some make better pickings in the spring and there are winter and summer fish, too. As an example, let's take New England. In Vermont, landlocked Salmon are best fished during the ice-out in late April or early May. In New Hampshire, Pickerel are fun to catch through the ice and the best time to ice fish is when there's ice. The Blueback Charr, a fish found only in Maine, has to be fished in late September because even though October is best, the season closes October 1. In Massachusetts, Striped Bass are best fished in early June, when they're running the rivers. So there you have it--four trips to New England to fish four states.
It's generally true the best fishing is in the spring and fall, and that's when I’ve done the most fishing.
A question I've heard a lot over the last few years is, "Is this fishing project art?" Art is defined by the artists who create it. Given a conventional definition of art, the people who work within a closed set of rules are more artisans than artists. Those who work outside this set are the best artists.
My attorney thinks it's a neat idea, but not art. He thinks art isn't defined by artists but by a combination of society and history. He says, “If society doesn't accept an idea as a work of art over a period of time, then it isn’t art.”
I say, “I've done it, called it art and will be dead long before the final verdict is in. If nothing else, I've kept society and history and myself from getting bored.”
FISHING AMERICA - A WORK OF ART AGREEMENT
ARTIST: Larry Stark and Fisher:_________________
Artist is currently engaged in the creation of a major work of art, entitled "Fishing America - A Work of Art", which will involve fishing expeditions in all 50 states of the United States of America (the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and other U.S. territories and protec負orates may be added), the writing of a book about those expeditions, and the creation of limited edition prints relating directly or abstractly to each expedition. Accompanying the Artist on each expedition will be a fisher whose involvement will be critical for the writing of the book and the successful completion of the entire project.
The Fisher and the Artist agree as follows regarding "Fishing America - A Work of Art" and their respective involvements:
1. Fisher agrees to accompany Artist on the following fishing expedition to: _________________________________ Planned dates and time: ______________________________________________________
2. As each expedition will be seeking a particular fish that is representa負ive of the expedition's location, the Fisher and the Artist agree to fish for: _____________________ Fishing method and bait to be used: __________________________________________
3. Fishing expeditions take time and can be expensive. The Fisher acknowl苟dges that and agrees to commit the necessary time and resources for the expedition. Accordingly, the Fisher agrees to pay 100% of his or her costs and expenses associated with the expedition, including but not limited to costs for travel to and from the fishing location, lodging, food, beverage, fishing licenses, bait, equipment, boat rentals, medical and insurance; or as agreed to as follows: ______________________________________________________________________
4. Artist will be solely responsible for all of his costs associated with the expedition and the creation of the work of art.
5. It is understood and agreed that the Artist will be writing a book about the "Fishing America - A Work of Art" project. Other publications and uses also may be developed and are specifically agreed to by Fisher. Those other publications and uses include, but are not limited to, magazine and newspaper articles, radio programs, television programs, videos, and motion pictures. Accordingly, Fisher authorizes and grants to Artist, his transferees and assigns, the absolute and irrevocable right and permission (a) to copyright in Artist's name and to use and publish all accounts of the expedition with the Fisher; (b) to copyright in Artist's name and use and publish any and all parts of Fisher's discussions with Artist for any purpose without territorial or time limitations; (c) to edit or paraphrase any of Fisher's statements; and, (d) to use Fisher's name, likeness and biography. Fisher further releases Artist and his transferees and assigns from any damage or liability arising from the use of Fisher's statements and any other claims Fisher, his or her heirs, successors or assigns may have in connection with the use of Fisher's statements.
6. In consideration for Fisher's services accompanying Artist on the expedi負ion and for the rights granted above, the sufficiency of which Fisher hereby acknowledges, the Artist agrees to provide the Fisher with a signed and num苑ered copy of the limited edition print relating to the fishing expedition. The limited edition print will be delivered to Fisher within 30 days of its completion, but no later than two years from the date of the expedition.
7. As the planning process for a fishing expedition often is quite lengthy, both parties recognize the fact that their failure to comply with the terms of this agreement could greatly inconvenience and harm the other. For that reason, it is agreed that should either party breach this agreement, that breaching party shall be required to donate no less than 100 hours of free services within 100 days of the planned fishing date for The Nature Conservan苞y in the state they are located and if there isn't a Nature Conservancy in that state, it shall be a Nature Conservancy in another state.
8. This agreement is for personal services and may not be assigned by either party without the written consent of the other party.
9. This agreement shall be interpreted according to the laws of the state of Minnesota.
Date: __/__/91 Artist: Larry Stark___________________________
Date: __/__/91 Fisher: __________________________
Florida Oscar Chapter
Florida-Butterfly Peacock Bass Chapter
Florida Crappie Chapter
Len Myers lives in a mobile home in a trailer court. It is called a Fish Camp, because it is right on the St John’s River and it has boat slots available for every person living there. The campground is mostly a retirement community more active in the winter than in the summer. Len lost his wife earlier in the year and he decided to spend his summer “On the River”.
The campground is community, but it seems more like an extended family. Food and chit chat are everywhere. Fishing is the common thread. Everyone either fishes or talks about fishing most of the time. Len says the talkers are just that, “Talkers. They don’t fish.” I too talked about fishing, but mostly I listened to them talk. It wasn’t my talk that got me accepted into the community, but the fact that I took an afternoon nap.
This is the fishing trip where I started to believe in fishing karma and that mine isn’t good. Len had caught over eight thousand Crappie the year before and that was with him only being at the camp part of the year. The river was high, overflowing its banks. That isn’t a good sign for fishing. We fished all morning. Len caught one Crappie and I caught one Crappie. Mine was the smaller of the two, but I wasn’t complaining as it was over a pound and a half and it was the biggest Crappie I had ever seen.
Back at the fish camp I was gloating and I made the mistake of bragging about this fish. They pointed out that the state record Crappie is three pounds and eight ounces. One of the guys told me there is a state law requiring a Crappie to be over two pounds and eight ounces before you can brag about it.
STATE - FISH SPECIES
ALABAMA----ANY SPECIES I'VE NOT CAUGHT ELSEWHERE
ALASKA----KING SALMON AND HALIBUT
CALIFORNIA----TRIPLE HEADER-ALL THREE-RAINBOW,BROOK AND BROWN
CONNECTICUT----ANY KIND OF TROUT
FLORIDA----BUTTERFLY PEACOCK BASS
GEORGIA----SHOAL BASS AND AN UNNAMED VARIANTS OF SHOAL BASS
HAWAII----ANY KIND OF FISH I'VE NOT CAUGHT BEFORE (CAUGHT 7 DIFFERENT SPECIES)
KANSAS----FRESH WATER DRUM
LOUISIANA----ALIGATOR GAR OR LONGEAR SUNFISH
MASSACHUSETTS----STRIPERS OR AMERICAN SHAD
MICHIGAN----YELLOW BELLY PERCH
MISSISSIPPI--KING MACKEREL OR COBIA
NEBRASKA----SHOVELNOSE STURGEON OR GOLDEYE
NEW MEXICO---RIO GRANDE CUTTHROAT
NORTH CAROLINA---LARGEMOUTH BASS
NORTH CAROLINA---PUPPY DRUM
NORTH DAKOTA----NORTHERN PIKE
OKLAHOMA----WHITE BASS (SAND BASS)
SOUTH DAKOTA----SAUGER OR SAUGEYE
UTAH-BEAR LAKE CISCO and BONNEVILLE WHITEFISH
VERMONT----LANDLOCKED ATLANTIC SALMON
WASHINGTON----WHITE STURGEON OR DUNGENESS CRABS
WEST VIRGINIA----RAINBOW TROUT
WYOMING----EAST SLOPE CUTTHROAT TROUT
South Carolina Chapter
South Carolina 's Chief of Fisheries, Joe Logan, suggested these main characters; Fred Covert as fishing companion, the town of Yemassee where Fred lives as the base of operations, the Combahee River as the body of water to be fished and the redbreast as the fish of pursuit. Why? Because every time Joe's staff did a creel survey on the Combahee River they ran into Fred Covert and his creel full of redbreast (and other fish). Fred told them he was available anytime they needed help and so, that's how Fred ended up fishing with me.
Fred works as a civilian Department of Defense employee advising and training US uniformed service personnel in the maintenance and operation of F / A-18 aircraft, but he seems to be able to get time off to fish whenever he needs it and he seems to need it often. I told Fred that if he signed the fishing contract, he would either fish with me or donate 100 hours of volunteer work to the nature conservancy and he said, ''I win either way" In one of his letters he wrote, ''I will make every effort to make this portion of 'Fishing America' the most comfortable, affordable, successful and interesting part of your work." That's the kinda guy he is.
The second character, Yemassee, is a town of 1100 people located in the South Carolina low country. It boasts of 15 churches and 4 liquor stores. The oldest flagpole in town has had five flags hanging on it; the French, the Spanish, the British, the Confederate and "Old Glory."
Our third character, the Combahee River, flows through the town of Yemassee and on through the brackish tidewater swamps and plantations that once were our counties major rice producers. The river had gone into flood mood the day before I arrived and it stayed in flood mood until after I left.
The last character, the redbreast, a member of the sunfish family with a bright red underside and a preference for fast moving water, was supposed to be the main character. That's called foreshadowing. You now have the major players and part of the plot, so here's what happened:
Fred met me at the Village restaurant out by the freeway. We both drove to his house and after parking my pick-up in his driveway and after he took a redbreast out of the refrigerator so I could photograph it, we were off to see the redbreast. On the way to the Sugar Hill boat ramp and to my delightful surprise, we drove past the Auld Brass Plantation which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright after he lost his "design services" in a poker game. The boat ramp was home to a 4 foot by 20 foot banner, "Beaufort County welcomes Larry Stark-Good Luck Fishing." Three reporters from area newspapers waited to see if we were worth writing for.
"How do you combine sports, photography, art, writing, and whimsy? You go fishing." - Laura J. McKenzie, The Hampton County Guardian
"The inherent problem with writing a book of fishing stories is that nobody is ever going to believe it." - John Clayton, The Beaufort Gazette
"Larry Stark hung out in San Francisco in the Sixties. Fred Covert was deployed to Bahrain in the Nineties. Fishing makes strange boatfellows." - Dan Johnson, The Press and Standard
Five times in four days we fished the low tides using spinner jigs and ultra light poles. We caught enough crappies the first day for a feast. The second day we caught largemouth bass, one 3 pounder caught on my fly rod. Talk about fun. I nailed a young striper that got to do the old "pose in my hand for a photograph" before going back in the river to take its place in the aquatic food chain. I get excited by big fish and I get excited by new species of fish and this fish was new to me. Fred must have thought me "strange," photographing a five inch fish. We take our environments for granted and we tend to forget life's "firsts."
The first day was Fred's favorite day, because he now has a story to tell about what he calls my "Bug, macho, no pest control" attitude. Here we are in the middle of the river in a nice breezy no bug environment and he asks me if I would like to put on bug spray. "Heck No!" I said, not knowing if a guy from a town of 15 churches would allow me to say it the proper way. He didn't say any more. I was in a tee shirt enjoying the breeze when we glided into a canal cut in out of the wind. We fished for about ten minutes when I noticed my arms itched all over. Fred recalls: "The bugs had taken him to his knees. He was on the boat floor scratching and hollering." He also says, "Hey! I tried to warn him." Now I know why they are called "no-see-ums." After I got my sweatshirt on it took a couple of hours for the itching to subside.
With the itching gone, the second day was my favorite. Dan, one of the reporters I'd met the day before came over to Fred's house to look at my art and talk about fishing and art and writing and life. He pointed out that I had been the object of pack journalism the day before.
Back at the river, a news reporter from Beaufort's public TV station went out in the boat with us while we tried to catch a fish for his camera. We didn't catch anything while he was in the boat or afterwards either.
That evening the mayor of Yemassee, Jack Guess and his wife Isle held a party in their back yard. Isle's brother Ad, made barbecue Lemon/Pepper Chicken for about 50 townsfolk. I wished I could have spent more time with Ad because he is quite an interesting guy. A bachelor, probably in his late 6O's, he is one of the last commercial fisherman on the Combahee River. Earlier that afternoon, while I was out on the river I saw Ad's boat tied to a dock in one of the plantation canals. It is the last wooden john boat on the Combahee and it is beautiful; a perfect example of form following function to create good design. Ad has spent most of his life huntin', trappin' and fishin' among the snakes and gaters in the Combahee River and its adjacent swamps. Fred learned almost everything he knows about the river and river fishin' from Ad. Ad once caught a gator, wrestled it over on its back and rubbed its belly until it was asleep. While he was turned around talking to a friend, the creature woke up and jumped him, raking his lower left arm and hand, ripping the skin off and leaving conversation starting scars.
Part of my motivation for fishing every state is to point out the relationship between work and play. Those of us fortunate enough to work at something we enjoy are not able to distinguish between the two. Sometimes when Fred and I would fish an area of the river, Fred would say, "We worked that bank the best we can." He never once said, "We played that bank the best we can." I think that says it all.
Fred and I didn't get our targeted fish species and the high water was probably to blame. Fred was more disappointed because he believed the fishing contract implied, "we must get our fish." He didn't have to feel bad, the fishing was good and the fishing trip was great, even though we didn't get the targeted redbreast.
"Carp Man Dan" Giegerich, my carp fishing partner, is mentioned in "Fishing for Buffalo and other Rough Fish, by Dickson and Buffler." The first American to become a member of an English Carp fishing club (Carp is the favorite sport fish in England), Dan believes Carp fishing to be the most artistic kind of fishing. Not that it has anything to do with fishing, but the Carp Man, who's in his mid-twenties, looks so much like a famous movie star his vanity plate is TRVLTA.
I picked up Dan at his home in St. Louis, Missouri, and we spent an hour or so driving to Illinois and our fishing location at Cottonwood Lakes. It was April and cold enough for a heavy jacket. Dan accurately described the weather as "raining and not not-raining". He wore long underwear to ward off the chill. We talked about fishing and all the stuff people talk about while they're getting comfortable with each other.
During the drive, I learned that his father used to take Dan fishing during his growing-up years. Dan now takes his fiancée, Gina, and though she thinks Dan is overly obsessed with the sport, she enjoys it. Dan's mother sometimes goes with them, more to get out in the countryside than to fish. Dan's sheltie goes along, too, running around in circles and barking with joy whenever a fish is on the line.
Dan, who's employed as a package handler for a delivery service, wants to get into fishing as his line of work because, he says, "If your line of work isn't what you love, you're in misery the rest of your life." Just before Dan's father died l4 years ago at age 53, he whispered to his son, "Carp fishing is the best. You have a better chance of consistently catching big ones."
The area called Cottonwood Lakes was once flat land, with layers of coal just beneath the surface. It's now a series of fee-fishing ponds, dirt mounds and, you guessed it, cottonwood trees. Every tree has at least one bobber tangled in it, hanging just out of reach. The six ponds on the property are stocked with different combinations of fish. One has Trout; one has Channel Cats, Sunfish and Bluegill; one has only Channel Cats; one has Largemouth
Bass; and another has Largemouth Bass, Sunfish and Bluegill. We chose the sixth, a one-acre pond stocked with Carp, Channel Cats and Flathead Catfish, some of which weighed as much as 50 pounds.
We paid the six-dollar fee and set up on the bank, which was mostly clay with flakes of coal. The walls of the pond probably were clay, too, giving the water a beige-green color. It was a major ordeal getting the poles hooked up and the lines baited and thrown out. Dan joked about whether he was going to be set up to fish before it was time to go home.
Dan's hooks, handmade in England just for Carp fishing, are called hair-rig hooks. Dangling from each hook is a fiber thread that holds the bait. The hair-rig hook is designed so that when the Carp bites the bait, it can't feel the hook and when it sucks in the bait, the hook follows. Dan has one rod 11 feet long and another 12 feet long and all the necessary Carp fishing equipment and probably some unnecessary equipment, none of which matches any of the tackle in my tackle box.
The Carp fisher has lots of choices for bait, including corn, chick peas, dough balls, Jell-O powder balls, artificial flies, lures, boiled potatoes, bread, worms, a concoction of corn meal with banana pudding and even popcorn. We used chick peas and dough balls made from Wheaties, molasses and Cidex, a German sweetener.
Besides us, three groups of people were fishing in our pond. To our right was a guy quietly and successfully fishing for Carp. To our left were two guys fishing for whatever they could get while drinking as much beer as they could drink. Directly across from us was a family. The mother sat in the van all day, while the elementary-age kids, a boy and a girl, dabbled in fishing when they weren't doing kid-type things. The father fished all day and caught several Catfish and some Carp. Every time he got a fish on the line, his kids gathered around and cheered as he reeled it in. Once we heard him holler when a fish pulled his rod into the water.
It appeared to be lost forever, but a little later we heard him yell again as he snagged and retrieved it.
At one point, I went across to help the kids cheer their father on as he brought in a nice Catfish. In doing so, I passed by the two beer drinkers. One was quiet and inoffensive, the other loud and obnoxious. Guess which one grabbed me by the sleeve as I passed. "Hey, you should been here last Sunday," he said.
"I was fishing in South Carolina last Sunday," I said, tugging my sleeve away from his grasp.
"You were? Well, last Sunday I caught me a Catfish over there, across the pond. See that tree with all the bobbers hanging off it?"
"You mean the one that looks like it's decorated for Christmas?"
"Yeah. I was fishing over here and caught me three little Catfish, and then I walked over to the other side, by that tree, and hooked onto a Catfish that I know went over 10 pounds. I got him up to the bank, but I didn't have my net, so he took off and popped the line. Where are you from?"
"That so? Why do you come here when you could be up there catching Northern Pike?"
"I'm fishing all 50 states, going for a different fish in every state and fishing with a different person in every state. I'm writing a book about it."
"That's where my aunt lives. You gotta go to Iowa for Catfish."
"I'm fishing for Bullheads in Iowa."
"Bullheads! No! Channel Cats! Iowa's got Channel Cats, not Bullheads."
I told him that I had checked it out with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and learned that 80 percent of the fishing in Iowa is for Bullheads.
"You should go talk to my uncle," the drunk insisted. "He'll tell you its Channel Cats. He's a big man in Iowa. Lives in Dayton. You know where Fort Dodge is?"
"Dayton is between Des Moines and Fort Dodge. My uncle is the guy to take you fishing in Iowa."
"I'm going fishing with a game warden there."
Now this guy looked to be close to 30 years old, but he said to me, "When I grow up, I want to be a game warden." He told me his father had been an avid fisherman. "My dad fished from Tennessee down through Arkansas," he said. "That's all he did. He was disabled."
I started to go, but he pulled at my sleeve again and said, "It's nice to meet someone like you. I never met someone who writes books. So where are you from? Nebraska?"
"North of St. Paul, Minnesota, but I'm originally from Michigan."
"My father was originally from Michigan."
"I don't remember." There was a great pause, and then it came, "Dee-Troit!"
As I once again moved to leave, he said, "I wish I could catch me a Catfish so I could get in your book."
"You'd have to catch a Carp," I pointed out.
"I'm fishing for Catfish today," he replied.
I finally managed to get away, but not until I'd promised to photograph his forthcoming Catfish. As I left, he called after me, "If you guys want big Carp, I don't know that you're using the right bait. I'd go out and get a can of corn."
Back with Dan, I told him, "Some people don't listen, they only talk." Having heard the whole conversation, he laughed and agreed.
I tried to take a nap on the seat of my pickup truck, but there was a commotion and I climbed out to go photograph the Catfish the obnoxious drunk had just caught. When I got there, he refused to let me photograph it because, at two pounds, he considered it too small to rate a place in my book.
The fishing wasn't going well for Dan and me. The Carp Man even started talking about going in after the fish. What made it even harder to deal with was the fact that fish were jumping and swirling on the top of the water. Our lack of success didn't go unnoticed by the obnoxious beer drinker. He started ragging on us.
"What are you using for bait?"
"What are they? You need to use corn."
"This stuff is corn."
"You need to use corn."
"This is corn. It's white corn."
"You need to use yellow corn."
At this point, I was having two conversations, the one with him and the one with myself that I felt like having with him. It was at this point that I realized the importance of fishing. It's not just fun, it's another issue over which man can fight wars. It's as important as control of the salt trade routes was and control of the oil trade routes is. It's big time.
Halfway through the day, Dan rigged up his 12 footer with two-pound test line and with the prediction, "This will do it." He put the line in the water alongside our other lines. Apparently, Carp are really sensitive to the feel of the fishing line because Dan had a fish on the line almost immediately. He waited to set the hook much longer than I could have, but it didn't matter because the line broke after a couple of minutes. As soon as Dan's line got a re-bait and was back in the water, wham, bam, another fish. With two-pound test line, Dan was in for a long, drawn-out fight, letting the fish run, reeling the fish in, letting the fish run, reeling it in.
At least, that's what would have happened if Dan's line hadn't gotten tangled with the line of the more pleasant beer drinker, who let his go slack so it wouldn't interfere. Next, the fish went to our right, tangling up with that fisher's line, and he, too, let his line go with the flow. The obnoxious drunk started laughing and yelling, "Somebody bring him in! Somebody bring him in!" That's when the fish went to the left once again to involve the drunk, who convinced himself that he, too, had a fish on the line, one that was bigger and better than the one on everyone else's line.
Since he didn't have to worry about breaking his 10-pound test line, the drunk started a fast retrieval. When he lost his fish, it was at the exact moment that everyone lost his fish. Everyone got his line back with hook intact except Dan, whose line had been broken. The drunk yelled, "I had him!" Someone else yelled, "Everybody had him." The drunk never backed down on his story. His last statement on the subject was, "It was my fish, only on a different hook."
Dan's only comment was, "Well, Larry, at least you got something to write about."
The drunk's embarrassed buddy suddenly felt a need to go home. The wife of the guy on our right arrived, and the drunk, not wanting to fish alone, suddenly recalled that this guy was an old fishing buddy. After making the brilliant comment, "I recognize your wife!" he joined them. As he walked by us, he said, "You need to use yellow corn."
As we were packing up to leave, the drunk wandered over. We argued about whether there were Catfish in Nebraska. When I pointed out that it's the official state fish, he told me, "That may be, but there still aren't any Catfish there."
He told me a good story, though: "My father once had a Striped Bass on his line that was so big it almost broke his pole. He couldn't hold it, so he let the line go slack. Kicking off his boots, he dove in and followed the line down until he got to an old car. The fish was just inside the car body." I asked what his dad did next. "Well," he said, "there wasn't anything he could do 'cause the fish rolled up the windows and locked the doors."
Before we left, the drunk hooked a fish that took 20 minutes to land. He seemed to go into a trance as he worked it to shore. He kept mumbling that it was the biggest Catfish he'd ever caught. When he realized he had a Carp, not a Catfish, he didn't know what to do with it. It never dawned on him that he could release it. He said his wife was going to be mad when he got home because he had spent over 20 bucks on his fishing trip and he only had two pounds of Catfish to show for it. As far as he was concerned, the Carp didn't count.
Dan is into catch and release and so is one of his friends, who once was having a real good day catching lots of Carp and releasing them when a lady came up to him and said, "Oh, you're gonna get in trouble. You're gonna get arrested for releasing fish. They're gonna come and arrest you." Not everybody fishes for fun.
The next day, I went with Dan and his fiancée to a place just south of Waterloo, Illinois, called Trappers, a fee-fishing operation owned by Liz and Gene Esker. It was the weekend of the Esker's first Carp fishing tournament of the year, and we were their guests. We arrived on the second day of the tournament.
On the first day of the tournament, 24 Carp had been caught in one of their two ponds.
One pond contains mostly Carp and Catfish, the other mostly Bass and Paddlefish. Paddlefish supposedly are plankton eaters, so it was a surprise to learn that some of the fee fishers have caught them using minnows and stink bait.
The main building at Trappers is a log structure. This is where you pay the fishing fee, where Liz makes homemade lunches and where Gene cleans fish. A creek flows through a pipe to a fish-holding tank inside the building and then exits, passing by an ornamental paddle wheel. Outside, the creek continues along the driveway, passing three pens of farm fox and a cage holding a raccoon before emptying into one of the fishing ponds.
I spent less time fishing than I should have at Trappers because I found Gene so interesting. He liked to talk as he cleaned fish, and I liked to listen. I asked him about the farm fox I'd seen outside. "A cross between a coyote and a dog is called a coy dog," he said, "and a cross between a dog and a fox is called a farm fox. They don't make good pets because they bite." I asked him what they eat, and he said, "Fingers! And fish and dog food."
Gene told me about his business as he put Buffalo fillets through a cube-steak tenderizer, scoring the fillets and cutting the bones into quarter-inch bits so they could be eaten unnoticed. Bypassing wholesalers, he has developed his own market of restaurants, taverns and churches for Buffalo, Catfish, Carp and Drum. (He calls drum stone perch because of the stones in their heads, which they use to make drumming sounds during the mating season.) He sells some of the fish live, but most of his buyers want the fish cleaned.
At an age when most boys are reading about Huck Finn living on the Mississippi, Gene was out working the big river, walking the overflow beds, trapping snapping turtles and making good money by selling them to local connoisseurs. Once, when he was eight years old, he was hunting turtles and it got too dark to continue. He found a shed, crawled in and went to sleep. The next thing he remembers is roosters crowing and his uncle looking in the door and yelling, "Here he is!" Gene says he never gave a thought to anyone worrying about him. (For the record, he hasn't trapped turtles since it became illegal.)
I'd describe Gene as an opportunist-survivor who, after doing his 20 years in the military service to get a full pension, now takes advantage of all the opportunities available to him. He's put most of his land in a conservation program that he believes is environmentally sound, collecting money from the federal government for doing so. He uses available state money to build ponds, he stocks his ponds and charges people to fish in them, he collects the valuable ginseng root for shipment to the Orient, he traps and he buys and sells furs. I'd say that if there's any way to make a living off the land, whether it be easy money or hard work, Gene does it.
Every year, Liz and Gene host a family reunion that's gotten so big many people who attend aren't even family, just friends and friends of friends. The high point of the day is a fishing contest in which the contestants plunge into a pond and, wading or swimming for 10 minutes, attempt to catch fish using only their hands. Some manage to catch catfish weighing 40, 50 and even 60 pounds. Everyone joins in, even little kids. Older folks and those who aren't doers sit around and cheer the fish grabbers on.
The pond contains Blue, Channel Cats and Willow (a local name for the male Channel Catfish, whose dark color and swollen heads make them look pretty different) as well as Mirror and Grass Carp. "Grass Carp are like torpedoes in the water," Gene told me. "They come flying out of the water, jumping about four feet above the surface, at 30 to 40 miles an hour. They sometimes land on the bank where the older people are sitting. This gives them an opportunity to stop cheering and start screaming."
Gene came up with this idea because, he says, it was something he would have loved to do when he was a boy. It sounded dangerous to me, but Gene told me he clips the spines off the catfish before putting them in the ponds.
Despite my conversations with Gene, I managed to put in a fairly full day fishing for Carp with Dan and Gina. None of us had much luck. Dan caught one small Carp, while the fishers on the other side of the pond, who were using and chumming with yellow corn, were hauling in big ones.
I'd been on the road for more than three weeks and had 13 hours of driving to do, so I begged out of my fishing contract about three hours early and headed for home. A week later, I got a letter from the Carp Man in which he told me that right after I'd left, he'd caught a Carp weighing three and a half pounds and Gina had hooked a nice one "that got away." The big news in the letter made me wish I'd stayed longer. Dan wrote, "A guy across the pond hooked a fish that came totally out of the water, giving rise to estimates of up to 15 pounds." But it got away, so who knows?
I kept thinking about all those fish in the ponds at Trappers until one day I put in a call to Gene and talked him into signing a fishing contract. I asked him to take me on one of his semi-weekly jaunts to service the 42 fishing nets he's got on the Mississippi River almost year 'round. I needed to know more about where those fish came from, and I wanted to learn more about Gene.
Two months later, in June, I was back in Illinois and on the big river with Gene and his friend Eric. The river was at high-water stage as we set out to check Gene's nets.
A passing barge reminded Gene of an experience he had had several years earlier: He was on his boat, riding downriver, when a set of barges went by; creating a large wake that sank the boat. Gene had removed the flotation devices to get more room, so when the boat sank; it sank, leaving no trace. Fortunately, he was able to swim to shore. Gene bought a new boat, an oversized aluminum john boat. It, I might add, has flotation devices at both ends.
The Mississippi River is dangerous. We put in near a grain silo where, the previous week, a man had fallen off a barge as he was filling it. He plunged about 10 feet underwater, got swept beneath the barge and came up unconscious downriver, where somebody spotted him and pulled him out. He was fine after a little mouth-to-mouth, but not all river stories have such a happy ending.
Other than the boat, the net is Gene's key tool. Generally, the net is 10 by l8 feet. It has several circular nets sewn inside, so the fish have to figure out how to get out of more than one compartment to escape. The net is tied to a rope, which is tied to an anchor, which is dropped into water about five to 20 feet deep. The net sits on the bottom with the opening facing downstream because fish swim against, not with, the current.
A unique marker designed by Gene is placed on the shore so that he can find the net but other people can't. Beavers sometimes destroy these markers. They chew through the nets, too. Gene spends a lot of time sewing the nets on the spot, but the damage is sometimes so bad he has to take the net home for repair.
Gene also fishes with trammel nets, though he didn't have any set out the day I was there. Trammel nets are stretched across the river in water as deep as 50 feet. The law says that trammel nets can't be dragged, only floated.
Riding around in the john boat, we kept an eye out for Gene's markers. When we found one, we threw a rope-weighted hook into the water, drawing the rope toward the boat until the hook snagged the net or the net's anchor rope. Lifting the net into the boat, we took the fish out and put it in the boat's live well. We caught Willow Cat, Blue Cat, Channel cat, Flathead cat, three kinds of Buffalo (Roach Back, Plug and Rotor), Drum, Sturgeon and Shad, releasing the last two. Drum was what we caught the most, but because they weren't on our wish list for the day, we tossed them back, too. We caught so many Drum that Eric called it "a humdrum day."
Gene also gets Paddlefish, or Spoonbill, which sometimes get tangled in the nets and die. He also catches game fish that he has to release, such as Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, White Bass, Striped Bass, hybrid, Walleye and Sauger. He's caught Israeli Carp and once brought home what he calls a Goldfish Carp. A beautiful black and red fish, the Goldfish Carp weighed three pounds but didn't survive its overnight stay in Gene's holding tank.
It bothered me that the nets often contained dead soft-shell turtles. In summer, the turtles can live only about 10 hours without going up for air. In winter, they can stay under for months.
Lunch, served from a brown paper bag while we were pulled up next to shore, was the only relaxing time we spent on the river. While we ate, we watched some Gar feeding and playing on the surface and we had a good view of an island rookery, home to several hundred Blue Herons. Gene told me that the Bald Eagle population seems to be increasing, a good sign for the environment. "Five years ago," he said, "I'd see groups of five or six coming through in February. Now I'll see as many as 20."
He also told me about an unsolved river mystery. The story dates from a few years ago, when he and two helpers were out on the river, eating lunch and lamenting the fact that they'd forgotten to bring the soda. (It's called soda in Illinois, pop in Minnesota and soda pop in other places.) As they threw the next net out, Gene said, "I sure wish I had a soda." When they retrieved it, the net held a brand-new, fresh-off-the-barge six pack of cold Pepsi.
During our lunch break, Gene said to me, "You sure take a lot of pictures." I snapped back, "You sure have a lot of nets."
Gene took off and made a run through a channel filled with floating trees. Eric, sitting up front, called them off, and Gene bounced the boat over them, lifting the outboard out of the water to save the prop.
Out of the channel, we passed under a series of bluffs, continuing our rounds of the nets. Gene told me that the hills along the Mississippi are riddled with sinkholes, which are caves that have filled with water over time. "Back when I was a kid," he said, "there were a lot of commercial fishermen on the river, and they stocked the sinkholes. These sinkholes are now full of fish. But nobody knows it, so nobody fishes them."
We had started our day in an upbeat mood, but we became rather gloomy as it drew to a close. We should have caught half a ton of fish, but we were holding only about 130 pounds. When I optimistically predicted that the last net would bring a marine bonanza, Gene said, "No, that net never catches many fish. The location isn't a good one historically." The two Flathead Catfish in the last net weighed about 35 pounds each, bringing the total catch of the day to roughly 200 pounds.
As we headed home, Gene told me, "You can mark this down as the worst fishing day ever. And the next worst was the one before this."
John, my attorney created a generic fishing contract which I could use in every state with a few minor changes. When I went to pick it up, he said he wanted to be the first person to sign one of my fishing contracts and he did sign one. About two weeks before our planned trip, we had talked about some legal stuff and he casually mentioned he bought a new house and he was having a yard sale in a couple of weeks and he and his wife had only three weeks to move from one house to the other. I knew this was the set up for a call the following week. I almost answered the phone: "Hi John, it would be nice if you could go, but we'll make it without you," but I didn't and he said he couldn't go or his wife would divorce him and I said I doubted it would come to that and he agreed but said he still couldn't go. He thus became the first person to break my fishing contract.
I asked John where the loophole was in the contract so I could stop other fishers from backing out of their obligations. He said there wasn't a loophole. The contract states that anyone reneging on the fishing trip will have 100 days in which to donate 100 hours of volunteer work to a nature group and when he dangled that fact in front of his wife as part of his argument to her, she pointed out he had already donated over 100 hours of work to a nature group in the last 100 days and so he was home free, ah well, at least he was home.
The trip plans were to fish in Pine Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) for Lake Trout the second weekend of May for Minnesota's fishing opener. Not all states have a fishing opener and so some people don't know what it is. Since the fishing season is closed for a couple of months to give the fish a little time to have some fun (mate that is), there is a first day after that period in which anglers can fish. That day is called the fishing opener and it is the biggest holiday in the state of Minnesota. Hundreds of thousands of people purchase fishing licenses and they spend one or two days fishing. Most lakes, some of which will have only a few boats or no boats at all on them the rest of the year, will bear hundreds of boats during these first couple of fishing days. This weekend the roads will have more traffic than Christmas weekend or Memorial Day weekend.
My fishing contract with John allowed four guests to be invited and since I had invited four guests, the fishing trip happened without John. Jim Morgan was a Kansas City art dealer, a TWA pilot, a very humorous character and my friend for about 12 years. When he died in the early eighties in a motorcycle accident, his children inherited a friendship with me. His youngest son, Dennis, who has taken Jim's place in the art world, runs an art gallery with his mom. Jim's daughter, Denise, and Denise's husband, Doug, live in Demopolis, Alabama where she is the librarian and he is a Pizza Hut manager. Dennis, Denise and Doug all like to fish and they signed on as guests for this fishing trip.
The other person to go on this fishing trip was Peter Carlsen, an architect in St Paul, Minnesota who I met while working on a project with the Minnesota Society of Architects. Peter does not like to fish and he thinks it is silly to spend time trying to fool an animal with a brain the size of a pea (and usually lose). Peter does have a canoeing habit. Peter and I often go canoeing to escape our daily routines and we try to be the first canoeists each year on the Sunrise River which runs through my property.
It took about six hours to drive from my house to McFarland Lake, which is at the eastern edge of the BWCA. McFarland Lake past the 'BWCA-*#%* You' flag that hangs on the pier of some rich guy who is angry that Pine Lake is now part of the BWCA and he can't take his motorboat in there anymore and fish. He found out he can't buy everything. It was a rather warm day for Minnesota that early in May, in the high seventies and very pleasant canoeing the four more miles into Pine Lake. A rare east wind at our backs made canoeing a breeze. We fished all the way to our campsite, trolling and casting for lake trout which can be anywhere that time of year, on the surface or in 100 feet of water or anywhere in-between. But for all I know they could have experienced rapture and were all in heaven. Our campsite was on a rock peninsula which pointed at the island several people had told me was a good place to fish for walleye. You're probably thinking, "this guy signs a contract to fish for lake trout and then he fishes for walleye?' I admit total guilt. I would fish for a fish not in the contract if I thought I could catch one. I have no principles when it comes to fishing and so... after we set up camp we went fishing for Walleye.
Back at camp and still without fish, I baited a hook with a night crawler and left the fishing line in the water for the night. A bell on the pole was supposed to wake me up if I got a fish, but in the morning I found I had caught my first ever eelpout which was too small to ring the bell.
The next day it was even warmer, in the 80s. Peter and his poodle went off to canoe a 20 mile loop, returning to camp at dusk to find out we had spent the day canoeing back and forth across the lake casting and trolling, trying every lure in three different tackle boxes and every possible water depth. We had even bounced jigs off the bottom and tried surface lures, but no fish. The other thing Peter found out was; during the day the trees all turned from winter gray to spring green, something I've never seen happen in just one day.
At least one of us was fishing every minute of the time we were there and still we didn't get any fish. I don't really care if I get any fish and during my other fishing trips I tried to tell the people who took me fishing that it was not important to me. They still felt real bad when I didn't get fish. Even though I tried to convince them I didn't care if I caught fish, they felt I should catch fish. Now the table was turned. I was the trip leader and I was responsible for everyone enjoying themselves and I was feeling bad because Doug, who has real bad case of the fishing disease, wasn't getting any fish. I knew Doug had to return to Alabama and tell all his friends he fished in Minnesota, the place known for good fishing and he was going to have to say, "Yeah, we had a great time! What kind of bird is that over there?" or "Are you kidding? What do you think? Did you sell a lot of pizzas while I was gone?"
The last day we had to get up early enough to break camp, canoe through Pine Lake and McFarland Lake and drive to the twin cities airport so Denise, Doug and Dennis could get flights back to their reality. Pine Lake was covered with a dense fog thick enough to play canoe hide and seek. You couldn't tell the water from the air. Good luck and a slight coloration difference in the sky in the direction of the sun helped direct us to the small stream which drops Pine Lake into McFarland Lake and takes us out of the BWCA and into the real world. The fog stayed with us through the narrows of McFarland Lake and part way into the big lake. When the sun finally gobbled up the fog we found ourselves canoeing by dozens of boats full of people fishing for walleye. We asked the usual question, “Any Luck?” None of them seemed to be bragging either, which made me feel a little better.
Back at the parking lot there is a river which takes McFarland Lake water about 80 feet for a slight drop into Little John Lake. From atop a wooden bridge over this river we could see 2 foot long suckers swimming up stream and back down again in a mating ritual. Mario Andretti couldn't have driven to the truck and back as fast as Doug and I ran to get our fishing gear. We used our ultralite rods and we drifted small hooks baited with night crawler pieces down the current in amongst the fish. After we figured out the amount of sinker weight to use we each landed a fish, a sucker, fun to catch but something I've since found out you can't brag about outside of a small circle of rough fish connoisseurs. I'm sure Doug got around it though, back in Alabama where he was probably asked, "Get any?" He probably said, "Yeah, you bet! One was over 2 foot long." and before they could ask what it was, he probably said, "how was the fishing here while I was gone?”
I have since learned, after fishing Pine Lake for Lake Trout three different times, “the lake does not have any Lake Trout.”
My son, Zeus, spent a summer working in Montana at Glacier National Park. In September I picked him up and the two of us drove to Milltown, a community that has unwillingly become a suburb of Missoula.
That’s where we met up with Paul Stanton who owns and runs Duckboy Cards which publishes humorous black and white postcards and calendars and books. An example of his product is a picture of a man in a bathing suit on downhill skis holding ski poles and starting to ski down a major waterfall. The caption reads, “Waterfall-Skiing In Montana...No Sport for Sissies”.
On the way to the fishing spot, Paul pointed out where he took this photograph using his nephew as the model. They had to tie ropes to his waist to keep him from actually skiing down the falls.
I asked where the name, Duckboy came from. Paul said he and a friend were bicycling along a Montana river, when they went past a flooded corral full of ducks. They speculated on how the west would have been if ranchers opted to raise ducks instead of cattle. Paul wrote a Duckboy song, spoofing cowboy songs, with lyrics like “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Duckboys” and “Duck riders in the sky.” It got a fair amount of air time on Montana Public Radio stations and Paul became somewhat of a local celebrity.
The western portion of Montana has recently had a large number of out-of-state people move in. Most of these people have come from California where one could sell a house and make enough profit to retire in Montana. The road from Missoula to Hamilton has 20 or 30 companies that construct log homes for these newcomers. It has gotten so you can’t see the forest through the log homes. I’m pretty emotional and things like this make me laugh first, then I cry and then I try not to think about it.
I left my vehicle in Hamilton at Paul’s mother’s house and we took Paul’s 70’s Buick up the typical windy mountain gravel road to a dirt parking lot big enough for just a couple of cars. We walked a couple of miles up a forested trail though an area being considered as a US Wilderness Area. The people of Montana were divided into two groups; those in favor and those against. The group that didn’t want the US Wilderness Area contended the trail was used by a large number of off road vehicles (ORVs) and it would be off limits to them if it were a wilderness area.
We checked out the trail and couldn’t find any evidence of ORV use and since Paul is in favor of the wilderness area, he video taped parts of the trail to prove it isn’t used by ORVs.
The crystal clear 6 or 7 acre lake is located on a plateau near the top of the mountain with the peak reflected off the lake’s surface. Real nice!
We rigged our spinning rods with sinking bobbers and artificial flies. It seemed as though the grayling had been waiting for us to get there, because we started catching them right away. They are a fine looking fish with a full spectrum of colors. Though I must admit the dorsal fin is way too large and looks kind of silly. The weather was great. We each caught more than our share of fish. We took lots of pictures. We ate salami and cheese and crackers. Zeus went exploring around the lake. I couldn’t believe it, here I was, catching grayling and I didn’t even have to go to Canada or Alaska to do it. Everything was perfect. Even the trail back to the car was easier than it had been on the way up to the lake.
When we got to the car, we found someone had tried to steal it. They broke the window on the passenger side and got in, but they couldn’t figure out how to unlock the steering wheel. There was glass all over the seat and it was a mess.
They apparently got mad and smashed a big rock into the roof and they were gone when we arrived.
The price we pay for a fishing trip.
Barb and I dropped Zeus at Glacier National Park where he was going to spend the summer working for very little money and making lots of friends. We continued westward toward the coast. On the way, we went through the upper right hand corner of Oregon where the Grande Ronde River flows northeast into the Snake River. Just before it gets to Washington, it flows through Troy, a town, if you want to call it that, made up of: a two room hotel with a bar/cafe, a kindergarten through eighth grade school house and a laundry/bath house/sugar bias grocery store which services river rafters, fisherman, hunters and kindergarteners through eighth graders. Troy also has a small area where you can pay to camp, a small area where you can camp without paying and ten or fifteen houses. If you don't come into town on a raft, the only way in is by one of several gravel roads with more switchbacks than a ten-foot snake in a two-foot cage.
I discovered Troy on a previous trip when I was randomly wandering back roads from Minnesota to the Oregon coast. My first impression was that I had discovered the most remote place in America. Later I learned the rock star, John Fogerty, owns a ranch on the edge of town and he used to give free concerts once a year. These concerts drew thousands of motorcyclists from all over the Pacific Northwest.
I had just told Barb this story and we were getting out of our car about to go into the Philo Inn cafe when I met the Gibbs. Mike and Mary were getting out of their pickup and some guy obviously named Larry was getting out of his pickup on the other side of us. Mike said "Hello Larry!" to this guy and without thinking I said, "Hello!" which plunked me into a conversation. It didn't take long to figure out we had lots in common, so Mike and Mary and Barb and I went into the restaurant and sat down together.
I told Mike about my project of fishing for a different fish in each state and he told me he is a fishing guide and that he would like to take me Steelhead fishing. I told him I was going Steelhead fishing in Idaho and that I really wanted to fish for Squawfish1 in Oregon. He wrinkled up his nose but agreed to take me fishing for Squawfish. He said they catch Squawfish constantly when they are Steelhead fishing and he considers them to be a nuisance.
After Mike and I finished making plans for our September fishing trip, Barb and I headed westward once again toward the Oregon coast. A couple of days later, half way between Corvalles and Newport, close to the little town of Blodgett, we were driving around on gravel roads when we saw a farm house we had seen twenty minutes earlier. While we were stopped at the next tee-intersection looking at the Oregon map, a couple of people drove up to the side of our car and asked if we were lost. I sheepishly said, "Yes." They said their names are Earl and Jean and they told us how to get to the coast, then he told us they live only a block away in the house that tipped me off that I was lost. He told me he is a silk-screen printmaker and I told him I too am a silk-screen printmaker. Pretty soon we were touring their house and garden and silk-screen printing studio.
Since then, Earl and I have kept in touch. A year later, a couple months before Jean unexpectedly passed away, Earl sent me the following note, which reads like a poem.
Caught a fish on opening day in May
Fixed up an old pole; eight feet of line, small hook
Dug one worm from the garden
Walked across the driveway to the river
Dropped in the line
Bam... 10" rainbow
Took it in the house to show Jean who was still in bed
Fish still on line wiggling
falls off onto the bed onto Jean
A lot of screams and laughing
Cooked and ate the fish
I decided to leave them alone in the river
We'll see how big they are next year
In September, I picked Zeus up at Glacier National Park and we headed for the Oregon coast. After we fished in Montana, we stopped to fish for Squawfish in the Grande Ronde River with fishing guide Mike Gibbs.
Mike met us at the Philo Inn cafe and we did a bit of chatting. I asked him how to pronounce "Grande Ronde".
He said, "It sounds so much like ground round, the locales call it hamburger creek."
After a lot of small talk, Mike said, "Well, I hope we don't get into any Steelhead today!" He went on talking to another man in the cafe about Steelhead and how the season will probably be cut short this year because the count is low at the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Someone else asked, "Are you going to float the river today?"
Mike said, "Yep, but we have to remember what we're fishing for."
He asked the guy if he had ever caught a Squawfish and the guy said, "No!"
Mike told him, "They are actually a fun fish to catch-They fight quite a bit. They eat a lot of Steelhead and Salmon smolt."
I said, "And that's why there's a bounty on them", referring to the three dollars a head the Oregon DNR will pay for each Squawfish turned in to them.
Next we went to the sugar store/bathhouse place where Zeus and I purchased fishing licenses. The man said, "I'll need your driver's license and some money."
I asked, "Do I need a Squawfish permit?"
Ronnie, Mike's step-father-in-law, drove us to the put-in spot. As he was about to leave he stuck his head out of the car window and asked, "Squawfish?"
I said, "Hey! At three dollars a head, There could be a lot of money to be made."
As we slipped the boat into the water, Mike said, "We could start a new business". "Speaking of new businesses, there's a lot of money to be make in the fishing industry."
"There sure is, if you could just figure out the right thing you could talk people into buying."
"I got an idea. A fish call."
"A fish call?"
"Yeah. You stick your head under the water and blow it and it attracts the fish. I'll bet we could sell those."
"I'll bet you could, Larry. Especially to bass fishermen."
We were ready to shove off when Mike told us, "You shouldn't dangle the hook over the side of the boat. You should cast as soon as possible to keep the fish from jumping up at the hook and then flopping into the boat." Then he asked, "How old are you, Zeus?"
Zeus said, "Eighteen, old enough to know a story when I hear one."
We shoved off from shore and Mike said, "You’re in fast water now. When the Steelhead...I mean Squawfish takes the bait, it will bend that rod in half." It sure sounded good to me.
Mike has an aluminum Mackenzie River boat, which he controls by rowing upstream as the boat drifts downstream. I asked how much these boats cost and after I was told, I asked if there was any way of getting a cheaper one. He said, "The older wooden ones with a trailer go for around two grand, but they are like old Harleys; beautiful, high maintenance and uncomfortable."
About a half hour into this float trip, Mike anchored the boat and re-rigged my pole with what he called, "A Squawfish special that hopefully won't catch a Steelhead."
I asked if he ever had any famous people as clients. "Only one", he recalled. "Jack, who was with the original Kingsmen group. He had written the song 'Louie Louie', but he wouldn't sing it for me2. He was here in November on a day it was 15 degrees and it snowed like crazy and the water was freezing in the bottom of the boat. Jack caught a fish within the first couple of minutes and we didn't catch another thing all day. The next day it jumped up to about forty degrees and we went fishing on the Washington/Oregon border. We landed thirteen Steelhead. It was a good trip. It was a good day."
I asked if the vacant house next to his house was for rent and I said I might be interested in moving to Troy and spending a year writing and fishing and exploring. He thought for a while then said, "It may be for rent. In a year's time you could get acquainted with the people and learn a lot. The first year would be pretty interesting, seeing the different seasons and seeing what happens during these seasons. You'd see how important the hunters and fishermen are to the economy. After that it would pretty much be repetition."
We weren't out too long when we anchored and dug into Mike's sandwiches and chips and pop and pudding and apples and grain bars. With a mouthful of sandwich I said, "I'm surprised we haven't seen any deer. Do you ever see them near the river?"
"Oh yeah!" Mike responded with a mouth full of chips, "You can see them on the ridges and along the river's edge. You will also see bears bathing in the river with their cubs. And the rattlesnakes come to the river's edge too."
I have a snake phobia, so I thought, "I'm not moving out here" and I said, "I'll have a pudding. How big do the snakes get?"
Mike handed a pudding to me and said, "They generally don't get over two feet long, but the boys at the next ranch up stream killed a four-footer. It's not just snakes and deer and bear that come to the river. Even cougar come down to the water in the wintertime. I had a cougar take a big chunk out of one of my cows last year. It took the hide right off her leg."
I asked, "Did the cougar think it was going to eat the cow?"
Mike laughed and said, "I imagine it did, but it was a fifteen hundred pound cow. Then we had a bobcat in the hay barn. Ronnie called me at work and said, 'Come home and shoot this bobcat.'
'Where's it at?'
'In the hay barn and it won't let me feed the animals,' Ron complained.
''Ron, don't give me that crap... Yeah right!'
Ron went on, 'It won't leave and it keeps attacking me.'
'All right, don't worry about it, I'll feed the cows when I get home.'
I got home about three hours later and forgot all about this crazy cat. I went down to the barn and grabbed a bale of hay and heard a screech. I jumped back and saw a cat that looked like a small cougar. I made snowballs and threw them at the cat. It hunched its back and screeched even more. I had this can of what's called Horn Fly spray. It's a poison, an insecticide that shoots about fifteen feet. I'm shooting the cat in the face with this stuff and the cat's screeching and walking sideways toward me with a hunched back and swatting at the air. I went next store and borrowed a 22-caliber rifle and I didn't want to put a hole in the barn roof, so I tried to get the cat on the ground. Finally it started coming at me and I shot it. Later I found out it had killed two of the neighbor's three pet geese and it had them under the porch and was waiting for night fall so it could eat them."
As soon as this story was over, I caught a Bull Trout on my fly rod. This was the first Bull Trout I’d ever caught. Then I caught a small Rainbow, which Mike said was a Steelhead fry. He could tell by looking at the back top fin. Oregon state stocks the river with rainbows that have their back top fin clipped off. These are the only trout you can keep. The others are either Steelhead fry that go to the ocean or they are other native fish, which the state wants left alone.
As he pulled the anchor at a spot where we didn't even get a bite, I wondered out loud, "What happens to kids after they graduate from eighth grade here in Troy?"
"They have to go to Enterprise, where they live in people's houses. For two hundred dollars a month they get room and board. That's what the school board pays, two hundred dollars a month."
I thought about how difficult it is to keep a handle on a teenager when he or she lives at home. I couldn't even begin to imagine how you would watch after your kids when they are living an hour and a half away in someone else's house. Maybe you pay another two hundred dollars each month in long distance phone bills.
Soon we were heading down a set of rapids, getting almost to the end before we hung up on some rocks. I really don’t know why something like that seems so funny, but we couldn’t stop laughing, even after we broke loose.
Mike said, "Squawfish capital of the Grande Ronde River coming up." I caught another small trout, threw it back and re-baited the hook with another night crawler. He let me put a whole worm on the hook, since we were about to enter the "Squawfish capital of the Grande Ronde River."
We got close enough to Mike's land he could point out its boundaries, "Eighty acres, but the county road takes up a lot of it. I have sixty-seven acres left."
We fished the "Squawfish capital of the Grande Ronde" for some time, not talking, concentrating on the moment, trying to raise a fish from the hole that wasn't about to give up any fish. When we finally pulled anchor and moved on, Mike said, "I guarantee a Squawfish at the next spot."
I said I thought that was a risky statement, but he really believed it would happen, "We catch them there all the time when we're fishing for Steelhead." We drifted through the next rapids into the guaranteed Squawfish hole. This hole was in front of Mike's house and Ronnie was out front watching us fish, waiting to hear if we had caught anything. Eventually he couldn't wait any longer and he yelled at us, "Catch any Steelhead?"
Mike yelled back, "No and we haven't caught any Squawfish either."
We got out and fished from shore for a while. We didn't get any fish, so we got back in the boat and almost immediately I hooked a fish.
Mike asked, "You got one?"
"I might have", I teased.
"If you do, it's a Squawfish." Mike thought out loud. "Oh God, look at that thing go. Oh! It's a Steelhead. Take your time. It's a Steelhead! Larry, it's a Steelhead. Oh no! It's a Squawfish. It's a big one. Don't let it break the line. It's a big one. Oh, it's a sucker. Oh well."
I asked Mike, "What determines a good fishing day?"
I put a new worm on and Mike called it "Rambo worm", because of its liveliness. "I get my worms from a bootlegger who feeds them scraps from his bootlegging operation." Zeus questioned that statement and Mike defensively said, "He also has the fattest pigs around".
As we drifted further down the river, I could see the remains of an old logging trail going up the side of the valley. This one was obviously inactive, but some of the other roads going in and out of the valley looked like they were still used for logging. I asked Mike where the trucks take the logs they haul over these roads.
Mike responded, "The logging has pretty much stopped, because the trees were mostly all logged off. Also, there are a couple of wilderness areas near by and they can't be logged."
Toward the end of the day we were getting lots of hits, but no fish. While I was getting a bite which Mike thought was another sucker, he told us, "The Philo Inn has a sucker fishing contest every Memorial Day weekend. I won it the first year and the last year. It wasn't easy; I had to fish some to catch a sucker."
Zeus put his hands in the water and compared it to the water in Glacier Park, "In Glacier you dove in and you couldn't breath until you got out."
Mike pointed at the cliff between his house and the river. "See the tall point where Ronnie was standing?"
Zeus and I looked back toward his house and seeing that it was fifteen to eighteen feet from the point to the river we both said, "Yeah?"
"Well! When it snows and rains and snows and snows, that whole point gets covered in hard packed ice. Back when we lived in the other house up by the road, the river had been frozen, but the ice was breaking up and the water was still cold, about thirty-three degrees. The river was heaving ice; the bigger pieces were breaking into smaller pieces and those pieces were breaking into even smaller pieces until it became slush. The water was also very high.
“I came out with my new fishing pole, wearing insulated overalls and great big insulated pack boots and it was about 20 degrees outside. I hooked a big fish and I played it and played it and when I started walking closer to the river I slid on the ice and fell. I was on my butt and sliding and the next thing I knew, I was in the water. I had wool gloves on and the water was so cold that when I grabbed at the rocks on shore, they turned to ice. It was like trying to grab ice cubes. I figured I was dead, but I didn't throw the fishing pole and I bobbed and headed toward the big whirlpool, which has the big undertow. Because my clothes were full of air, I bobbed around the whirlpool and down to the next rock bar where I got out of the water and landed the fish. I was dripping wet when I went into the house, which was about seventy-five degrees with the fire going. I took the fish to the sink and washed my hands. Our well water is fifty-two degrees and it felt like it was burning my hands. My wife helped me take off my cloths and when we got to the flannel shirt it was frozen. The ice on it was cracking as we tried to get it off."
"Look it there", Mike shouted, "You had a bite. A Squawfish no doubt."
Zeus said, "It was 'Rambo worm' that got that bite." Trying to get more of the story from Mike, Zeus pointed to the rock formation in front of Mike's house and asked, "You mean that cliff?"
Mike said, "Yep! That's the one."
I suggested Mike was real lucky,
"I could have hit my head and knocked myself out." Mike acknowledged.
"There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong in that story. Zeus and I could be out here fishing with someone else who was telling us the story about good old Mike Gibbs who fell off that point and when they found his body, he had fishing line wrapped all around him and a Steelhead on the hook. It would have been a modern day Moby Dick story."
Mike laughed as Zeus said, "Your mom probably told you, 'You could have poked your eye out!'"
This conversation stopped when I caught a rainbow. It was big enough to keep, but it didn't have the back top fin clipped off, so we let it go. Zeus and I got lots of bites at this spot, but neither one of us could land another fish. Mike thought the bites could be from Chisel-mouth, a fish similar to the Squawfish. My "Rambo worm" was shorter each time I brought it into the boat. Finally Mike said, "Eventually the fish will be far enough up the worm to take the hook."
It was almost dark when we drifted into Troy, where the Wenaha River flows into the Grande Ronde. A Department of Natural Resources guy was doing a creel survey and he asked us if we had caught any Steelhead. We told him we were fishing for Squawfish and that we hadn't caught any. He asked if by chance we had accidentally caught any Steelhead and we told him we hadn't. Just as he walked away, a fish hit Zeus's line. Mike and I both yelled, "Steelhead, Steelhead!" We looked at each other and I said, "You tricked me, Mike, we weren't fishing for Squawfish, were we?" We started laughing as Zeus worked on bringing in his seven-pound Steelhead. Zeus was excited, but he must have been embarrassed to be in the boat with Mike and I laughing and yelling "Steelhead on the line!" over and over. Mike almost lost control of the boat as he laughed and coached Zeus on how to land his fish. When the fish was finally landed, Mike said, "It's a keeper!" I suggested we try to find the creel survey guy and have him change his daily records. We all laughed again and Mike said, "And that's a nice one too. Was that a good fight or what?" Mike screamed one last time, “Thank you Zeus! I was feeling quite inadequate, so I thank you for catching that fish."
We made so much noise the creel survey guy returned to see what was going on. Mike yelled at him, "A Steelhead, probably twenty-seven or twenty-eight or maybe twenty-nine inches." I said, "It will probably be thirty-five inches before the end on the day." Then we yelled, "thirty-five inches, forty inches, one hundred inches, two hundred inches." We were happy fishers. I even forgot we were fishing for Squawfish.
Mike's car and trailer were parked on shore right where Zeus caught his fish. Talk about leaving things to the last minute.
As soon as we got to shore, we measured the fish and it was twenty-seven and a quarter inches.
We went to Mike and Mary’s house for a fish dinner. They hadn't yet finished the kitchen in their new house, so we cooked the fish on the barbecue grill in the front yard. After dinner, Zeus and I left to go to Astoria for my next Fishing America adventure.
1 Subsequently renamed the Northern Pikeminnow
2 I have since been told that Richard Berry wrote this song.
Rick, a biologist who is now retired from teaching at Pacifica College in Oregon, took Zeus, and me out of Astoria Oregon to fish for White Sturgeon in the Columbia River. It was rather scary motoring through the shipping channel in a dense fog not knowing if an ocean vessel was coming at us, but we made it.
We anchored in brackish water, baited our hooks and sat back for a while chatting and watching the fog lift, giving us a view of both Washington and Oregon. It was a long time without action, so we checked our hooks. The bait was gone. After baiting the hooks again and again and again and tossing the lines back out again and again and again, Zeus noticed his line felt a little on the heavy side. He reeled in to find a Dungeness Crab hanging on the hook. He gave the pole a jerk and the crab came flying into the boat. This one was under the size limit, but the action continued.
We did not catch any sturgeon, but we didn’t care. We caught our limit of Crabs.
South Dakota Chapter
My first fishing experience was not really in Florida, it was in my office using my computer instead of my fishing pole: writing letters and waiting for a bite on my 'corporate sponsorship' bait. A deal was here to be made, money to go fishing in exchange for promotion of products and/or services. Seventy-five letters were sent out and most of the companies didn't even take the time to respond. There were a couple of responses; just enough for me to realize corporations get hundreds of letters each week with wild scheme proposals like mine.
Range Rover of America said they just might be interested in supporting this project, if I changed the fishing to playing polo or yachting. Now there's a variation of 'bait and switch'. Berkeley Outdoor Technologies Group was also interested, but the amount of money I thought I needed was more than their budget would allow. They were real nice and I was mad at myself for letting them off the line.
The third bite was from the president of a major motel chain which is located in South Dakota. He was willing to give me some certificates to stay in their motels if I wore a jacket and hat sporting their name whenever I was interviewed by the media. Yes, you betcha, Jack, I'll be right there! I was leaving Minnesota in a couple of days to fish five states back east and it didn't seem too far out of the way to make a swing through South Dakota first, so I did. I met the president of the company and I got ten certificates with a promise of 15 to 30 more when I ran out of these. They also offered one of the Vice Presidents, Dennis Shawd, to take me fishing for Sauger in Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri river.
Sauger is in the same fish family as the Walleye and the state considers Walleye and Sauger to be close enough relatives to share the same bag limit. In other words, a fisherman in South Dakota can catch four Walleye per day or four Sauger per day or any combination of each that adds up to four fish. A Sauger looks a lot like a Walleye only it is skinnier, it doesn't have the white on the bottom of its tail like the walleye, there are spots on the dorsal fin and its sides have vertical stripes like a Perch.
Dennis has fished for Walleye and Sauger all his life and he has figured out where the fish are and how to extract them from these waters, which is something many fishermen never figure out. He became a fishing guide working 110 to 120 days a year, wind and rain and cold and nothing stopped him. After ten years he just quit fishing, cold turkey! He never even thought about fishing for the next three years. Then one day one of his sons asked him to go fishing. He said, "Sure", went out and bought a boat and he's been fishing ever since. He was glad for the opportunity to take me fishing to show off his expertise and to get off work on a not-too-warm warm summer day. A near perfect day, he would say, over and over as he whistled and sang and talked to the fish.
I don’t know if we are far enough into this book to see the pattern, but I’m not a real good fisherman and I don’t catch a lot of fish. This trip is different.
We caught our limit of eight fish, seven Walleye and one Sauger. Dennis caught the Sauger. We caught so many fish, we kept upgrading our limit at seven fish for a long time, releasing the eight on when it was caught as I tried to hook a Sauger. I probably would have caught one, but the sky because dark and storm clouds gathered around us and lightning closing in from two sides. Everyone knows a boat isn't the best place to be at a time like this, so we left. At the boat ramp, people came up and asked, “Catch any fish?" Some were fascinated with our catch while others were threatened. Dennis said you can tell if a person is good at fishing just by checking his or her creel on any given day. Those who are good at fishing will have fish and those who are bad won't have any fish. There are exceptions to this rule, but generally speaking, this is true, "Some people know how to fish and some people don't." One of the boat ramp gawkers said he thought these were rather small fish. Dennis explained that the bigger ones are supposed to be returned to the water so as to breed. This guy wasn't listening and he told us about catching a 6 pounder. Dennis asked if that was a big fish. The guy realized he had his foot in his mouth and he left without answering.
On the way back to where Dennis lives, he told me about the 200' long fishing boat that is owned by his company. It once was a barge used to tend Louisiana offshore oil drilling rigs, but it has since been converted to a fishing boat at a cost of $8,000,000. It has a helicopter port and boat houses for its 43' fishing boat, its 28' fishing boat and its 24' fishing boat. In the summer it is kept in Canadian waters real close to the Alaska border. During that time, 70 members of the company's upper management get to go to the boat for four or five days of meetings and fishing. They fly up on the company plane to Ketchikan and then to Prince Rupert where they catch a pontoon plane that takes them to the boat. Ten employees go at a time. When the plane returned to pick them up it drops off ten more employees until all 70 members of management have been there.
The company anchored their boat near a couple of Canadian floating fishing camps. It's the same old story, you see a bunch of boats together and you say, "This looks like a good place to fish." The operators of these fishing camps resented the Americans coming into their fishing grounds, so they complained to Canadian authorities that an American was running a fishing camp without paying the appropriate fees and taxes. From then on, the Prince Rupert Canadian customs office hassled these company employees whenever they entered Canada.
I've had my problems with Canadian customs, so I told Dennis my Canadian customs story. It happened in 1972 when I lived in Michigan. Every three of four months I drove my van full of art to New York City or to New England. Occasionally, I would stop in Canada and try to sell my art or arrange exhibitions at museums and galleries, but most of the time I drove through Canada, because it was shorter than driving around Lake Erie. On one of these trips, in the middle of the night at the Detroit/Windsor tunnel Canadian customs office I was asked, "What's in the portfolio?"
“Art", I said.
The customs agent wanted me to be more exact and so I said, "Silkscreen prints in limited editions."
He couldn't find this in his customs book, to make things easier for him, I said, "They are the same as woodcuts or etching or lithographs."
He found these things in the book and so everything was okay except maybe he should make an inventory sheet, "Just in case". Thinking there wouldn't be any problems, I agreed and we made an inventory list of all my silkscreen prints and their retail value. I drove on to the Buffalo border crossing and exited Canada without any more delays.
Three months later I went through Canada once again at the same border crossing at the same time of night and I got the same customs guy. Wouldn't you know, he remembered me and the art and the inventory list, so once again we did an inventory list and I continued through Ontario and back into the US of A at the Buffalo entry point.
It wasn't too long after this confrontation that I received a letter from some one in Canadian customs who, doing a random audit had found these inventory lists. There wasn't a record of me taking this merchandise out of the country and silkscreen prints were, in fact, different from Iithographs and woodcuts and etchings and there was a customs duty on silkscreen prints even though this is the only kind of art that isn't duty free in Canada.
I wrote, explaining that because I didn't know about the duty and since I hadn't been informed about it at the times I entered Canada, I didn't stop at customs as I was leaving Canada and have an inventory list made, but I had taken these items out of the country, so, they would have to take my word for it and stop bothering me.
A couple weeks later I received an invoice for $2500.00 (Canadian money), which, at the time, was valued higher than US money.
I responded by reminding them it was their mistake that I wasn’t told to have an exit list made and I thus, couldn't be expected to pay duty because of an error they made. I didn’t point out that, even if I did owe this amount, it was an amount almost equal to my annual income and therefore it was uncollectible.
They countered with an offer exactly like the first, only now I had the option of being permanently banned from Canada.
I decided to level with them and I did an audit of all my past Canadian art sales records. I admitted I owed them 240.00 Canadian dollars. I suggested they "get real" and let me pay them what I really owed them. This time I didn't point out that I couldn't have paid this amount even if they agreed to it.
They responded with a letter telling me to pay the whole $2500.00 and they would deduct the $240.00 I owed them and return the difference to me.
Did you know you can take a gum eraser and carve letters in it in reverse, turning the gum eraser into a rubber stamp? I did this and I returned their letter to them with "I'm Not That Stupid" stamped all over it.
Their next move was to issue a warrant for my arrest and to post it at several border crossings. They were kind enough to send me a list of all the border crossings where this warrant had been posted, so I could continue going into Canada to do business. I just couldn't take the shortcut to the east coast anymore, since this warrant was posted in both Detroit/Windsor and Buffalo.
Back to the South Dakota story, I was thankful for the opportunity to meet Dennis and to catch these fish and for the opportunity to tell my Canadian customs story and to hear his company boat story. I had another really good time, fishing and talking.
Most of the time when asking someone to tell about who they are, they tell about who they want to be instead. But I forget that and so when Bob Jenkins told me his vanity license plates read "SALMO T," I expected to run into someone who spends all his free time fishing. It wasn't true, he is just like I was before this Fishing America project started and that is a person who loves fishing but work is one level above fishing.
Bob is an ichthyologist at Roanoke College who specializes in non-game fish. He has spent extensive time studying a fish called the Roanoke Bass. It looks a lot like a Rock Bass to me, but it is a unique species of fish that lives only in a couple of different watersheds located in Virginia and North Carolina. This is the fish we decided to pursue. Because we both like to fly fish we decided to pursue these fish with fly rods. We speculated that we might not be the first fishermen to catch Roanoke Bass on fly rods, but we are probably the first fishermen to actually pursue them with fly rods.
During the drive to Town Creek, on June 9, 1991, near where it flows into the cold Smith River tailwater about three miles below Philpott Dam, we talked about fish species and subspecies. Bob pointed out a place where a semi-truck driver couldn't manage the bend in the road. Bob said he doesn't like fishing for stocked fish.
I said, “You are going to fish for Brown Trout which are not native to the Smith River.”
And Bob corrected me, “I'm talking about wild fish, not native fish.” He proceeded to explain that when a stocked fish has reproduced in a watershed future generations are called wild.
I told Bob my theory that, “Fishing for stocked fish is just another version of playing a state lottery.”
At some point on the drive we both commented about how pretty the trip is, without much advertising signs. We also talked a lot about fish and about my fishing project.
After driving up to the bridge over the Smith River to watch rising trout, we headed back downstream to where warm Town Creek empties into the river and we parked next to the railroad tracks where a white goose hangs out. While being scolded by the goose for being there we put on our waders and headed up Town Creek with our fly rods.
I started fishing not very far from where the creek and the river converge. Bob walked farther up the creek and he was soon out of sight around the bend in the creek. I fished a small fly that looked like a mosquito carrying a hook. Soon I caught a small Chub, which I photographed. Then came a Redbreast Sunfish, the fish that had eluded me in South Carolina. It was only four or five inches long, but almost any fish is fun to catch on a fly rod. Then I caught a fish that looked like a Rock Bass only it was a little sleeker and pale-spotted. I thought it was a Roanoke Bass, but I wasn't sure so I also photographed it.
I went back to the pickup truck and traded my fly rod for my ultralite, a hook, a float and some worms. I was soon catching or nearly catching lots of crayfish. I had just put one of the crayfish on my hook and was trying to catch a Smallmouth Bass when I noticed Bob slowly walking toward me dragging a fish that was on end of his line. When he was close enough to show me he said, “This is a Roanoke Bass.”
I said “I caught one just like it.”
Seeing I was now fishing with a ultralite he said, “I caught mine on a fly rod.”
I told him, “So did I.”
Bob unhooked the fish to release it, but it was apparently too worn out to swim right away and hung out by Bob's leg for several minutes before slowly swimming back upstream.
Bob walked down to the Smith River and started fishing for wild Brown Trout.
I spent the next couple hours watching Bob fish, photographing the Smith and teasing the goose back by my vehicle. When a train went by the goose tried to intimidate it. Several times it ran toward the train stopping just shy of the tracks and backing off.
I also cried while I sat in my pickup because this fishing project was supposed to be financed by art sales to contacts I make during my travels. The economy has turned sour and the sales are not happening and it is looking like I might not have the money to finish this project.
On the way back to Bob's place he asked how I thought we did. I told him “I'm happy with the results. I caught the targeted species and a chub that I've never caught before.”
Bob said, “I think we did incredibly well. Not only did we catch a Roanoke, I caught and released several Brown Trout.“
Bob was ecstatic, “I love those trout. %&*# love those trout. I love seeing them rising on the river. And if I can fish and watch them at the same time it is even better. If you spend a day on the Smith and catch five or six Browns it's a good day. Even when they are rising like that they're hard to catch.”
After a short break he continued, “I actually caught a Roanoke Bass on a fly rod. Geez! I actually did.”
Trying to be funny I said, “Of course we don't know who caught one first.”
Bob said “No! We don't.”
I continued the joke, “Well I know yours was bigger, so I should get credit for catching the first and you can have credit for the biggest. Do they get much bigger than that?”
“Oh yeah. Two and a half pounds is the state record. I would guess they get to three or four pounds. Right there in that stream too.”
After another pause he continued, “You missed the hatch.”
“I thought about going up to the bridge to see it, but thought you might come up to the vehicle and wonder where I'd gone.”
“The hatch doesn't happen up there, because the conditions aren't right--water's too cold for one thing. It starts where warm Town Creek empties into the Smith. The creek puts nutrients in the river and makes conditions right. That's where the mayflies are; from Town Creek down.
After a pause Bob said, “Even though the trout on average aren't giants that's one hell of a stream.”
We talked more about my fishing project, “I'm trying to find a person in Kentucky who is named Kenneth Tucky. Then I'm going to see if Kentucky Bass live in Kentucky Lake and if so I'm going to see if I can fish in the state of Kentucky for Kentucky Bass in Kentucky Lake with Ken Tucky.”
After a little laugh Bob told me Kentucky Bass is a local common name for a fish, “You're perpetuating a misnomer. The correct name is the Spotted Bass which occurs pretty much throughout the Mississippi River Basin.”
I asked, “What else is it called? Maybe I know it by some other name.”
“I don't know of any,” said Bob, “You're dealing with all these common names and when you write your book I won't know what the hell fish you caught.”
“Oh you'll know.”
“Different fish have different common names in different places and if you're giving a common name I won't know what the hell you're talking about. The American Fisheries Society has a list of fishes listed by the most used common names and the scientific names. You should use that list, additional to local names.”
“I had a beautiful evening on the Smith River. When those mayflies started hatching, trout started rising and four geese flew over. Then a Great Blue Heron landed by the pool where I caught my last trout. The Heron was fishing the tail of the pool and I was fishing the head.”
On the way back to Bob's house we talked about our day of fishing, about music, mostly his favorite, The Grateful Dead, about my fishing project and about my art career.
We stopped at a restaurant on the way to Bob's house and we talked about the book I co-authored with Bud Berglund called “Hook, Line and Shelter” and Bob talked about the book he was co-authoring with Noel Burkhead called “Freshwater Fishes of Virginia.” He said its manuscript currently is at about 2500 pages, but it will be edited down somewhat and set in a smaller font before it is published.
We were almost through eating when Bob said, “I think fly fishing is an art; good flies and well made casts.”
I thought, “How can you disagree with that?” And then said, “Speaking of well made flies, I read an article recently in West Virginia Magazine by a woman who designed flies to catch Carp.”
“Yeah” Bob said, “They are made to look like Mulberries and used in the Mulberry season.”
I continued, “This woman ties flies that look like popcorn. Can you imagine having a Carp on a fly rod? How cool that would be.”
Bob said, “Every time I've encountered Carp when I've been fishing, as soon as the fly hits the water they turn, they bolt, they're gone. They are pretty leery animals. They survive in city ponds where thousands of kids fish. According to Hank Norton, the Dean of the Smith, hooking a Carp is like tying your leader to the back of a pickup truck that's taking off.”
I told him, “One year on opening day... we have seasons in Minnesota when you can fish and seasons when you can't fish... I was fishing for Bass and Northern Pike below a dam and I hooked into the tail of a four or five pound Carp. This was with my ultralite and it took me at least a half hour to land it.”
“Sure. The reason the season probably ends is so that the fishermen don't get hypothermia”, he joked.
When we arrived at Bob's house, we listened to a couple of his hundreds of bootleg Grateful Dead concert tapes. Bob is a neo-Deadhead since 1987 and has been to several live Grateful Dead concerts.
In the morning Bob fixed breakfast as we listened to more Grateful Dead concerts and he talked more about fishing, “I'm a specialist. I only fly fish. I only fish for Brown Trout and only in a three-mile range of the Smith River. My friend Hank Norton says I can fish for the same fish for hours.”
After breakfast we each told the other how much we appreciated the other's company and the opportunity to go fishing and I headed out for another day of driving.
I've been in contact with Bob since and his book has been published after being reduced to about 1100 pages and he has found a couple other places to fly fish for Brown trout that are much closer to where he lives. He has also identified from my photographs one fish that I caught as a Bluehead Chub and the other as our targeted species, the Roanoke Bass.
Chris and I signed a contract to fish for Striped Bass at the mouth of the Merrimac River. The day we fished, it was cold and windy and we didn’t have the right tackle. Chris observed the fishermen who were catching fish and he figured out what we needed to change.
The next day at the boat landing, I went up the hill to purchase ice for the cooler that was going to keep our fish. While I was gone, Chris was pushing the boat off the trailer when his Achilles tendon snapped. At first he thought he had been shot. I drove him to the hospital and we didn’t go fishing.
The next spring when I visited him again, the American Shad were running up the Merrimac River. We drew up a new contract and fished for them. I caught one on the first cast and that was all I caught. Chris caught a couple.
I was talking on the phone to a friend in Iowa, telling her about the “Fishing America” project and how the goal was to target a different species in each state. She asked about the Iowa fish and I said, “Bullhead.”
She went ballistic, “Oh No! Can’t you go for a more respectable fish here?”
I told her the fish didn’t say anything about the state, but if it did, I couldn’t pick a more appropriate fish, because more people in Iowa fish for Bullheads than for any other species. We continued to have an argument while I tried to change the subject.
Two minutes after I hung up, the phone rang and it was Randy, her ex-husband telling me about a family pond that is full of large Bluegills and we were going to fish there for Bluegills whether I wanted to or not. Since I had already signed a fishing contract with another Iowa fisherman to fish for Bullheads, I decided I could have two Iowa fishing trips.
Randy and Zeus and I filled a cooler with large Bluegills during this trip and the other trip yielded one Bullhead.
Dennis, his wife Nancy, friends named Barbara, Doug and Amy plus Zeus and I fished from Nan’s family’s pontoon boat on Lake Clinton. We targeted Drum, called that because they have stones in their heads, which they rub together during mating season to create a sound designed to attract a mate. Even though they are considered a nuisance fish, I enjoy catching them.
While waiting for this trip to begin, I fished from the boat dock. A Bluegill swam out from under where I was sitting and I caught him. After I photographed him and let him go, he swam under the dock, only to come out and be caught again on the next cast.
The rest of the day we fished and swam and drank beer from the pontoon boat. Doug caught the only fish, a twelve-pound Flathead Catfish.
Sometimes I do things backward, like fish for Rainbows in West Virginia when they are native to Colorado and fish for Brookies in Colorado when they are native to West Virginia. Both were planted where I fished for them.
In Colorado, Zeus, James and I fished the stream that runs through the valley in this photograph. James caught several Brown Trout. We caught naught.
The next day we walked several miles up another valley to fish in a creek that was overflowing with spring runoff waters. James and Zeus fished a mile upstream from where I fished. I waded and whipping the fly for hours without experiencing a single hit.
When I arrived at a series of beaver dam pools, I peered over the first and saw several Brookies. I quickly made myself visibly scarce. I assume the first fly landed in the center of the lower pool, because I extracted a fish that was probably a pound and a half. I knocked it out and placed it in a very small pool on the down side of the dam. I think I caught every fish in that pool and some from the next pool too, but didn’t realize I was supposed to keep the smaller ones for dinner.
When James and Zeus returned with lots of fish, I went to the small pool to retrieve what would have been the winner, but it was gone. We did eat fish for dinner, but only I know, “I caught fish.”
Tom and his family own 4000 acres in Wyoming that used to be a dude ranch. Tom, Zeus, and I fished for Cutthroat Trout on a catch and release section of the Tongue River near the ranch. I caught the only fish, about 4 inches long, photographed it and released it. Shortly thereafter, I was approached by a touristy looking guy who asked, “How’s the fishing going?” I told him I caught one cutthroat and he asked to see it. I informed him it was catch and release and that I had released it. After trying everything he could to trick me into saying I did something wrong, he showed me his badge and asked to see my license. Personally, I was offended, but maybe its what needs to be done to make sure everyone is playing by the rules.
The next day Tom took us fishing in the ranch ponds where we caught many Brown Trout. He showed us the cabin over looking the waterfall on the creek that flows though their property. Queen Elizabeth actually ate lunch at the cabin and signed their guest book. I caught a real nice Rainbow just below the falls.
This picture was taken from the cabin’s wrap around deck.
Dan Jessup is the property manager at the Cikana State Fish Hatchery in Martinsville, Indiana. I sent Dan a letter describing 'Fishing America' and I enclosed a copy of my fishing contract which had been written with his name as the Indiana fisherman and the Redeared Sunfish, a bream in the sunfish family had been chosen as the fish we would try to catch. After eight months without a reply, I wrote again, asking if I should find someone else. Dan wrote back right away, saying that he was interested but that the contract was a little intimidating. He said the part stipulating he would have to do 100 hours of volunteer work for the Indiana Nature Conservancy was too much for him. Besides, he added, “I prefer Ducks Unlimited.” I changed the contract to 10 hours of volunteer labor for Ducks Unlimited and asked him if he’d take the time to sue me if I didn’t show up. He signed the contract.
I arrived at the hatchery on a warm September morning to find that Dan wasn’t there. The guy in the office was real friendly, so I chatted with him for awhile. Noticing a baby Gar in a fish tank, I wondered aloud where it had come from.
“We drained the pond this year and found this little sucker in there,” the man said. “We’ve got Musky and northern and Tiger Musky and Bass and Bream and Catfish in that pond, so this must be one smart little sucker to avoid being eaten by such critters.” I had just met this guy, so I avoided the obvious joke, "Little sucker?
Don't you mean little gar?"
“I’ve been told they make pretty good pets,” I said instead.
“I wouldn’t doubt it.”
“Does he respond well? A guy I fished with in Florida told me he caught a baby Gar and put it in a fish tank. It had an interesting personality and would come up and beg for food. It got so big he had to let it go.”
“Yes, they’re fun to watch when they eat because they strike sideways. They usually strike with their prey ending right at the tip of their nose. Then they work on it, getting it turned sideways, and finally they swallow it.”
He told me Dan was at home, getting ready for our trip. He gave me directions to the house, and off I went.
“I’m not quite ready,” Dan said apologetically when he answered the door.
“We’re going to a spot near New Castle. Its east and a little bit north, about an hour and a half away. It would make more sense if we drove separately, since you’ll be going straight on to Tennessee from there.”
“Do we have to rent a boat?”
“No. I’ll just haul mine.”
The reservoir we were going to was about 700 acres—not real big. “Any size motor is allowed,” Dan told me, “but you have to idle the whole time. If we can get the motor running, we’ll be all right. It worked the last time I ran it.”
“You don’t go fishing very often, I take it.”
“I really don’t get out very much. We went up to Lake Gogebic in Michigan last July and spent a week vacationing there.”
“It’s nice in the Upper Peninsula, but I think it’s wonderful here, too. I got off the highway and took back roads this morning. I got lost, but the scenery was worth it. When I asked in town how to get to the hatchery, they had never heard of the place.”
“I’m not surprised,” Dan said. “Most people are familiar with Grassy forks, the big Goldfish hatchery that’s right next to us.”
“They raise Goldfish outside?”
“Yeah. They’ve got a couple hundred acres with maybe 500 ponds. They’re taking Goldfish out every day. They ship them around the world, to Europe, Japan, China, everywhere.”
“I’ll bet fishing for goldfish would be fun,” I said. “There’s lots of Goldfish in Lake Michigan. I went to school in Chicago, and I used to go down to the docks on the lake and see all these Goldfish swimming around under the boats and yachts.”
“That’s not hard to believe. People need to have someplace to throw their unwanted Goldfish.”
“Someone once told me that they’re in the Carp family, but they’re not, are they?”
“Well, there is no Carp family. There’s a Minnow family, and carp are in the Minnow family and so are goldfish. Carp and Goldfish are closely related, but they’re different, a different species. People think that goldfish turn into Carp. Just like there are different kinds of Carp, there are different kinds of Goldfish. There are a lot of different sub-species in the ornamental market and lots of different strains, like one called a Moore that’s black with big bug eyes that kind of stick up. It’s an ugly thing.”
I noticed Dan’s fishing reel. “I see you have a Mitchell reel. That’s what I use sometimes, though I prefer my ultralite. When I’m fishing for bigger fish, I use my Mitchell 300. How many kids do you have, Dan?”
“Two. They’re 9 and 12.”
“I’ve got five. We are going to fish with live bait?”
“Yeah, night crawlers. I’ve never fished for Redeared Sunfish, but I talked to someone who fishes in the lake where we’re going, Summit Lake, and that’s what he fishes for. His method is to hook a night crawler through the collar and throw it out. You don’t even need a sinker. It sinks to the bottom and just sits there.”
“Redeared Sunfish feed off the bottom?”
“Yeah, they’re pretty much bottom feeders. In the South, they’re called Shell Crackers and people fish for them with snails. The things they normally consume are on the bottom, but like most fish, they’ll take any opportunity when it knocks, no matter the location.”
“I’ve heard there are thirty-some members in the Sunfish family.”
“I’ll bet there are. What we call a bass is a Sunfish.”
“I was talking to a guy about white bass the other day, and I said, ‘They’re in the Bass family.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I know they’re in the Bass family.’ And I said, ‘I bet you think the Largemouth Bass is in the Bass family, too,’ and he said, ‘Yeah,’ and I said, ‘well, it’s not.’”
Dan must have been afraid he was going to forget something because it took him a long time to get his gear together.
After Dan told me how much he envied me for being able to fish all 50 states and after I told him how it involved a lot of work and worry, we climbed into our cars and I followed him to Summit Lake. On the way, a van from Missouri squeezed in between us and then slowed down. Whenever I’d try to pass it, the van would speed up. This happened over and over, and Dan kept getting further and further ahead of me. It was a frustrating trip, and I was happy when it was over.
At the boat ramp, I asked Dan if he used a depth finder. He said he did.
“That’s basically the secret to fishing, isn’t it?” I asked.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It’s so much easier to look on the screen and see where you are. Of course, if you fish the same lake over and over, you don’t need it because you learn the lake.”
“Does your wife like to fish?”
“Do your kids like to fish?”
“It’s a family disease, eh?”
Dan’s Redeared Sunfish expert had given him a map of the lake, with notations showing where we were most likely to find the fish. We headed for the closest marked spot, which, wouldn’t you know, was located on the other side of the lake.
During the boat ride, Dan talked about the lake. “This area originally was part of the Big Blue River Conservancy District,” he said. “I don’t know if you’re familiar with conservancy districts, Larry, but folks get together and form a watershed conservancy district. It’s done under Public Law 566. Typically, small reservoirs are created as a means of flood control, with funding help from the federal government.”
“That’s an awfully big heron,” I interrupted. “What kind is it?”
Looking up, Dan identified it as a blue, then continued, “The area around here is full of underground caverns—limestone. I don’t know how many dollars they spent trying to draft where the water was seeping out.”
“How do they plug a leak?”
“They use grout of some sort.”
“How do they find the leaks?”
“A water survey.”
“Are there big caves around here?”
“No. It’s not that kind of cavernous material. I wish I knew more about it, but I know every one of the reservoirs in this watershed district leaks. It’s hard to keep control, and they end up spending a lot of money. What happened here is that the people who had set up this conservancy district couldn’t handle the cost anymore, so they sold it to the state.”
“What’s the deepest spot in this water?”
“I don’t know. We’re at about 25 feet right now, but I’d guess it isn’t much more than 27 or 28 feet.”
When we got to our fishing spot, I asked, “Do we drop anchor, or do we drift?”
“I’ve got half a notion to drift,” Dan said as he dropped the anchor, not knowing it wasn’t going to hold anyway and we were going to start drifting after awhile.
Picking up his line, he said, “I’m going to put a little bit of a slip-shot sinker on.”
“You said we weren’t supposed to.”
Ignoring my remark, he instructed, “Put the hook through the night crawler's collar, just one loop. If you have a hit, let him run a long time.”
We fished for a good hour with the waves lapping against the boat, making gentle splashing sounds, making me very sleepy. I asked Dan if snoring bothered him.
“Snoring? No, not particularly.”
“I’m gonna take a nap,” I said as I lay down, continuing with a thought that almost didn’t get finished: “That guy from Missouri was sure a jerk, wasn’t he? He wasn’t going to let me pass him, no matter what...ZZZzzzz.”
I was just about done with my usual 10-minute nap when I heard Dan say, “I think you’ve got a bite.”
I looked at my fishing pole. The line was just reeling off the spool, so I got up and hauled in the first Redeared Sunfish of the day, hooked while I was asleep.
“Did you have any bites while I was sleeping?” I asked Dan.
“No,” he said, a bit glumly.
Our mission accomplished, all we had to do now was relax and enjoy the rest of the day. The anchor soon broke loose from the lake bottom, and we drifted over something that made the water shallower for a couple of seconds. Figuring it was a good spot to fish, we backtracked in an unsuccessful effort to find it again. Giving up the search, Dan dropped the anchor at a place that seemed “as good as any.”
As we fished and talked, I began to see that Dan couldn’t understand why I—or anyone—would come from Minnesota to fish in Indiana. I told him I think the fishing is good everywhere you go or bad everywhere you go, depending on the weather, the time of day, the time of year, the fisher’s knowledge and a dozen other things.
“I don’t suppose it matters if these worms are alive or not, does it?” I asked.
“Well, it helps if they’re wiggling around,” Dan said, and I could swear his eyes rolled a bit when he answered.
Figuring I ought to ask something a little more interesting, I asked him about the live fish display at the Indiana State Fair. “I hear there’s a big tank or something,” I said.
“The Resources Building has 27 indoor aquariums that range in size from 200 to 300 gallons and one larger tank that’s about 600 gallons,” he said. “We also have fish in five concrete ponds outside the building.”
“Do all the fish make it through the fair?”
“No, some of them die. We have backup fish to replace them. All in all, we’ve got about 50 different species at the fair.”
I began to think about the Redeared Sunfish I had caught. “Redeared Sunfish are sure a beautiful fish,” I said.
“Once you get a hook in one, you find out they’re really powerful, too,” Dan replied.
Looking up at a circling hawk, I said, “I don’t really envy any creature except when I see those birds of prey, when they’re gliding in the wind and looking so beautiful.”
Dan watched the hawk for a while and then said, “It seems to have gotten windy, hasn’t it? I think we’ll have to move somewhere else.”
“I’ll pull up the anchor while you check the map,” I said. “How deep did your Redeared Sunfish expert tell you to fish?”
“Oh, 16 to 18 feet.”
“Where are you from originally, Dan?”
Folding up the map, Dan said, “From Indiana, a bit west of Indianapolis. I went to Indiana University. Studied biology. I think we should go up by the dam. The wind shouldn’t be so strong there.”
The new spot, which had been marked on the map, was a lot less windy. “It’s pretty deep—21 feet,” Dan said.
“Use all the anchor line, right?”
“No, let’s not use it all.”
Dan caught lots of fish in the next couple of hours, mostly small Largemouth Bass. He was using sinkers and keeping his bail closed, and this was after telling me to do just the opposite. I caught some fish, too, but my take was nothing like Dan’s.
We talked for a while about where the fish were and what was working best to catch them, and then I asked, “So how did you get into this line of work?”
“I had no idea there were jobs like this until I took a course in limnology—the study of water. I also took a course in public environmental affairs. In the process of doing research, I found out about fish and wildlife and fisheries biologists. And I read in “Field and Stream” about the stream channelization in Indiana.
“After I graduated from college in 1971, I worked housing construction for awhile. The contractor I worked for had an in with a state natural resources official, who introduced me to the chief of fisheries, Frank Luck.”
“The construction guy you worked for, did he know you wanted to change jobs?”
“Oh, sure. Some other guy bought him out, and I didn’t see the new guy as someone I wanted to work for.”
Reeling in my line, I discovered half my worm was gone. “Geez, I had a bite and didn’t even know it,” I said
“The fish are down there but hard to hook,” Dan said sympathetically before returning to his story: “Anyway, I kept working construction and there were no jobs in fisheries at that time—1972—so I kept working housing and calling Frank up about every month to see if there was anything going on. Then housing construction dried up...ohhh, you’ve got a bite there, Larry.”
“Yep. I’m working him.”
“So I took a foundry job at Chrysler. When I called Frank in April of 1973, he said there was an opening for an assistant biologist for the summer. I got the job, which ended up being a permanent full-time position. I like the job, but its rewards are not primarily monetary. Other states pay more than Indiana for the same job. Michigan pays double what Indiana pays.”
Dan may have felt a little uneasy with me at the beginning of the day, but not anymore. “You had a little trouble getting that bass,” he observed dryly.
“Yeah, I know. You’re catching more fish than I am. What are you doing that’s different, besides using a sinker?”
“You must be taking catnaps—sleeping. That’s what I was doing when I caught my first one. What kind of a reel is that you’re using?”
“A little Zebco. Pretty nice. I use it a couple times a year.”
“Look at this—all of a sudden I’m getting a lot of action. Hey!”
“Your worm is gone again Larry?”
“Yeah, along with my fish. He was almost to the top and I lost him. I could tell he was a keeper.”
“I’ve got about a half dozen Redeared Sunfish here if you want to get a picture of more than one of them,” Dan offered.
“Thanks,” I said, “but I’m still hoping to get some more of my own.
We ate some strawberry jam sandwiches. “My wife picked these strawberries, Dan said. “She got to the patch late in the season, but she got enough for some jam.”
“What does your wife do?”
“She’s a nurse, an RN. She works at a children’s hospital about 30 miles away. She’s in the hematology section, working with kids who have cancer. Every time we go on vacation, she hates to go back and see who’s died. She works three days a week, getting up at 4:40 a.m. and getting home about 6 p.m.”
“Are all the ponds at the hatchery used?”
“Yes, but not all the time.”
“How do you get the fish out, seine them?”
“No. We have concrete in the basin and drain the water slowly. The fish go with the water, sometimes flopping around on the dry area, but they eventually follow the water. It’s an instinct for survival.”
“Damn! That guy ran and ran and ran, and I still lost him. He didn’t even get any of the worm. Is this the first time you’ve been fishing in Indiana this year?”
“Yeah. I bought the boat last year.”
“The little jerk, I think he got the worm. I don’t know what to do with him, I can’t catch him. It’s stopped now, but it was obviously a fish doing that. Oh, now I see why he quit. It’s a success story for him—he did get the worm.”
I asked Dan how you could tell a male from a female fish. He said, “With a Redeared Sunfish, you usually can tell by the coloration, but not this time of year. The males are bigger, too.” Then Dan’s attention got turned to reeling in still another fish, and I never did learn how to sex the rest of the fish world. Furthermore, I realized that even though I had caught the first fish, I had been out fished in the long run.
We talked about the kinds of fishing we liked the most. “Without a doubt, my favorite is for Smallmouth Bass,” I told Dan. “You can’t be sure exactly what they’re going to do. They’ll dive and then they’ll shoot up.”
“Mine, too,” Dan said, a sly smile creeping across his mug. “They walk on the water.”
We talked about the Zebra Mussel and other problems in the environment. Dan told me about a problem that was news to me. “The DNR just closed the mussel season in Indiana,” he said. “The Japanese were buying these clams in great numbers—for the shell, not the meat. They put some of the shell in an oyster to start a cultured pearl. It’s a big business that’s gotten so big it’s really threatened the clam. You can make a couple hundred bucks a day gathering these clams, even more if you use illegal methods.”
“What about scouring the river bottom for empty shells?
“Those aren’t any good because they get stained. Only certain kinds are any good. Right now, the pocketbook mussel is really popular. It can be 50 or 60 years old and weigh five pounds.”
We’d been in our fishing spot a long time, and it hadn’t been all that rewarding for me. I asked Dan, “Think maybe we’re ready for a location change?”
“Well, I was thinking...”
“You want to go home, right?”
“O.K., I’m ready to go, too. Take these night crawlers and give your hatchery fish a treat. Does your office Gar eat night crawlers?”
“No, I don’t think he would. He eats small minnows.”
Back at the boat ramp, we made some more small talk as we put the boat on the trailer and tied it down. Dan told me three times, “It’s been a great day, Larry.”
I agreed with him each time, because it really had been a great day.
It started as a joke. I would fish in Tennessee for the Snail Darter, a fish that became famous in 1982 during the planning of the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River. But as I thought about it more, the joke turned serious. I called the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and they referred me to Dr. David Etnier, the University of Tennessee ichthyologist who discovered this fish species in 1965. David signed a contract for a September fishing date, saying, “I’ll bring along an ichthyology class to help find and capture at least one of these little guys.”
When I got to the freeway exit where I had arranged to meet David, he was waiting with his wife, Liz; his four ichthyology students, Les, Joe, Charlie and Mark; Mark’s wife, Natalie; and Mark and Natalie’s three kids, Uno, Duo and Teresa.
This exit, near the town of Calhoun, is where a combination of fog and smoke from the local paper mill had caused an accident involving several hundred vehicles earlier in the year. This was one of the many things we talked about while getting acquainted.
It is funny how information comes out in an initial conversation involving several people, all competing for the airwaves. Most people want everyone else to know about themselves, so the information flows freely, with people asking questions not so much to get information as to move the conversation in their desired direction.
Here’s a sample of what I mean:
“Hi, my name’s Les. I work for the ‘Daily Beacon,’ the school newspaper, and I want to interview you.”
“My name’s Charlie. Have you ever fished in Russia?”
“Neither have I, but I’ve been there.”
David is originally from Watertown, Minnesota. He did both his undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Minnesota. He and Liz spend summers fishing for lake trout in the waters around their cabin, which is located on an island in a lake near the north end of the Gunflint Trail in the Arrowhead Region of northern Minnesota. All the license plates in the county start with the letters NUJ, so David and Liz acquired Tennessee vanity plates reading NUJ 100 in order to fit right in with their summertime neighbors.
David had laid out an itinerary for the day but warned that it was subject to change. “We’re heading for the tail waters of the Hiwassee River,” he said. “If they’re letting water out of the dam, we’ll have to go elsewhere. The dam generates electricity, and they have other interests as well. They have to maintain a balance, letting water out for whitewater rafting and keeping the water low for trophy trout fishing.”
In discussing directions, I learned that David thinks it’s unfair to travel with maps. “Unfair?” I asked. “Why unfair?”
“It’s cheating,” answered Liz, who then went on to recount a time she and David got lost in someplace like Chicago or somewhere, but for sure, lost for quite some time and he refused to look at his maps.
I'd brought my waders and was told, “That’s cheating, too.”
"O.K.,” I agreed, “I won’t use them. But if using maps is cheating, why are you looking at maps?”
“These are all right,” I was told, “because they’re only county maps.”
I decided not to pursue the argument. After all, I’d be following David and Liz and all I had to do was keep an eye out for their license plate, NUJ 100.
Several months earlier, I had gone to the library to research the Snail Darter. I learned there is something like 144 different kinds of Darters in North America. That’s too much Darter data for me to absorb, so I was glad to have David’s knowledgeable brain to pick. “Are Darters hard to catch?" I asked him.
“Some are catchable with hook and line,” he said. “If you went snorkeling with a fishing pole, you could present the bait to the fish and catch it. One of my friends came up from Alabama to get some Darters for an aquarium. He was mainly interested in the Tangerine Darter, which is tangerine on the bottom and lime green on top. I took my fly rod and caught about six of them in a couple of hours, explaining to my friend that the locals call them river slicks.
While we were fishing, a local man came up to us and asked, ‘Are you getting any?’
‘Yeah, some river slicks,’ my friend replied with a casualness so studied I couldn’t help but laugh at him.”
“Are the Snail Darters in the Hiwassee River a colony you established?” I asked.
“We don’t know, and we’ll never know,” David replied. “We attempted to establish Snail Darters in the Hiwassee, and six years later, they didn’t exist anywhere near where we put them. But we found them in the spot where we’re going today.”
“They probably moved from the place you put them, right?”
“Or they may have been there all the time. I collected 20 of them and compared them with the parent stock, and they were already different. Highly significant differences that make me think they were there all the time. We’re treating them like a transplant species so we can collect and study them. It’s touchy working with an endangered species.”
As we headed for the Hiwassee, mine was the second of four vehicles that traveled down winding country roads. I could see some of the local people sitting on their front porches, probably thinking, “Holy cow! One, two, three, four cars!” The scenery was a combination of farm and forest. Lots of grazing cows, lots of trees and lots of dirt roads, each, according to the road signs, leading to a nearby Baptist church.
When we got to the river, David climbed out of his car and walked back to mine. “This has the makings of a real fishing trip,” he said, his voice heavy with irony.
“Why? Are we lost?”
“No. This is the spot, but the river’s too high because they’re running the generator. We’ll have to find another spot over on Sewee Creek. This would have been the prettiest place to catch a Snail Darter, but its unworkable when the water’s this high.”
We retraced our route. With two farm trucks slowing us down, I could almost hear the porch sitters: “Holy cow! One, two, three, four, five, six cars!”
Like on most fishing trips, we spent a lot of time driving to the location. Our final approach was made on a one-lane dirt road with a one-lane bridge declaring a one-car load limit, and even that looked questionable to me. The road and the old bridge over Sewee Creek were so beautiful I could have spent the day photographing instead of fishing.
We stopped near a vacation cabin where it was easy to access the creek. The weather was perfect, and soon everyone was in the warm water seining fish. Everyone but Les and me, that is. He insisted on interviewing me for an article in the “Daily Beacon.” During the interview we sat on the creek bank near a virtually unnoticeable hole in the ground, home to a nest of yellow jackets. The interview ended when we were swarmed and I was stung on the ear.
When I got in the water, David informed me the group’s kick-netting efforts had so far produced a Redline Darter, a Rainbow Darter, a Snub Nose Darter, six or seven kinds of minnows, a hog sucker and one little spotted bass, also known as Kentucky bass.
This kind of fishing was new to me. It involved using a seine net about 10 feet long and three feet high with a stick running along each three-foot end. One end of each stick was pushed into the creek bottom so the long side of the net was taut along it. The top of the net rose above the water and the current stretched the net, making it like an empty hammock in a hurricane. Two fishers held the sticks while, upstream, the others stood close to one another and walked slowly toward the net, holding hands and doing what they called a kick. The kickers resembled a Broadway chorus line. As David explained, “No fish is going to willingly swim into a net. You have to stir up the mud so the fish can’t see.” Each time the net was brought out of the water, it contained lots of leaves, sticks and stones, snails, nymphs, crayfish and sometimes even fish. The first netting I witnessed produced a single fish. David called it a “log perch.”
“It’s a Darter, but not a Snail Darter.”
In our next netting, we got a fish all of three inches long. “It’s a Redline Darter,” David said. “It’s the only Darter here with orange lips and dark horizontal marks on its cheeks.”
Next we netted a Greenside Darter, then an Emerald Shiner, a Striped Shiner, some other kind of shiner and a Snub nose Darter.
“See this?” David asked, picking up a small snail. “This is the snail that the Snail Darter eats and Larry here is a little known fact: The Snail Darter swallows these snails whole. They don’t crush them like other snail-eating fish do. They digest the insides of the shell and then defecate the shell whole. It’s true! And if you put your head in the water and listen very quietly and carefully, you can hear them grunt.”
I was still laughing when the next netting produced a Redline Darter, a Sculpin, a turd from a giant hickory-horn-devil caterpillar, another one of the snails that the Snail Darter eats but still no Snail Darter. David wasn’t worried. “They’re in here,” he said. “There’s enough food for them.”
The next couple of nettings brought nothing. Then it happened. “There’s a Snail Darter,” David shouted triumphantly.
“Let me hold it, let me hold it!” cried Uno, Duo and Teresa.
David said the Darter, which was about an inch and a half long, had been born in April. “If all goes well,” he told us, “it will live for three years, getting just a little bit bigger.”
David explained that we couldn’t keep the Snail Darter. “Even though I discovered the species and can kill them to study them whenever I need to, I don’t have a harasser’s permit, meaning I can’t legally harass them,” he said.
I said, “Harasser’s permit, David?" Even the kids got this joke.
Next we netted a Greenside Darter. “These Darters all look the same to me,” I said to David. He pointed out the U-shaped marks on the side, which are unique to the Greenside Darter.
In the next few nettings, we got a Satin-fin Shiner, another “young-of-this-year” Snail Darter, another Sculpin and another Redline Darter. Also there was a nymph that David called “a wonderful animal.” He said it turns into a dragonfly “so big it eats other dragonflies.”
My head was throbbing from the bee sting. Though I was glad about getting another Snail Darter and “a wonderful animal,” I wasn’t sure I was having fun.
Next we caught another log perch, also known as a Horn head. “The locals fish for Horn heads during the spawning run,” David said. “They’re after the big eight-to-nine-inch males. They go nuts over them—cut off their heads, gut them and deep-fry them. The bait fishermen like them, too, for Walleye bait.”
The catch reminded David of a story about a game warden working in northeastern Tennessee. “The game warden stopped to check on a fisherman who had two stringers out,” David recalled. “He asked how the fishing was going, and the guy said, ‘I’m getting a few Horn heads.’ The warden checked one string and it had a bunch of Horn heads on it. He asked to see the other stringer and when the guy pulled it up, there was a trout on it. ‘Do you have a trout stamp?’ he asked the fisherman. ‘No,’ said the man. The warden told him he’d have to write him up for keeping the trout. The guy said, ‘But I’m not fishing for trout, I’m fishing for Horn heads.’ The warden said, ‘Well, you’ve got a trout.’ And the guy said, ‘Yeah. I’ve caught him four or five times, so I thought I’d just tie him up until I’m through fishing and then let him go.’”
When we caught a third Snail Darter, David reminisced. “I was snorkeling the first time I ever saw one,” he said. “I looked down at it and saw the dark saddles. First I thought it was a Sculpin, but then I knew it wasn’t a Sculpin. I poked it and put my hands down around it and caught it with my hands. As soon as I got it out of the water and looked at it cupped in my hands, I realized I had a fish nobody had ever seen before. I started walking very carefully.”
I had fished in Virginia earlier in the year with David’s friend, Bob Jenkins. Bob had told me to ask David if Volkswagen microbuses float, so I did. This brought a chuckle from David and the following story:
“When I was going duck hunting one time, I slid the boat off the trailer into the water, detached the boat trailer from my microbus and parked the bus on the hill at the top of the ramp. Because the hand brake didn’t work, I put blocks under the wheels. As I was taking my hunting stuff out the back door, the bus jumped the blocks and rolled into the water. Moving fast, I got my gun, decoys and a pair of hip boots out the door and slammed it before the bus sank.
“I put the spare tire on the boat trailer so people would realize that the trailer belonged to the microbus, which you could see sitting about a foot under the surface. Then I climbed into the boat and went hunting. I figured with the boat gone, anybody would be able to tell I was out in it.
“When a group of Crappie fishermen arrived, they looked down into the back window of the bus and saw what seemed to them to be a floating corpse. In reality, what they were seeing was my extra set of hip boots, which had retained some air and now floated eerily, and definitely lifelessly, in the murky water.
“The Crappie fishermen called the sheriff. After checking in at the scene, he called my office and asked if anyone there knew a Dr. David Etnier. The student who answered the phone said, ‘He’s one of my professors.’ The sheriff said, ‘He could be one of your ex-professors.’ The sheriff then called my wife and told her what had happened. She asked if the boat and dog were there. Told they weren’t, Liz said, ‘Don’t worry, sheriff. He’s duck hunting.’”
My guess is that during our time at Sewee Creek, the net was dipped and pulled about 50 to 60 times. After a couple of hours, we got to a spot where the water was too deep to fish. Besides that, the University of Tennessee was in the middle of its annual football game with Mississippi State and everyone wanted to get to a radio to hear the game. I wanted to get to a store to buy some aspirin.
I’d been keeping my bee sting a secret because I didn’t want them to think of me as a complainer or a wimp. When I let my wound be known, David told me about how he had once been stung by a giant jellyfish called a Portuguese man-of-war. “It happened down in the Florida keys,” he said. “There’s a little fish called a Nomi that lives in the tentacles of the Portuguese man-of-war. I spotted a nice Nomi and dipped it up. I thought all I had was the fish, but the tentacles of the man-of-war had stuck to the net. It got me with a sting that really knocked me back. It lasted about an hour.”
The fishing trip was over. David and Liz left, followed by Les, Joe and Charlie. Mark and his family left last, after giving me a peanut butter sandwich, a Coke and advice that I should wait a couple of hours before leaving because of the after-game traffic in Knoxville.
As I stood on the old bridge, I felt lonely. I seemed to have bonded well with this bunch, and I missed their company. I don’t like feeling lonely, so I busied myself by photographing the bridge and dirt road. Then, after looking in the rearview mirror and seeing how bright red my ear was, I set out to get aspirin and try to make it through Knoxville before the football game let out.
I tuned in the game in order to judge whether I was going to make it through Knoxville in time. With only two minutes and some odd seconds left in the game, I was still 10 miles from the University of Tennessee exit. Tennessee was behind by four points. They needed more than a field goal to win this game.
There were two games going on at once, the University of Tennessee versus Mississippi State and Larry Stark versus football traffic.
Mississippi State lost the ball with less than a minute to go. Tennessee took some time-outs to stop the clock, while my clock kept ticking. Tennessee won the game just as I passed the exit.
Even though football usually holds no interest for me, I got into this game. It took my mind off my ear. And I had clear sailing all the way through Knoxville, on my way east to my next “Fishing America” adventure.
I arrived in Biloxi the Friday before Labor Day, a day before we were going fishing. Dick Wilson gave me the local tour, starting with a drive by the casinos that have sprung up on barges along the coastline. Apparently the voters approved the concept of gambling as long as it isn't on Mississippi soil. On my way to Biloxi I passed several communities which had gambled on gambling. People voted to make it legal, but only if it's on a boat or a barge or a Native American Reservation.
Dick also took me to the Marine Museum and Aquarium. It started small, with fishermen and beach combers donating stuff for local children to see. Now it has several large aquariums, some with reptiles, some with saltwater fish and some with freshwater fish. It's still low key, still stocked by local fishermen, but now it's an impressive place where I got to see the fish we hoped to catch over the next two days. If I lived in Biloxi, I would spend lots of time at the aquarium. In fact, it disturbed me when I heard the casinos want to purchase this place to get the land for parking. This is not only a museum of what Biloxi used to be; it's a symbol of what Biloxi could be.
We went to Ocean Springs to see the studio of the artist, Walter Anderson. Walter died in 1965 and this studio has been converted into an art museum. Walter painted the studio walls and door and window sills and ceiling of this small room. Then he rowed his dinghy to Horn Island about seven miles out in the gulf, where he spent months at a time drawing and painting the wildlife. He even perched in trees hoping to be able to better understand herons and egrets and other sea birds. The Smithsonian magazine recently did an article about Walter Anderson (October, 1994) and I'd suggest anyone interested in art should read it.
While in Ocean Springs we went to look at the site where the new Vietnam War Memorial is being built. Dick was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and he is the driving force behind the building of this memorial.
We ended our tour with a trip to the harbor to see the entries in the Labor Day weekend fishing rodeo. Fishermen paid $40.00 each for the opportunity to catch a fish big enough to win a cash prize. In other words it was their fishing casino. Dick had entered this competition and so had his son, Marty. Dick didn't fish the first day of the competition and he wanted to see what we had to catch in order to win and I think he wanted to see how his son had done on his first day of fishing.
Early the next morning, Dick and his brother-in-law, Mike and I put the boat in the water and started the 50 or 60 mile ride to the offshore drilling rigs where the Cobia hang out. We didn't get far when Dick announced the sea was too rough for his boat and we were going to have to fish on the leeward side of Horn Island. This we did, catching some Spanish Mackerel and Snapper Blues and Ladyfish. Next we motored over to another island and anchored near a buoy used to mark some under water structure. Here we caught Grunt and Croaker and White Trout (not really a trout) and nuisance Catfish (a White Catfish with extremely poisonous side barbs) and 3 Black Tip Shark about 25 to 30 inches long. These fish are great fighters and catching them made my trip worthwhile. One Shark was on the boat floor while I reached for pliers to remove the hook from his mouth. I had my left hand on the boat floor about six to eight inches away from the Shark's head. I didn't know a Shark could see while it was out of the water, but it can see and it did and what it saw was my hand and what it did was jump me, putting two teeth marks in my hand. I didn't want Mike and Dick to think I was stupid, so I sucked the wound until the bleeding slowed enough to put a bandage on it.
In two days we fished a lot and caught a lot of fish, but not what we had planned on catching. Dick's son, Marty had spent these two days fishing with his friends and he caught lots of Cobia. I could see the subtle way Marty told his father about his fish and where he had caught them. He put the knife in and gave it a turn, but his dad knows; if you teach someone something and they do it better than you do, you have been a successful teacher.
Marty invited me to fish with him the next time I'm in the area. After listening to him talk about the Cobia and how they zoom out of the deep water to get the chum tossed in by fishermen and how they hit the bait and run with it after they're hooked, I know I want to catch a Cobia. Anyway, I need to catch a Cobia just to finish this story.
Florida Grouper Chapter
I had a friend who occasionally would trip himself, stumble about 40 or 50 feet then hit the deck with a big "thud". People would run up and ask him if he was alright and he would be looking up, grinning.
I decided to try this trick in Tampa Florida. I chose an architecture firm called Rados and Partners. As I walked through the front door, I tripped, flew past the receptionist and landed on the floor in front of a bunch of strangers. I looked up and said "Hi, I'm Larry Stark, can I show you my art?" By the time Rick Rados got there to save them, I was friends with most of the people in the office including Jim McLean, who is the star of this story.
Jim is addicted to boating and since I started the Fishing America project, Rick has become addicted to fishing, so they made me sign a contract stating I can't go to Florida without fishing with them. Therefore, we fish every time I'm in Florida, rarely catching fish, drinking lots of beer, talking art and design and having lots of fun. Jim has earned the title Captain Pinfish 'cause that's mostly what we catch.
During one visit, Jim and I went fishing the first afternoon to get some practice, but we only caught a couple of nuisance catfish. Even the pinfish eluded us. The second day Jim and his wife, Chris and I went fishing. By the time the fish started biting, Jim and Chris were bored and I was the only one fishing. I caught several baby Jack Crevalle about ten inches in length; fun!
Jim wanted to lose the title Captain Pinfish, because it sounded too much like Captain Pinhead and he wanted to be called Cheater Jim, the reason for which was never explained. The next day was his big chance, his last opportunity to get Rick Rados, Larry Gene Wilder and me together to prove he could do it. We went out in the gulf where the horizon has no land, where another boat is rare.
On the way out, we trolled through the areas where the gulls were feeding on the water surface, where Larry Gene caught four Spanish Mackerel. This made Jim happy, but his real plan was to get us over 80 feet of crystal clear water and a coral reef bottom where a school of Grouper would be feeding.
Jim had gone fishing with another friend a couple of weeks before our trip and they had caught some Grouper. The friend had a Loran satellite tracking system and he knew exactly how to get to a place where he had previously caught fish. Jim didn't have a Loran system and he only knew approximately how many minutes it would take us to get to the area.
We anchored a couple hundred yards from the only other boat in the area. These fishermen got mad at us and left, leaving us all alone with nothing but water and sky. After we figured out what we were doing, we caught a Grouper 3/8th of an inch from being big enough to keep. We ate lunch and we drank beer and it didn't really matter we weren't catching many fish. We didn't care if Captain Pinfish became Cheater Jim.
Eventually Jim decided we should move to another spot, so we pulled the anchor and started the engine. We hadn't gone 20 yards when Jim noticed his depth finder read, "hole-three to five foot deep-10 feet wide-length unknown." We lowered the anchor again and dropped our lines baited with pieces of cut frozen fish. As soon as the hooks hit the bottom Larry Gene caught a Grouper. While Jim was measuring it to see if it was a keeper, I got one. Both fish were 19- 5/8 inches, 3/8s of an inch short of a being a keeper. Rick got the next fish and it too wasn't a keeper. Jim wasn't fishing; because he was too busy doing boat captain stuff and smiling. Soon the three of us had Groupers on the lines at the same time and this time they were all keepers. It went on like this for more than an hour as we filled the fish box with 20 to 30 inch Grouper and returned the almost-big-enough fish to the water. At one time Larry Gene and I were bringing in fish, but Rick didn't have one. I said "You probably don't have any bait on your hook." He checked. He didn't. Later, Larry Gene and I each caught two fish during the time Rick was trying to get the hook out of a fish's mouth. Rick says he doesn't remember it that way at all (see "The Rados View" photo).
This was some of the best fishing I've ever had. Rick referred to it as a feeding frenzy and added, "The fish were probably having one too." It was great being able to act like little kids. The fish stopped feeding one fish short of our limit, so we went swimming to make the day perfect. Jim was grinning, because he thought he would be called "Cheater Jim" from now on.
One thing I remember about this scene is the water being so clear. When I hooked a fish and reeled it in, the fish appeared very small, getting bigger and bigger as it came closer to the boat.
I left "Lucky Jim's Marina" on Treasure Island at 11:00AM on Sunday and I was home in Minnesota by 2:00PM on Tuesday. When I drive long distances in short periods of time I tend to have vivid dreams the first night I'm home. This night I had a horrible nightmare: I was on Lucky Jim's boat and we were both wearing "Lucky Jim's" baseball caps. I wanted to stop fishing and I couldn't. Each fish I caught was almost too heavy to lift from the water and the boat was filling up with fish. Lucky Jim was baiting hooks and removing fish and baiting hooks and removing fish and stacking the fish like cord wood. I was fishing alone, grabbing the poles and reeling in the fish. Just as a fish entered the boat, the other pole bent and I had to grab it to keep it from going overboard. In order to keep the boat from sinking from the weight of the fish, I woke up.
In 1972 I received a post card from Bob Starck of Lincoln Nebraska. For obvious reasons, he picked my name from a list of artists he could write about for a history of photography class he was taking at the University of Nebraska. We became friends, because I came to his class the day his paper was due and he presented me, instead of writing the paper about me.
During a later trip through Lincoln I met a used car dealer who signed my first Nebraska fishing contract. We fished in a pond in Lincoln that supposedly has catfish in it. Since we didn't catch any fish and since I took a disliking to this guy I decided to not count this fishing trip.
I asked Bob Starck to sign a contract to fish for Gold Eye and Shovelnose Sturgeon in the Missouri River near Nebraska City. People who fish there use green earthworms. These worms are only located near the river within a range of about twenty-five miles. As far as I’m concerned, they work for Shovelnose Sturgeon, but not for Gold Eye, since we caught the Shovelnose Sturgeon, but not the Gold Eye.
North Dakota Chapter
Tim the person I fished with in Ohio, spends almost a month each year hunting pheasants in North Dakota. He stays in Hettinger which is just north of the South Dakota line and not real far from Montana. Tim told me the Past Time Bar and Grill in Hettinger is one of the best steak houses in the country. It is owned by Tom Shirek who is also Hettinger's post master and a fisherman and I should ask him to take me fishing in North Dakota. I asked. He said yes. We signed a contract. Actually it wasn't that simple. I asked him to fish for Northern Pike and he asked, "Why? Why not Walleye or Chinook Salmon?" I said, "Because Northern is the state fish." He said, "Well, if you insist. The best time to do that is in the spring time, so I sent him a contract for the first weekend after Labor day.
The fishing project was put in jeopardy a week before I had to leave for North Dakota when I went to the bank for a loan and they turned me down because of numbers. My bank had been sold to a larger corporation. My loan officer had moved on to another small bank and I hadn't yet moved along with him. The new loan officers wore uniforms and looked at numbers instead of personal banking history. What looks bad to these guys is when your income graph curve resembles the movement of a yo yo, walking the dog. Anyway I didn't get the loan and It took me a couple of days to remember the unused credit card in the file cabinet.
I went fishing in North Dakota. I drove there on state and county back roads passing on coming cars every 10 or 20 minutes with the drivers waving at me as if we were old friends. The fields were full of sunflowers slightly past their prime. Their yellow petals were starting to wither and their heads pointed not toward the sun, but toward the ground.
I had forgotten to get cash from the credit card and the banks weren't open past 3:00 like they are in other states on Fridays. I rolled into Lake Sacajawea state park on the shore of Lake Sacajawea without any money. The gate keeper took a Minnesota personal check and directed me to the camp site right next to Tom Shirek. Tom and his cousin from Bismarck, who was camped on the other side of me and I went out for a steak and a couple of beers at “The Best Bar and Steak House by a Dam Site”.
In the morning before we went out fishing he asked me why I wanted to fish in September for Northerns when he had told me spring was the best time? I told him I hadn't taken good notes during our telephone conversation and I had forgotten what he had said soon after I had hung up the phone. He said he too suffers from CRS. I bite on that one and found out it was acronym for "can't remember shit". I told him I had chosen Lake Sacajawea because it appeared on the map to be the closest body of water to Hettinger. Better maps show other lakes closer to Hettinger, but Tom said, “It would have been his choice”, so I was at least at the right place.
We headed to the boat landing to start our first day of fishing. On the way to the boat landing Tom told me a story about one time there were a bunch of boaters fishing for Salmon not too far from shore, Tom and some other guys were on a cliff on the shoreline hitting golf balls out near the boats. Whenever a ball hit the water the fishermen would think it was a fish breaking the surface and they would move their boats close to where the ball landed.
The first day we fished the shoreline of the mainland and several islands. We didn't have any hits for several hours. I had the idea that Northern would rather see the bait coming into shore instead of going away from shore, so I asked Tom if I could be dropped on a island for a short time while he went out to fish for walleyes. I was only there for less than five minutes when I caught a two and a half to three pound Northern. I waved him back in and he took my picture with the fish and I got back into the boat and said, “Since I've caught a Northern, we can fish for something else”. Tom agreed since this wasn't the time of year to be fishing for Northern anyway. He decided to fish for Smallmouth Bass along the rocks on the dam. We cast several types of plugs, but didn't have any hits.
Next we went fishing for Chinook Salmon. The way we fished for Salmon was with down-riggers. A down-rigger is a heavy metal ball I would guess to be a couple pounds at least which is hooked to a metal cable. There is a clip on the ball which hooks to the fishing line from the fishing pole several feet from the fishing lure. When a fish takes the lure it creates more tension on the clamp than it can handle and the line pulls away from the down-rigger. I hooked and landed a four pound Chinook. Shortly thereafter Tom made too tight of a turn and one of the down-rigger cables was cut off by the motor prop. That ended our Chinook fishing.
Our next venture was Walleye. The river has been down for four or five years because of a drought. That has affected the fish population. For one thing the Walleye are having problems finding places to spawn. Therefore most of the Walleye currently in the lake are hatchery born and then stocked. In order to keep fish in the lake, there is a size limit of fourteen inches or larger. That disqualified the two Walleye we caught.
Then we went back to fishing for Northern. We fished for several more hours. It was getting near sunset when Tom caught his Northern, estimated to be over ten pounds; a very nice fish.
Back at the camp site Tom cooked both the Salmon and the Northern Pike. I was looking forward to eating the Salmon, but to our surprise the Northern tasted much better than the Salmon.
On the second day we took the boat below the Garrison dam. We went as close as we could to the dam and then we drifted back downstream trolling and casting for whatever we could get. I caught the nicest Sucker I've ever caught and that was all. We spent about two and a half hours there going past the "DO NOT GO PAST THIS SIGN" sign several times. We didn't know there was a game warden up the hill with binoculars, writing down boat licenses so he could give tickets to the boaters as they loaded their boats on their trailers. When we got back to the campground we talked to a couple of different guys who had received tickets. We were not sure how we got out without getting a ticket, but we were lucky.
I left Sunday afternoon to drive back to Minnesota. I was somewhere north of Jamestown on a back road when my clutch went out. I rolled the pickup truck to the side of the road and jumped out with my camera and after raising the hood so someone might stop to give me a ride I started taking photographs of the miles and miles of sunflowers. Lots of people stopped and asked if they could help. I eventually was offered a ride to the nearest town where I called a towing company in Jamestown.
I stayed over night in Jamestown and walked all over town killing time for the whole next day as my clutch was being fixed. I thought about Tom back in Hettinger, where he was probably making sure the mail was being sorted and delivered.
My first fishing experience in Wisconsin was with someone I didn’t like. Besides that, we didn’t catch any fish. My fishing contract gives me permission to say what I want about the Fisher. I don’t like bum rapping anyone and I want this book to have a very positive attitude, so I sought out another person to take me fishing again. John, my taxman, arranged a Musky fishing trip with his brother-in-law, Tom.
It is my understanding that a person will fish for Musky for days and weeks and sometimes months without catching one. Tom, John and I fished a day and a half. I had the only strike; I hooked the fish and reeled it in, sideways, without a fight. It was hooked in a side fin. I caught my fish. Let’s not talk about the details.
This path goes around Tom’s summer cabin lake.
West Virginia Chapter
When I fished with Jack, he was seventy-one years old and I was in my early fifties. We fished four streams in three days. He drove down roads that were so narrow I was scared. When we walked he moved fast and wore me out. At the end of a twelve-hour day Jack was driving home and talking a mile a minute and I was trying to keep my eyes open.
Jack only caught one Rainbow. I didn’t catch any of this sought after species. I did catch a nice Small-mouth Bass, but that didn’t count, since we were after Rainbow.
This picture was taken at the first stream on the first of three solid days of fishing. It was very serene, except I-64 was right over our heads. The bridge was several hundred feet up and you couldn’t hear the traffic.
Rhode Island Chapter
Jon couldn’t decide when it would be better fishing for Bluefish, so we planned two trips, one in the fall and another the following spring.
The first trip on his 53’ yacht in Narragansett Bay was so-so. We caught a few bluefish.
The spring trip was a different story. Jon, his son, Bo, their friend, Joe and I went for another boat ride to pretty much the same places as the first trip, but toward the end of the afternoon the fishing was intense. Over and over there were fish on all four lines at the same time. Some of these fish were around fifteen pounds. I knew Bo had to be at work by 5:00 and we would quit fishing around 4:45. The fishing was so good, by 4:00 I was looking at my watch like a person working a bad job looks at the clock. My arms were sore. The fun had ended, but the fish kept hitting and we kept catching them.
These are Bluefish in a holding tank.
People often ask me, which state was the most fun to fish? I always answer with a canned, but true, remark, "That's a tough one, I've enjoyed so many." Also true is that when I scan my gray matter fishing database for a real answer, Maine is one of the first trips that comes to mind.
In summary: I contacted the state of Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife asking them to put me onto a fish somewhat unique to Maine and a person who could take me fishing for this species of fish. The Blueback Charr and the Sunapee Charr were suggested and Fred Kircheis a fish biologist was the person I should contact. Fred has done so much research on this fish species, he has an encyclopedia size folder full of facts and articles written by himself and by other researchers. Fred agreed to go fishing with me and we signed a fishing contract, setting the date for the last couple of days in September, because fishing for these species is best then and the fish are in their brightest colors.
I met Fred at a restaurant in the middle of the state. After lunch, I left my vehicle in the restaurant parking lot and rode with Fred up a series of mountain dirt logging roads until we got to a rather large lake, (pond), which I'm not allowed to name as per our fishing contract. We motor canoed to the only structure on the pond, a one room cabin (camp) owned by a retired game warden. We stayed there for two nights and we fished the pond for two days, trying to catch a Blueback Charr.
The weather was great and the pond was surrounded by a forest of fall foliage in full color, the best I've ever seen. The pond was next to the Appalachian Trail with a hiker's camp ground located on the shoreline. Other than a couple of Appalachian Trail hikers who had camped in this place, we only saw one other person in 2 days. This older fisherman actually looked like he was part of the pond. Fred said there are some good size brook trout in this pond and that's why this guy was there.
We didn't get a Blueback Charr, but I catch two rough fish called fallfish, adding a new species to the list of fish I have caught.
If anyone could have caught a Blueback during the two days we fished deep water and shallow water and shoreline and stream mouth and stream source and so on and so forth, it would have been Fred. It would have been Fred who could have put us on some fish, because he has been involved with netting the pond and assembling an inventory of its fish. He knows when and where he has netted these fish. Yet we didn't get a Blueback Charr.
We cancelled the Sunapee Charr portion of our trip, because the ground around his favorite pond had been charred by a forest fire. I thought that rather funny, we couldn't fish for Charr because of a char. Fred says it wasn't exactly that way, it was because the camp had been destroyed in the fire and we wouldn't have had a place to stay. It didn't matter to me anyway, because I got to spend more time on the water and less time riding from place to place. Besides that, genetic research has proven the Maine Sunapee isn't a Sunapee Charr. It's a Blueback Charr.
I don't have much else to say, except I was impressed with Fred and his genuine concern for planet Earth.
Keith, his son, Josh, my son, Zeus, and I took a small motorboat trip about a mile up the White River to a spot I would never be able to find again. We tied the boat to a downed tree and scrambled up the crumbly sand bank and walked about 50 feet to the shore of Ditch Lake, an oxbow lake. Someone had placed two rowboats at the shore of the lake for fisherman to use. Josh and Zeus took one boat and Keith and I took the other. After fishing the main part of the lake, we glided through the shallow water around the Cyprus trees to a back bay where we each hooked fish we believe to be the sought after Dogfish. Keith’s fish managed to shake loose. My fish swam toward the boat so fast I couldn’t reel the line fast enough to keep up with it. As it went under the boat the line tightened and snapped.
This picture is of the water between the main lake and the back bay.
My daughter, Isis and I were traveling back to the Midwest from the east coast when we stopped in Toledo to fish Lake Erie with Tim and several of his friends. This picture makes it look like we did very well fishing, but… the more people the more fish.
It was hot, so we anchored the boat and everyone went for a swim. At the time, I wasn’t in very good psychical shape and we had been drinking lots of beer. We weren’t swimming very long when I found myself on the other side of the boat from everyone else and I lost almost all my energy and my breath. Since Isis was a lifeguard at the time I considered calling to her. I was scared, but somehow I pulled myself out of it and I’m here to write about it.
I have since heard that Tim fishes the professional Walleye circuit and he placed number 2 nationwide for the year 2001.
Kip, his brother-in-law, Chris, and I floated the Gasconade River to fish for Smallmouth Bass. Because fishing is easier in the bow and the stern, they put me in the middle of the boat and they engaged in what appeared to be an on-going fishing competition between the two of them. I was promised a better position later in the trip, but since the fishing wasn’t very good and the competition never subsided, this offer just disappeared. I caught a six-inch fish, so the trip was successful in terms of my goal. I have caught lots of nice Smallmouth Bass elsewhere anyway.
It was over a hundred degrees most of the day, so I figured there wasn’t any reason why a fishing trip couldn’t be turned into a swimming trip. They must have figured it was a good idea, because they joined me.
My fishing contract with Paul was for the 4th and 5th and 6th of May. It was written in the contract that we hoped for ice out (the day the ice melted). We fished three lakes in three days. The ice went out on the first lake the 1st day, on the second lake the 2nd day and on the third lake the 3rd day. We didn’t catch any fish the first two days, even though we had a fishing guide. Paul and I each caught a couple of two-pound Salmon the third day. Paul’s friends, Dick and Art took their boat all the way across the lake. We couldn’t figure out why they were gone so long, so we went looking for them. They had rather silly looks on their faces as we towed them back to the dock. They had run out of gas.
This picture was taken when we were on shore for lunch break on the third day.
J.B. was under contract to take me fishing for White Bass (called Sand Bass in Oklahoma.) He really wanted me to have the experience of catching a Striped Bass, so he took me fishing for them instead. He, his son and I were fishing below a very large dam when his son hooked a fish. He handed the pole to me to land the fish. I had forgotten something I had learned years before; when someone wants to help you, let him do so, because it makes that person feel good. So I complained. They insisted and I was forced to land the fish.
The next day we fished below another dam. While fishing for Stripers from the boat, we noticed a group of guys fishing from shore catching White Bass. We returned to shore and went over to fish with them. Unfortunately, the fish were all corralled by the time we got there. I did take this photograph though, of their fish.
Apache trout are a fish unique to Arizona. Other exotic species planted in their waters were more aggressive in their eating and breeding habits, forcing the Apache trout into near extinction. The Arizona Game and Fish poisoned several lakes and rivers to rid them of the exotics and the Apaches were reintroduced. They are currently doing well enough to have a season to fish for them.
Christmas Tree Lake is on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation in east central Arizona. It has a decent population of Apache Trout.
Chuck Zwit lives in Payson Arizona and he is a friend of a person who works with my son. Chuck fishes for Apache Trout
When I drove into Chuck's driveway, he was repairing the spare tire for his boat trailer. He explained, "Roads up the mountain are not maintained and washboard rough."
We went into his house to look at his mounted Apache trout and his fish photographs. His most interesting photograph was of a bird nest made entirely of fishing line, some of which still had hooks attached. Another was of his sister holding a trout, "Your sister fishes too?"
"No." He said, "This was her first time. This was her first fish. When she hooked it, it broke her line. She hooked it again and it broke her line again. I told her to hold the line above her head to keep the fish toward the top of the water. When she hooked it the third time, she held the pole above her head and ran away from the water. The fish came to the surface and hydroplaned all the way to shore. It had three hooks in its mouth with the bait still on them."
Chuck works for a golf course. For years he has worked for contractors who build golf courses. I asked how he got started in the business.
"After graduating from high school in Illinois, I went to work at a camp in Wisconsin. The owner of the camp built a golf course and I transferred from the camp to the golf course. I liked golf course work, so I went to school in Colorado to learn all about them. I got lucky and was hired as part of the construction crew building a course near the school. I stayed in golf course construction for eight years because I wanted to learn all the different ways they can be built. While working on a course in the Phoenix area I realized how important water is to golf courses, so I decided to concentrate on water systems."
Chuck has worked on golf course jobs in Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippians, Hawaii and other places. He used to work about a hundred hours a week, earning over a hundred thousand dollars a year. He says, "I'm single and I don't need that much money and enough traveling is enough traveling and... Well! I like to fish too much."
He talked about Christmas Tree Lake, "You have to use barb-less hooks and you can't use live bait or crank baits with treble hooks. You better not cheat either, because the Apache game wardens watch from the hills in the forest and when they find violators they walk out of the woods like the baseball players came out of the corn field in the movie, Field of Dreams.
Chuck said he had all the permits: the fishing permit, the boating permit, the camping permit and the road use permit; so off we went, caravaning to Hawley Lake campground, where we were going to camp and continue getting to know each other. At the camp site it was difficult to find a flat spot to set up the tents, so we decided to sleep in our vehicles... but first we had to make a fire, cook and eat dinner. While we chopped some of the fire wood he brought from home, he talked about the time his mom came with him to this spot. "We didn't catch any trout, but mom caught about seventy-five crawdads which we boiled and ate. They tasted wonderful, a lot like shrimp. You know how she caught them, Larry? She put a chicken bone on her line. When the crawdads grabbed the line she gave it a fast jerk and they came flying out of the water."
He threw some lantern fuel on the chopped Juniper wood and tossed a match into the fire pit, "I have a friend who went to survival school and he believes you should never use any fuel and you should only use one match to build a fire." We both agreed that is an odd quirk.
As we waited for the fire to turn to charcoal so we could cook, the Juniper wood crackled and the elk howled off in the distance. The elk were in their rutting season and they were probably sounding closer than they actually were. Chuck talked about Hawley Lake, "It's one of the few lakes in Arizona where you can ice fish. It's hard to get on the ice sometimes, because it isn't thick enough near shore. We have to walk over a plank to get to where it's solid enough to hold us. Sometimes the air is so warm; we can fish in a tee-shirt."
The fire warmed as the night air cooled. One side of me felt like it was cooking while the other side was freezing. As Chuck wrapped the potatoes in tin foil, I asked if he ever fell through the ice, "I fall in all the time. We use the plank to get on the ice, but at the end of a warm day the ice melts up near shore and we have to walk through water to get off the lake."
He continued, "I fell through the ice once in Wisconsin and it was over my head. I was scared."
As he put the potatoes in the fire, I asked, "Did you go under?"
"My head didn't."
"How did you get out?"
"Luckily, one of the two guys I was with had a tow strap and they used it to pull me out."
He told another story, "When I was a kid my brother and I were playing on the edge of a golf course pond, removing sheets of ice and kicking them across the pond. I kicked my shoe off and it went sailing out on the ice, so, as a young stupid kid I went out to get my shoe and I fell through. When I got out of the water, I was all wet and I had to walk two miles to get home. My brother kept saying 'You gotta keep going. You gotta stay awake.' I got frost bite on my toes and now my feet get cold very easily."
Chuck started to talk about the golf course job he worked on in China.
"Mainland China?" I asked.
"Yes, it was mainland China, but the course was built for the people in Hong Kong. The workers only got a dollar a day, but that didn't really matter, because all their expenses were paid by the communist state. The ones who worked lived like kings and they deserved to, because they worked so hard. Here in the states, we have all this big equipment, but over there all the ditches were dug by hand. Two courses were built. The Palmer course was first and it took eleven years to finish building it. They dug the lake by putting dirt in baskets and carrying it out on their shoulders. Over three hundred people worked on the irrigation system, working from nine in the morning to seven at night with two hour lunch breaks, at which time they walked into the woods on the side of the mountain, 'cause that's where they all lived. They just disappeared. Two hours later, one walked out of the woods and then another and then another and within a couple of minutes time all three hundred of them were back at work. It was a very strange sight, "Chuck said with a laugh. He's fun to be with because he laughs a lot.
The Nicklaus course, started later, was built in only three years, because they had one back hoe and a couple of dump trucks. He turned the potatoes and was about to say more when a rock exploded in the fire and ended the China story.
After a little conversation about rocks exploding in fires, Chuck said, "Sometimes I wish I had a kid to take fishing. Some of my buddies don't have time to take their kids fishing, so I take their kids fishing. It's such a mystery what's going on under the water and when the kid catches a fish it's like a revelation."
I asked if he thought he would always be single. "Oh Yeah, I'm a loner. I come up here sometimes and I sit around the fire and I'm very happy to be here all alone. For five years straight I fished Roosevelt Lake every Tuesday and Thursday in February, because there were no people up there. I loved it."
He put the steaks on the grill and recalled his experiences in Thailand, "We were building a course near the country's only jungle preserve. The greens were grassed by old women kneeling on plywood sheets, plucking in one inch by one inch squares of Bermuda grass one piece at a time. It took about a month to make these greens, but when they were finished they looked perfect. That night I wasn't picked up and I had to walk through the jungle to get to where I was staying. I kept getting hit by nuts and berries and stuff. I found out later that wild monkeys were jumping from tree to tree and throwing stuff at me. The next day I went back to the job sight and elephants had walked across the greens during the night, leaving impressions eighteen inches deep. It looked like Herman Munster had played golf there. We had to tear everything out and start over, because the drainage tile had been crushed.
We sat around the fire the rest of the evening drinking beer and talking about all kinds of things like: littering, cousins who litter, cousins who don't litter, the deaths of our fathers and how we dealt with it, casino gambling, friends with gambling problems, friends with fishing problems, cousins who fish and an artist friend who makes three hundred to four hundred dollars a day playing the stock market.
Chuck talked about the Indians who worked for him when he had his own business. "It was hard to get them to stay with me, because they valued their freedom more than the material things they could get with money. Those that stayed quit when we worked in the Los Angeles area or any other place where we had to stay in motels. They'd rather camp out in a national forest. We did one job in Hawaii and I was the outsider. The guys who worked for me looked close enough to the locals that they got invited to beach parties every night while I stayed alone in the motel room watching TV. For six weeks they partied every night and came to work directly from the party places. It was quite the learning experience for me, being in the minority for a change."
By the time the steaks and potatoes were ready we were real happy to be here, camped by the lake talking about life.
The next day we drove the long slow drive further up the mountain to Christmas Tree Lake. It was a very pleasant drive. After all, it was October. It was autumn. It was beautiful. I made a note to take more time the next day to photograph the forest and the trees and the road.
The dam that forms Christmas Tree Lake was built just below the confluence of two valleys, thus the lake is horseshoe shaped. There were three construction workers and two pieces of earth moving equipment on the dam. We waved at the crew, rigged up our poles and launched the boat. The trolling motor wouldn't work, so my host started rowing toward deep water. I started casting and a huge fish followed the lure on the first cast. I was using an artificial bait I bought back east called Al's Minnow, an item that was going to be envied before the end of the day.
Here we were, in the middle of a lake in the middle of a forest in the middle of the mountains in the middle of nowhere where it should be real quiet, but two pieces of earth moving equipment were moving earth and beeping; sounding like a giant digital alarm clock. Chuck wondered out loud, "I hope they know what they're doing over there." We headed up the first arm of the horseshoe. A fish hit my Al's
Minnow. While we were talking about the size of the fish, another one hit. Chuck changed his plug.
Another fish went after my lure, buzzing it four times without hitting it. A couple minutes later I had another hit but I wasn't able to hook the fish. Chuck examined my hook to see if it was sharp. It was sharp. The dam construction crew took a break. The silence was nice. We fished.
When the construction crew started working again, Chuck wondered out loud, "Do you think we will get a refund on our fishing permit if they break the dam?" My line twisted and turned into a great knot. Chuck suggested it would make a good bird's nest. I cut the line, but still had enough left to continue fishing. I had another follow up, a Brown. Chuck had his first follow, an Apache. It followed his bait a second time. He dropped the hook in the water by the boat and the fish hit it. He dropped it again and the fish hit it again. When the fish swam away Chuck thought it was because we were laughing at it, "They are real sensitive fish, you know."
A couple of casts later, I caught a fish and yelled, "I caught my first Apache trout."
"You drive 4,000 miles to catch an eight inch Apache."
"Hey, it was bigger than that!"
He laughed, "I was only kidding. It was about twelve inches."
On my next cast I caught a fish which broke my line as I lifted it out of the water. It fell into the boat with my Al's Minnow still in its mouth. Chuck asked, "How'd you do that?"
It was only fifteen and a half inches long, a half inch short of being a keeper.
Within a couple of minutes I had another hit and we were both pretty happy, laughing at just about everything. Chuck told me one of his fishing theories, "Fishing is better when there's enough wind to leave a chop on the water. It muffles the sound of the lure hitting the surface. There's also a lot more movement of baitfish when there's a chop, making more food available for the larger fish thus causing more activity."
The captain decided to make another change, looking in his tackle box and he wondered out loud, "What looks like Larry's lure?"
He told a funny story, "At Wood's Canyon Lake the Arizona Game and Fish throw in a bunch of eight inch trout every weekend. A friend of mine took his kid up there and they fished with salmon eggs and power bait and they went through the ritual of changing lures without getting even a bite. The kid was bored and walked down stream a little ways. It wasn't long before he caught a fish. The father was surprised. Then the kid caught another fish. The father asked, 'What are you using for bait?' The kid, too young to know that he had a powerful bit of information, answered, 'Jelly beans'."
For the next hour and a half I had several follows, some hits, but no more fish. The competition had some follows, no hits and one comment, "There's no home court advantage in fishing and besides that, you have an Al's Minnow."
I heard fishing reel drag noise and asked, "You got one?"
"He hit it just as you were pulling it out of the water?"
"Looks like you got him by the tail."
"So it does."
"It's an Apache, isn't it?
"It's not quite big enough is it?"
"It might be big enough. It's close." He said as I worked at netting the fish. I must say it is difficult to net a fish that's been caught in the tail.
It was only fifteen inches. "You couldn't keep it anyway since you caught it in the tail. Ha, ha, ha."
I wasn't going to let Chuck get the best of me, so I told him about the time I caught a ten pound carp in the tail using my ultralite and my Al's Minnow on four pound test line. "It took me over a half hour to land it." I think he was impressed. He said, "I think if I were working on that dam I'd be fishing during my breaks and my lunch hour."
We fished by the dam for a little while without any action, so we took a break. While lunch was being fixed, I fished the shoreline. I got bored and told the cook I don't always like fishing. He said, "When I worked the job where I had three months off, I actually got tired of fishing. You can only fish the same hole so many times and even if you're catching fish it just doesn't seem exciting. It's when you work and you get little time off and you cram some fishing in; that's when it's really good."
There was a long silence after which the cook said, "Well, a whole morning of fishing and no keepers. It looks like chicken for dinner tonight."
After lunch we took the trolling motor apart and did a temporary fix on it then went fishing again. Four fish followed my fish magnet on my first cast and for the first twenty or so casts there was a fish follow every time. "I'm casting toward the middle of the lake and you're casting toward shore and the fish are following every time."
I was given lessons on how to catch a fish in the tail. "You slow the lure down and when the fish passes it up you start reeling again and hook him in the tail."
My comment, "It sure doesn't take long for someone to become an expert."
The dam crew left for the day and it was real quiet, except for the trolling motor and the over and over sound of one of us saying, "Ah, I got one! Oops, I lost it." He turned off the trolling motor and the only sound was that of waves slapping the metal boat.
There didn't seem to be any place in particular where the fish were hanging out; in the deep water, on the edge of the weeds, above the weeds, absolutely everywhere. "So why aren't we catching any?" Chuck asked. This was a question I wasn't able to answer.
We worked our way over to the leeward side of the lake so we could drift along the dam. As soon as the motor was turned off I yelled, "I got one. It's a big one too. I lost it. I just don't believe this. I lost another fish."
"Cast over there again."
As I was saying, "I don't think he's going to want to do that again," I hooked it again and lost it again. It was suggested that the barb less hooks were the problem. I dropped the heavy metal an inch from shore and had another hit, "It's probably illegal to have this much fun."
My host agreed, but added, "Maybe we should go to the nearest phone and call Al to have him ship us some more Minnows. Maybe we could have them faxed."
Chuck caught his second fish while he was talking about the weather and the weeds, "We're real lucky to have this good weather. By Halloween this place will be covered with snow. ‘And the weeds...’ In the summer you have solid weeds in this lake. This is nice, fishing above the weeds."
I learned about state fish records. "Last summer Arizona's northern pike record would have been broken with a fish that weighed 26 pounds on an uncertified bait shop scale. The guy didn't get the fish to a certified scale in time and it dried up enough that he didn't get the state record. The state record for yellow perch is kind of odd. It's actually a tie between two fish that weighed exactly the same amount and were caught only one day apart. The state record for Apache trout is 5 lb. 15.5 oz. It was 24.0 inches long... caught in Hurricane Lake on June 10th, 1993. Hurricane Lake is the next lake upstream from this lake."
"They should have called this Horseshoe Lake. The lake that is called Horseshoe Lake isn't even shaped like a horseshoe. We should get something along here, don't you think?"
"I just hooked a weed."
We worked our way into the other arm of the horseshoe speculating all the way we would be eating chicken for dinner. I caught another fish. "That's a nice one," Chuck said as he netted the fish. "I think you did it, Larry." Out came the ruler, "It's a seventeen incher. It's a keeper. It's an Apache. It was caught on your Al's Minnow. What are we going to do with the chicken?"
I suggested, "We might need scuba equipment in case I lose my lure."
"We used to bring saws."
I asked, "You make lures out of wood?"
"No! To cut trees down to get our lures out.
We fished for another hour or so, with very little action as we worked our way back to the boat landing. We loaded the boat on the trailer and drove back to our camp site on Hawley Lake. We cooked and ate the fish. Because we had spent the day in the sun, we were tired, so, other than a few comments about how great the trout was compared to chicken, we had very little to say.
In the morning, after breakfast, we headed back to Christmas Tree Lake. Chuck had to drive slowly because he was pulling the boat trailer. I drove fast and kept stopping to photograph the trees in their bright autumn colors. It reminded me a little of the turtle and the hare. Chuck passed me up when I was stopped and I passed him up after I took some pictures. This happened over and over until I used up two rolls of film.
Eventually we arrived at the lake and started fishing again. My new goal was to catch one of these special guys on a fly rod. First we fished the shallow waters by the spillway. Then we decided to troll over to the spot where we had the most action the day before. My partner switched to his fly rod and I switched between the fly rod and the ultralite with the Al's Minnow. He said, "Al would be proud of you."
"Yes! Maybe I can get a grant from him to catch a fish on his lure in every state?"
"You know Larry; we're probably in the lake that holds the next world record Apache trout. Wouldn't that make Al happy? You know that all the pre-made survival kits have a Rapala and some line in them?"
"I didn't know. If they hear about our trip they'll use an Al's Minnow instead."
Chuck asked me, "Did you notice the picture guy holding the trout on the cover of the regulations booklet?"
I laughed, "You mean the way he's holding the fish?"
"Yeah, it cracks me up how people almost always hold the fish out in front of them to make it look bigger."
"I do it too, but only to spoof the way other people do it."
It wasn't as nice a day as the day before. It was cloudy and the fish weren't as active. For me the thrill was gone. I was thinking about the upcoming drive to Louisiana and the rain or snow storm that was likely to hit before the end of the day. The fisherman who organized this trip still seemed excited and it wouldn't be right for me to quit with more fish than him, so I stayed.
Before long I caught another Apache, another keeper, not on the fly rod, but with Al's Minnow once again. A couple of pictures were taken of me with the fish; one with me holding it way out in front and the other with me holding it up close. "He gave you a good fight."
"Yeah, I haven't any complaints, other than I wanted to catch it on my fly rod." I switched back to the fly rod with a wooly worm. There wasn't much wind, so I was able to put the line right where I wanted it. One of the really nice things about fishing this lake on a calm day is the clear water and the way you can see the fish chase the lures, if and when that happens.
A change from a wooly worm to an artificial fresh water shrimp was suggested, but I was too lazy. The dam crew spent most of the day looking at what they had done the day before, so they didn't make much noise. The ravens were the main source of sound and they were pretty noisy, but that kind of noise is different. We saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree near the edge of the lake. A bald eagle sitting in a tree near the edge of the lake always makes you more aware of where you are.
The wind came up again, so I switched to the ultralite and we trolled some more. The trolling motor died again. A couple minutes later it was running. Five minutes later it was dead. It started one more time, but it sounded like an out of control jack hammer. With all this noise I was surprised when I caught another fish. The motor was turned off while I landed the fish and that was its end, it wouldn't start again. We drifted back and forth as the wind kept changing direction. Chuck caught another fish which measured seventeen inches, a keeper. It was a female full of eggs, so we let it go. If it had been kept, we would have been at our limit and thus, through fishing. It didn't really matter, because we didn't catch anymore fish and it wasn't much later that we decided to "Call it quits."
We loaded the boat on the trailer, changed our minds about quitting, walked over to the dam and fished from shore for awhile. No luck. We were checked by the game warden who arrived by car, not by magic. All in all the first day was much better fishing, much better weather. We cooked and ate the rest of the bacon and eggs. We cooked the chicken so I could have something to eat while driving across New Mexico and Texas. I also took the Apache trout. A couple of days later, I was in Louisiana, eating Apache trout and fresh catfish, but that's a whole different story.
I would describe the Guadalupe as a variant of the Large-mouth Bass. It is the Texas state fish, even though it only lives in waters located within a hundred miles of Austin.
Allen, a guide who specializes in fishing for this species took me fishing on Lake Travis, an extremely clear man-made lake. I don’t think the fishing was as good as Allen wanted it to be, but we caught many fish and we caught the targeted species and I was happy. Allen told me a couple of good stories too. Like the time he had a pontoon boat with Japanese clients. They were sitting in lawn chairs and Allen saw a wake coming from another boat. Before he could say anything it hit, knocking a couple of the guys out of their chairs and one into the water.
New York Chapter
Every time I visit Marc and Nancy in upstate New York, Marc and I take a walk to the river and back. I had to fish this river; it had become an obsession.
Marc and his friend, Phil and I fished the Roeliff Jensen Kill, which flows into the Hudson River south of Hudson. Locals call it Roe Jen Crick.
We caught two Eels. I caught one of them, so I was happy. Neither Marc nor Phil are obsessed fishermen, thus we all had fun.
Before this fishing trip I stopped at a café not far from the river. Sitting next to me was a very young man dressed to go trout fishing. I told him about the Fishing America project and how I was going fishing with someone named Charles Meek. He said, “Do you mean Charles Meck?”
I said, “Yes.” I was embarrassed as this is all too common for me to mess up names.
Charles has written several books about Fly Fishing for trout and where to fish for them in Pennsylvania. This guy said, “Wow, Charlie is my God and you are going fishing with him and you don’t even know his name!” He got up, paid his bill and left in a huff.
I fished with Charlie in a river that was full of fly fishermen. He caught several fish, as did all the guys around us, while I didn’t. I didn’t and still don’t understand how to fly fish for Brown Trout. It was almost dark when Charlie decided to coach me. It didn’t take much and I too caught the targeted Brown Trout. I won’t forget Charlie’s name again, but I forgot what he taught me.
Larry, Penny, Jim, Fran, Zeus, and I went fishing in Lake Michigan out of South Haven harbor. We anchored Jim’s sailboat and fished for a while. Then we moved to another spot and fished until I caught a perch. It was a very small perch, around four inches. Jim said, “Photograph it! I fulfilled my contract with you and we are going to sail the rest of the day.” We did that.
This is the harbor where Jim moors his boat.
New Hamphire Chapter
The first thing you do when you go ice fishing in New Hampshire is drill a large number of holes in the ice using a gasoline powered auger; to be exact, six holes per person, thirty-six holes for six of us. One person holds onto each side of the auger as it works its way through the ice. When it’s done, you lift it, bringing water and chopped ice to the surface. I volunteered to help. I was wearing leather boots that were not waterproof. By the time the holes were drilled, the boots were soaked and I was cold. I didn’t let on to this fact for sometime, I just became grabby and negative about fishing.
On Martin Luther King Day there is an annual event at Bear Lake called the Cisco Disco. If there is ice on the lake, the event is on the ice. If not, it’s at the state park on the east side of the lake. The year I was there, it occurred at the state park. I was a guest of Bryce and Scott, the Utah Fish and Game biologists who appear to be the main force behind the Cisco Disco.
On Saturday we went fishing until we caught our limit. There were several boats each with two or three or four fishermen. I easily could have tossed my lure into someone else’s boat.
We fished approximately a half-mile from shore above the rock pile in water about sixty feet deep. Cisco spawn on the rocks and fishermen use a very shiny lure on which the fish also try to spawn. The lure is jigged up and down and the fish are snagged. The Whitefish are there to eat Cisco eggs, but sometimes they get in the way and they too get snagged.
Monday was the big event. All the fishermen brought cleaned fish. The others brought beer and whiskey. Good food, scones and deep-fried fish and camaraderie! That’s what this event is all about.
This is a picture of a 5-gallon bucket of bloody snagged fish.
Dave is part owner in a Fly Fishing shop and guide service. He and his partner and one of his guides took me fishing in Pyramid Lake which is about an hour north of Reno on the Indian Reservation named after the lake. The world record Cutthroat Trout came out of this lake and it is the Lahanton. The Lahanton does not exist anywhere in the world except in this lake and a couple other lakes in Nevada and eastern Oregon.
We waded off shore as far as we could and cast weight forward line, which carries the fly out quite far. There were several people fishing just like us, but a couple of people took an advantage. They waded out on their tiptoes and set up a stepladder, the kind with a handle on the top. They fished from the top step of the ladder with the handle protruding out of the water, looking a bit humorous. The advantage is that they were further out in the water not worrying about waves going over the tops of their waders.
I caught my fish without a stepladder, as did everyone else on our team.
North Carolina Chapter
Richard took me fishing in a reservoir that usually lets him have numerous good size Large-mouth Bass. We fished for over eight hours without a single strike.
Back at the dock we talked to the people leaving after a day of fishing. It seems that not a fish was taken from the lake on this day. I could tell by the methodical way we fished that Richard knew what he was doing. I think being skunked bothered Richard even though it didn’t bother me. I did neglect to tell him about my bad fishing Karma. We plan to fish again sometime, but we will be targeting Blue Catfish.
Bud, a Georgia fish biologist wanted me to accompany him on a trip to study the spawning habits of the Robust Redhorse. I did this and found it interesting.
Since I arrived at the Watson Mill Bridge State Park a couple of days before this trip I wanted to fish for the Shoal Bass and maybe even catch a related fish that isn’t yet named. I fished alone in the pools between the granite shoals in the South Fork of the Broad River. I caught several of the un-named relatives, but wasn’t sure until Bud identified them through my photographs.
This is where I fished.
The woman who signed the Fishing America contract for Idaho owns a bait and tackle shop/gun store/gas station with her husband. She took me fishing on the bank of the Clearwater River. We weren’t there twenty minutes when she announced, “Since it’s opening day of fishing, I’m worried my husband can’t handle the store without me. You just keep fishing here like I showed you and you will catch a Steelhead.” She left. I had been fishing alone for two days without a hit and I didn’t want to fish alone this third day, so I also left.
This was my 3rd fishing trip to this river and I have yet to get a Steelhead in Idaho.
On my first fishing trip to Idaho, it was with Kip and his son, Jake. I was putting new line on my reel and putting on waders to get a fishing advantage when Jake came running up the hill yelling, “Pop caught one! Pop caught one!” I went down and took a picture of them holding the fish. You are only allowed two fish per fishing license and Kip caught a fish on the second cast. With fishing that easy, he released his fish.
We stopped at the bait/tackle/gun/gas store on the way to the motel and told them about the fish. Back at the motel I went into the office to pick the manager’s brain about fishing. I asked if anyone had caught any Steelhead that he knew about. He said, “Some fool caught one today and let it go.” We didn’t catch another fish.
This picture is from a near-by trail.
For about seventy miles the center of Toledo Bend Reservoir is the state line between Louisiana and Texas. I went fishing with Denise and Doug, who live near the dam on the Texas side of the lake. Denise’s brother, Dennis flew in from Kansas City to fish with us. I bought my fishing license in Louisiana and our fishing contract was written to fish for Alligator Gar. The problem was; I arrived a month too late to catch an Alligator Gar and so we changed the contract to read, “A fish Larry hasn’t caught elsewhere”.
We started fishing below the dam on the Louisiana side, but soon we realized it would be better fishing above the dam. Doug and Denise have a boat, so why not use it? I rationalized; the fish probably swim back and forth between the two sides of the lake. You can see where this is leading. We decided to have fun fishing in Texas instead of getting skunked in Louisiana.
We caught some fish. At the time I got this Red Breast Sunfish, I thought it was a Long Ear Sunfish and thus I thought it was a new species for me, so the Long Ear Sunfish became the Louisiana fish species. This fish was caught in Texas, assumed to have swam in from Louisiana just for my enjoyment.
Alaska Chapter #2
Larry Marshburn and I were friends in High School. Larry's father, Ellis, was our family minister. My mother was Ellis' secretary for 35 years. Shortly after my father died, my mother married Ellis, making Larry my stepbrother.
In 1968 Larry was an air force doctor stationed in Alaska. He stayed there. Larry’s wife, Mary was born in Alaska. Larry works two jobs, one in Homer and the other in Anchorage. Mary works in Anchorage.
Barb does not fish. She says and I don't remember, that I took her fishing the first year we were married and she caught a trout, I didn’t catch anything and I got angry with her. She figured I was always going to be easy to beat and a bad loser so she quit fishing. She went on this trip mostly to see Larry and Mary and Alaska.
My friend Spelman Evans Downer is an artist who spends his summers in Cooper Landing on the bank of the Kenai River where he sometimes works as a fishing guide and other times he creates art. Evans was not guiding this year, because he was building a studio. His wife, Nancy was working in the office of the guide company coordinating fishing trips.
At Larry and Mary's house we sat at the kitchen table looking at Sand Lake and several mountains in the background, most of which were blocked by clouds. I asked, “Do people climb these mountains?”
“Yes”, Larry replied, “They have contests to see how many peaks can be climbed in a five day period.”
“Really?” I am amazed at how many games humans invent to relieve their boredom.
Larry said, “The lake is stocked with rainbows by the Alaska Fish and Game. Just before you arrived I was watching the trout surface feed about 10 feet from the end of the pier. I went to get Mary’s fly rod, but due to our remodeling, the rod couldn’t be found.”
The next morning, after breakfast, Barb and I purchased fishing licenses. On the way to the store, we talked about the wildlife in Alaska. Larry said they have black tail deer instead of white tail deer.
Next we caravaned, to Cooper Landing; Larry in his camper, Barb and I in Larry’s car. Mary planned to meet us in Homer on Thursday. When we arrived at Evans and Nancy’s place at noon, Evans was close to being ready to take the three of us rafting down the Kenai River to fish for Rainbow, King Salmon, Dolly Varden and Red Salmon (Sockeye). Evans showed us the river map and pointed out his favorite spots. As he pointed to one spot, he said, “The last time I fished there, the governor was there.”
After Larry and Barb made sandwiches and Evans showed me some of his early art that was hanging on the walls of his house, art studio and fishing supply building, we drove to the “put in” place. The state charges $5.00 to launch a boat and $5.00 to park a vehicle. Alaska the last frontier.
We launched the raft where the Russian River comes into the Kenai, where the ferry takes fishermen across the Kenai to fish what Evans calls, “The hog line; where all the pictures are taken of people combat fishing. When someone catches a fish some of the fishermen reel in and get out of the way and others don’t care about other people and sometimes they end up with their lines tangled causing the fish to be lost. “During this year’s first run of Reds there were about five thousand people fishing the bank, right next to each other.”
Barb and I waited twenty minutes while Larry and Evans took the van to our take out place. We could see the ferryboat taking a few fishermen across the river, but there were only ten or twenty people there, implying the second run hadn’t started yet.
Evans rowed to a spot where the rapids were just right for King Salmon. The three of us drifted our lines downstream while Evans rowed up stream just enough to keep us moving slowly downstream.
He rowed and drifted to another historically good spot. This one wasn’t quite as fast moving water, so after we drifted the first time, Evans was able to row back up and do it again.
We stopped on an island to eat sandwiches and some Salmon that Evans had smoked. The Salmon left a taste in our mouths that lasted for hours.
Larry lost his lure, so Evans took us to shore to re-rig Larry’s pole. I kept fishing. “Hey! I got a fish.”
Barb said, “It’s going to go behind a log and you won’t be able to get it.”
Larry laughed, “We have nice Carp here in Alaska.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised as they’re in every other state.”
Evans said, “No Carp in Alaska.”
I caught a real nice Rainbow.
We fished two more drifts with Larry having a hit in each one. We fished several more drifts with no luck.
I knew Larry was having a good time when he said, “The nice thing about the Kenai is that there are no beepers or cell phones.”
Evans said, “People do have them and they work on the river.”
“The last frontier”, I wondered as we went through another drift where Larry had another strike.
The Magpies were making lots of noise as we came up to the take out ramp. Evans said, “They are such ornery birds. They nest at our place. They’re around all the time. They raise hell! They go after the eagles. They chase squirrels. I saw one chasing a mink the other day.”
That was it for fishing today. No keepers. Dinner would be chicken we brought from Anchorage.
On the way back we stopped at a log cabin bar so I could buy a six pack of beer. I was actually supposed to be in the liquor store in the adjacent building, but I was waiting to be told that when everything started swaying. When I got to the store there was a guy on the steps with a broom. I asked, “Was that an earthquake?”
He was grinning, “Yeah. Cool!” I figure he was a working tourist, because I can't imagine the locals think earthquakes are “cool”. When I got back to the van, Evans and Barb said they felt it too, but thought someone was rocking the van.
In Cooper Landing at mile 49.5 on the Sterling Highway at Evans’ and Nancy’s compound called Turquoise Bend, named after the color of the river water, we sat by a fire between the house and the river beneath a cottonwood tree with a nest of baby bald eagles. “Nice spot!”
“Remember Jim’s Landing where we took the raft out of the water? They were the founding fathers of the upper Kenai River Valley, Big Jim and Little Jim. This was their place. They had the pick of the entire valley and they picked this place right here. They had another little cabin near where we put in earlier today. They were prospectors, looking for gold.”
“They never found it?”
“Across from Jim’s landing up Surprise Creek they hit an ancient placer stream deposit and they struck it rich in 1952. They built the house we live in.”
“They were still finding gold in Alaska in 1952?”
“It was pretty unusual, finding an ancient placer deposit in an area that had been prospected for years . They homesteaded five acres and two were sold off and subdivided. I got the other three.
“I got here in eighty three, catching the tail end of the eighty’s boom in Alaska. The price of oil dropped from $40.00 a barrel to $15.00 a barrel and it wiped out the economy, including the real estate market. People couldn’t get anything for their property. I was just old enough to see ‘It’s a buyers market! I’m interested’ I went on a two year search for a place. I looked here. I looked on the lower river. I looked on a couple of other rivers. I always wanted a river spot and in eighty eight I found this place. I never went to a realtor, I just drove in here and I figured it’s on the river and it’s on the highway and it’s income producing property and that place pays my mortgage.” He pointed at the end of his property where there are a dozen white tents and an out house and a shower house. He rents this to the guide service with whom he sometimes guides and where Nancy works. The tents are home to the guides and other employees of the guide service company.
Evans has a big fire pit so he can move the coals from the bigger fire to a second hotter, flame-less fire for cooking. You could tell Evans has done his share of cooking on the fire. He turned the chicken like an Asian uses chop sticks. The fire pit is next to an outdoor kitchen with a refrigerator and a sink with running water and a range for cooking whatever goes with the fire grilled items. There is a large hand made smoker.
While Evans was cooking, I showed my art and then we talked about flying in small planes. I said, “I feel safer in a boat.”
Evans jokingly asked, “Ever have a boat sink on you or anything like that?”
I looked at Larry and he said, “Yeah! As a matter of fact.”
I asked, “Which one of us should tell the story?”
Evan’s laughed and asked, “Were you guys together?”
I said, “We were on the Titanic together...” pause for laughter... “We were in high school and we went to a 4 or 5 acre puddle called Mud Lake?”
We were almost to shore when one of us screwed up and we both fell out of this wooden rowboat.
“Since then I guess I ragged on him too much about the Mud Lake incident. About ten years ago we went out in a canoe bass fishing on another lake when the canoe just flipped over. I looked at him and there was a great big grin on his face.
Evans said he has flipped canoes two times, one time he was with a canoing club going down the Shenandoah River in the winter time wearing wet suits. It was Bull Falls a class three or four rapids that got them; at the very end too. They swam to shore towing the boat. He didn’t talk about his other “wipe out”, which he later told me was on the Tazlina River in Alaska.
Larry took the conversation back to Alaska small plane flying. He said there weren’t many people who fly their own plane who haven’t had a crash or near crash or a close call.
On the river today, one of the things we couldn’t avoid noticing was the beetle kill of the Spruce trees. More trees were dead than alive, creating a tremendous potential for forest fires. It set in at Evans place toward the end of the first summer he owned the property. Since then he and Nancy have removed over 100 trees.
We started planning the next day’s activities and hoping for the next evening’s Salmon barbecue. Evans said, “There’s nothing better than fresh Salmon.”
Larry said, “The only thing better is Halibut that was just taken out of the water.”
Tuesday morning I rode to the Kenai river put-in spot with Larry. He was thinking about Wednesday, “Everything depends on the weather and the tide, which can range from -6 feet to +35 feet, though it isn’t usually that drastic. Halibut bite an hour each side of a slack tide. They bury themselves in the mud during a moving tide and come out to eat when the tide slows down. They go for anything that tumbles over them, but during a slack tide they are actively hunting for food.” A slack tide is either a high (flood) tide or a low (ebb) tide.
Larry just returned from a week studying acupuncture. He explained that he is good at anesthesiology, even though he didn’t directly say it, that is what he said. He also said he will eventually be too old to make the correct work decisions. He doesn’t want to make a mistake and cause someone’s death and it appears he also doesn’t want to retire, so he expects to change his career. He says a mistake in acupuncture would not be life threatening.
We arrived at the ‘put in’ place and launched the raft. After Larry and Evans returned from the 'take out place', we were about to get into the raft when Evans asked, “You have your rain gear?”
Then he laughed and told us a story, “These guys came up from Idaho. I coordinated it with my friend Clayton, who lives in Idaho. We went over everything with them. ‘Be sure to bring rain gear and warm clothes as it is often rainy and wet.' Everyone shows up and they are anxious to go fishing. We say, ‘Be sure to bring your rain gear’ even though it didn’t look too bad. They all said, ‘Oh yeah! We have everything.’ Half way through the trip the weather changes, a dribble then a steady rain. Well, half of them didn’t bring their rain gear. They had it in their pack, but their pack was in the van. They got soaked and frozen and miserable. So the next day they weren’t going to make that mistake again. They were wearing big waders and rain gear and it was overcast-cool-damp. The clouds broke and by midday they were in their own personal sweat lodges. The stuff started coming off and they got down to their underwear. The third day I said I would take them fishing, but they had to wear more than just underwear.”
Evans gave us lessons on how to bait the hooks with the salmon eggs then we started down the river, laughing and having a great time. Like the day before we started fishing for King Salmon with Evans back rowing to keep us moving downstream very slowly in fast moving not too shallow water. Evans said, “If you catch a King Salmon you have to quit fishing for the day as you are only allowed one fish.” I fantasized sleeping on the raft floor while everyone else tried to catch a King Salmon. Fishing the first hole, Larry caught a Rainbow. Evans said, “It looks good for fishing today.” We drifted the first hole again without another fish.
While we were on shore for our lunch break, Evans told us that not only do the Sockeye Salmon have two runs, but the King Salmon have two runs and we were in the beginning of the second run of each species.
Also talked about is that the state of Alaska is about to require all boats ten feet or over to be licensed. Along with this registration will be the payment of property tax on the boat. Alaska the last frontier. Well, it still doesn’t have an income tax or a sales tax.
Evans said the trees are called “Black spruce”
Barb asked, “Black spruce? Black tail deer? Is everything up here black?”
Larry asked, “Have you heard about the black helicopters?” He continued, “A large segment of Alaska residents, particularly north of Anchorage in the ultra conservative Matanuska valley talk of government conspiracies and that the government sends in these black helicopters. Nobody can see them.”
“They can’t hear them? Black helicopters with silencers?”
The Sockeye Salmon go up the river to their spanning grounds swimming a totally different route than the King Salmon. When we fished for Sockeye we grounded the raft and waded very fast moving shallow waters close to shore as the Sockeye stay near shore when they move upstream. Soon we came into a spot where Evans has caught Sockeye before. Evans and Larry and I fished for Sockeye. I had just snagged bottom when Larry hooked a 12 pound Sockeye. I tried to get the line loose to get out of Larry’s way, but Larry’s line got snagged on my line and it was a miracle he was able to land this fish. Of course I was accused of trying to sabotage the catching of this fish.
The second place where we stopped to fish for Sockeye, where Evans and I napped, Evans had a fish on for some time. I was accused of bunglin
We did a bit of motoring this day because the distance between fishing spots was sometimes miles. After motoring through the town of Soldotna and past the moose that was standing on a cabin porch, we arrived at a part of the river called Big Eddy. It didn’t look to me like an eddy, but it may have been. Lots of people were fishing from boats. Part of the time Evans back paddled while we fished with hooks full of salmon spawn and other times he anchored and fished with us. We saw lots of King Salmon rolling on the top of the water, “That was a King. See that? See the size of that fish?” We all saw it. Boat after boat motored by us, sometimes they stopped near us to fish and other times they just went by, It was crowded. One guy who I think was probably drunk, stopped near us and nearly drifted into us. Before he started the motor he said, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” We thanked him for warning us and then he said, “We’ve caught a lot of fish.” Something we doubted as they were fishing for King Salmon and they were only allowed to catch one each and all three of them were still fishing.
We were running out of bait. Evans was laughing and talking about catching the biggest King Salmon of his whole Cooper River trip the proceeding summer, “We were scrounging the bank for little tidbits and I found a piece of bait that had been in the sun for at least two days. It reeked, but sure enough, that was the one.
Larry said, “Frequently that will happen when fishing for Halibut. You have one piece of bait which looks useless and that’s the one that catches a fish.” We were hopelessly laughing and Larry said, “This is becoming more and more like the fishing trips I remember being on with Larry. They just gradually deteriorate.”
A Dolly Varden, is a sea run Brook Trout, though a separate species. I wanted to catch a Dolly Varden, because I wasn't 100% sure the Bull Trout I'd caught in Oregon was the same species. There is a slot limit, 13 inches and under plus 20 inches and over are keepers, while those in between are released. I caught a keeper under 13 inches and Larry caught a keeper over 20 inches. We were down to the last half hour of fishing. Little fish were stealing our bait as soon as it hit the bottom.
There was a comment about how many fishing boats were around us. Larry said, “When you catch a good size Halibut you have to shoot it before you bring it into the boat or else it will flop around and ruin the boat. People hear the shot and they come over to fish next to you.”
Larry said after we had just about fallen out of the boat laughing at just about nothing, “You’ll laugh when we start fishing for Halibut, the difference in the rods; The rod is like a broom handle with eyes on it.” Before this conversation stopped we had conversationalized the Halibut rods into small self reeling mechanical cranes with pulleys on the end.
We started seeing lots of King Salmon rolling out of the water. The fish were starting to run and we were almost out of bait. Barb brought a Dolly Varden right to the edge of the boat and lost it and then we packed up and headed the last couple hundred yards to the boat ramp. It was 10:00pm and still very light out when we arrived at the ramp so tired we couldn’t get the raft on the trailer. Another boater wanted to use the ramp and so two guys got out of their boat and helped us. It was going to be too late for cooking the Salmon so we went to a greasy spoon for dinner. We arrived at Evans’ place just before midnight and it was still light out.
In the morning, Evans made a fire to cook the Salmon in the fire pit. Magpies were screaming and Larry said, “That is the sound of a Magpie that’s all pissed off because we have a fire under its tree and that’s the sound of the fire which is burning so we can cook the Red Salmon I caught. Great memories! You did help to land the fish by tangling your line completely around it.” I was surprised he forgot to mention that we were also about to eat Dolly Varden and that his was bigger.
We were almost finished eating when Evans talked me into fishing for Red Salmon on our return trip from Homer. He said, “When they’re running you can hook a lot of them and it can be a lot of fun.”
Larry said, “Particularly if your friends try to help you by embedding their hook in your fish.”
I retorted, “Sibling rivalry is what it is. I’m not your friend. I’m your brother.”
Evans asked, “Do you guys go to family functions?”
I said, “My family doesn’t have functions.”
Larry remarked, “Yes they do. They just don’t invite you.”
I changed the subject, “What's the biggest fish you've ever caught?”
Larry answered, “In Uganda in ‘96 fishing in Lake Victoria I caught a 105 pound Nile Perch and that’s not a big one.“
Evans said “The biggest King Salmon I ever caught was 60 pounds, but someone in my boat once caught a 65 pounder.”
Larry said his record King Salmon was “35 pounds.”
I asked, “How big do they get?
“About a hundred pounds is the predicted size any time now. They are often close to that. The Kenai has the biggest Kings.”
“How far north is their range?”
“They run up the Yukon River 2200 miles.” Then he added, “Without eating.”
I thought maybe I should try the “Two thousand two hundred mile Yukon River diet.”
We headed down the road for Homer, which is located on the north side of Kachemak Bay in Cook inlet. When we arrived, Larry took us sight seeing. We went by a colorful van in front of a bakery. He said, “Two gals drove that van up from the continental U.S., baking bread and selling it along the way. They made enough money to get to Homer and start this bakery, which has become very popular.” Next he pointed out the micro brewery that makes very fine beer. This is the beginning of the spit, a naturally formed jetty that goes a mile or more out in the Bay. It’s a sand bar that's above the water line. Along with the boat harbor, the spit has knick-knack shops, coffee shops, restaurants, charter fishing businesses, a bait & tackle shop, an ice cream shop and a man made lagoon that the locals call The Hole, where Salmon are planted by the Alaska Fish and Game department; starting in pens with one type salmon on one side of the “Hole” and another type on the other side. They put a smell in the water, so the fish imprint on it. I asked, “So they spend two to three years in the ocean and then they come back here to die?”
“They come back to be caught. It’s hook and line up to a date, after that date it’s snagging and people come in to clean out the rest of the fish. They are still good to eat, but not as good as during the hook and line season. This was developed as a ‘something to do for tourists’ project.
“When I first started to come to Homer in 1968-1969 we used to be able to fish from the municipal dock. We also were able to put down crab rings and shrimp traps. I spent many a time drinking beer and hauling up Dungeness crabs during the day and shrimp at night. There hasn’t been an open season on them for the last three years, because they are another species that has been fished way too heavily in the past. It used to be that you could go out on a regular sports fishing license and have a half dozen crab traps.”
At the ice cream shop the woman looked at Larry and said, “One mocha shake! What else?” While she was making three mocha shakes, she talked about her medical issues with Doctor Larry. I told her he's my brother, Larry and she asked if I am his brother, Larry.
I asked Larry, “How did she figure that out? Did you tell her you have a brother named Larry?”
“No! I try to keep that a secret.”
She piped in, “This is Larry, Larry and Daryl.”
And Barb said, “No! It’s Barb.”
People were camped on the beach. Larry said, “When the cannery was here, the workers lived here in Visqueen shelters.”
We checked out the catches of the Halibut charter boat guests, which were hung on rakes. The people who fished had their pictures taken with the fish, then the fish were filleted and put in plastic bags for the individuals who caught them.
Next we walked over to the cleaning station in the boat harbor to see if any nice fish were caught. “Some”, was the answer.
We were near the Lands End restaurant at the end of the spit when Larry said, “When we first started coming to Homer, we would park the camper and start a fire on the beach and throw out a baited hook and a big snarl of mono filament line and the Dungeness Crabs would get tangled in this mess and we reeled them in, boiled them in sea water and ate them on the beach. You can’t camp at this spot anymore. You can’t have a fire on the beach. Also, you can’t go out on the municipal dock anymore. We used to go out there and put down shrimp pods.”
We went for a walk on the beach, where Larry pointed out pieces of coal. “It’s a fairly soft low grade coal. That’s why the town was started. They mined the coal and brought it out to the end of the spit for the coal burning steamers.”
We walked by some surf fishermen who were fishing for Salmon or Dolly Varden, but they weren’t catching anything.
Back in the car we looked at the tide table and decided it was time to go fishing. Then we went to the boat harbor and while the seagulls laughed we walked down the ramp and on to Larry’s boat. After several trips from the car to get the cooler, fishing poles and gas can etc, we motored out of the harbor and over to the first Halibut fishing spot.
When we returned, we met Mary at the door of the Homer house. “How many fish did you catch?”
But we only had four keepers.”
“Right!” Mary said, looking at the fish and thinking some of what we caught were not worth keeping.
Larry said, “I caught a Gray Cod.”
Mary asked me, “Did you catch an Irish Lord?”
I said I did.
Mary asked, “Is it the first one you’ve ever caught?”
“Yes”, I answered, “A new species for my list.”
“She said, “They are a nifty looking fish.”
Larry said “And we caught a rock fish, very colorful.”
Mary asked why we didn’t keep it and I answered, “It was the first fish we caught and it was right away, so we were very optimistic that we were going to catch a lot of fish. I caught a Ray. It took me some time to get it reeled up to the boat and when it was almost there the reel started humming and the fish went back to the bottom. When I eventually got it next to the boat, it looked like it was about sixty pounds, the biggest fish I’ve ever caught.”
We talked about when and where the fish were caught, “The fish were mostly caught in Neptune Bay over about a two hour period.”
“Did anyone get seasick?”
Larry said, “Both of them started to get a little queasy, so we went into the town of Seldovia and ate lunch, so that if they got really sick they would have something to throw up. It’s not much fun trying to throw up on an empty stomach.”
Larry continued, “They are the first people I have taken out this year who didn’t chum the waters.”
Mary shook her head and asked, “If boating is so much fun, why do we do it?”
Mary discovered Larry's Salmon fillet in the frig and said she would cook it for dinner asking, “Do you like onions and garlic?”
We told her we raise both in our garden, because we like them so much and then asked, “You going out with us tomorrow?”
“It depends on some things. I’ve had twenty years of power boating on Kachemak Bay. Not my favorite. It depends on where we are going and on the weather. I usually go. If nothing else, I crew well.”
At breakfast the next day Mary asked why we moved from Minnesota to Wisconsin. I just said, “We are transients.”
Larry said, “Just to piss his mother off.”
Barb said, “That wasn’t hard to do. Like the time in the seventies when we bought ten and a half acres and his folks bought 11 acres. We bought another 33 acres and his mother said, ‘You just had to have more land than us!’”
To make things clearer I said, “The land next to ours was for sale for a long time and it was such nice property it drove me crazy not having it.”
Larry said he understood, “Your dad wasn’t like that.”
“No. You couldn’t find a more pleasant person.”
Mary talked about how much she liked my dad.
“Everyone liked my dad..”
We took a ride to the end of the road near the end of Kachemak Bay. On the way we talked about the wildlife in the area. “Black Bears, Wolves, Caribou.”
Mary asked if I hunt. I told her I don’t. “Back in the seventies in Michigan when we owned the 43-1/2 acres, the land had an abundant amount of pheasants. One year, a dozen guys showed up asking if they could hunt. I told them they could. They asked me if I wanted to hunt with them. I didn’t want to go. They asked ‘Why’ and I just said, ‘I don’t have a gun.’ Since they had an extra gun, I found myself walking around the land carrying a gun. These guys carried their guns on their shoulders in a horizontal position, so I was looking down the barrel of someone's gun most of the time.
There were many pheasants on our land, but this day they were scarce. We had almost made the round when I caught a glimpse of something behind a clump of grass in front of an old apple tree. I started to stalk it and everyone else stopped walking and watched me. I hadn’t gone far when a pheasant flew straight up, 90 degrees from the ground, did a 90 degree turn above the apple tree and flew away as the hunters yelled, ‘Shoot.’ ‘Shoot!’
Someone asked, ‘Why didn’t you shoot it?’
‘I don’t know.’ I answered. ‘I just don’t know.’
These guys came back and hunted the property for several years, but they never asked me to go with them again.”
Mary asked, “Didn’t you guys have guns when you were growing up?”
Larry and I said, “Yes!” at the same time.
Larry said, “Bottles and cans.”
I noted, “I’ve gotten my lifetime limit of cans.” I failed to mention the small birds that I grew up to regret having shot.
Slugs came up in talk about gardening. Mary asked if the beer trick works and Larry said, “Yes. They drink the beer, get drunk and fight.”
I agreed, “Yes! They slug it out!”
Larry said he made a video of a Banana Slug when he lived in Oregon, “I’d show it to you if I knew where I put it”
“Did you use the film as a sleep aid?” I asked.
Saturday morning the four or us fished for Halibut during the low tide and trolled for Salmon after that, catching nothing.
The next day we drove separate vehicles back to Anchorage. On the way Barb and I stopped to see Evans in Cooper Landing. Evans and I went fishing again in the Kenai River. This time we waded near the shore of the river, stepping into lots of Red Salmon. At one point the fish were bumping into my legs. When I mentioned this to Evans, he told me I was in their runway and I should be closer to shore. After I moved I started catching fish. Evans caught several fish and I caught three. Evans can tell by the color of the fish just how good it will taste and we were able to keep five fish, two for Evans, one for Larry and Mary and the others for us to take back to Wisconsin along with some Halibut fillets.
I have fished with Matt in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. The North Carolina and the Virginia trips didn’t count toward the Fishing America project as I had already fished with someone else in those states.
The Delaware trip started at the house where Matt grew up. We launched a canoe in the Nanticoke River from his back yard and fished up stream to the dam and back again to the house. We didn’t catch any real big fish, but we caught the sought after species and several other species. We estimate our total catch for the day at around three hundred fish. I also caught some Redbreast Sunfish, the fish that eluded me in South Carolina on my first Fishing America trip.
Matt and I spent the afternoon fishing for Croaker in James River Bay near Norfolk, Virginia. We caught lots of fish, took them to Matt’s house and ate them.
After sunset and a long nap, we went out again with a friend of Matt to fish the light lines of the causeway. The bridges over the bay are long with a good portion being over shallow water. We fished under the bridge as the tidal waters moved in. We fished where there was a street light on the bridge. One of us used a pole to hold onto the bottom of the bridge to keep the boat from moving. Another stood on the bow of the boat pitching a fly in the lit water just outside the bridge shadow. Striped Bass, hang out in the shadow and dart after the tied fly when it hits the water. Since you can see the fish, you toss the fly right in front of it. When you hook one, you work it around the side of the boat to play it and the third person goes up to the bow to look for another fish. We rotated positions, holding, fishing and waiting.
The next day, Matt and I drove to Salisbury MD where his sisters live. We accessed the Wiscomico River inside the city limits and fished from shore for about twenty minutes, each of us catching a Channel Catfish and each of us getting very cold. Fishing should be fun. If it’s not, quit. We did.
New Jersey Chapter
I arrived at Cape May in the morning and while I waited for Gus, I fished alone. I didn’t have anything else to do and I didn’t know if we would catch a weakfish during the next two days and I wanted to catch this fish. I didn’t catch a fish all day. I watched someone else catch a couple Weakfish.
Gus arrived in time for a late dinner at the Lobster House, after which we fished some tidal waters flowing into the bay.
The next day while fishing a rip tide, a rogue wave hit us tossing us to the floor of the boat. We were lucky not to be tossed from Gus’s boat. This sent us scurrying toward the harbor. At the beginning of the harbor channel, the seagulls were feeding on top of the water and I knew this meant the Bluefish were feeding. We joined in, along with the other boats and fished this area catching Baby Blues until it was almost boring. That’s the thing about fishing for Bluefish; Billie Holiday sings about it, ‘All or nothing at all’.
I did not catch a Weakfish on this trip. This picture was taken the first day before Gus’s arrival.
While fishing alone on a dock in Kauai’s Salt Pond boat harbor, I landed this cute fish. The locals call it a Balloon Fish. It is also called a Puffer and it is famous in Japan. Chefs spend years learning how to remove the poison so as to serve it. Even so, there are deaths every year when the fish isn’t cleaned correctly.
Balloon Fish have very sharp teeth that usually cut the line when it is hooked. I caught this fish and then brought eight more to the top where they broke the line as I tried hoisting them from the water. When I hooked the tenth fish, it swam in circles as I reeled it in. Following it was a second Balloon fish swimming in circles, apparently trying to be part of the fun. This scene reminded me of drawings of the double helix.
I managed to land this fish and when I removed the mangled bent hook, I saw four more of my hooks in its mouth. I figured the other four missing hooks were in the other fish’s mouth. Not only are they cute and poisonous and fun loving, they are stupid.
I caught seven different species of fish in Hawaii, all very small.
Dick showed me an article in Life magazine published in the mid-1950s about Salmon fishing in Norway. There was a two-page photograph of a man in a boat floating a river and fishing. It was his dad, whose real passion was fishing. Though Dick likes fishing and remembers good-times fishing with his dad, he hadn’t fished for a while. He is addicted to his work. I can relate.
First we went to a fly fishing shop and purchased a pamphlet on fishing knots. I didn’t need the book, as I know one knot and that is all I want to know. We also acquired a book showing us where to fish.
A map in this book directed us to a spot on the Farmington River, a noted trout stream in the north central part of the state. When we arrived, there were seven other fisherman. The river has Brookies, Browns and Rainbows. We thought it humorous that everyone was dressed in waders and vests and we were in shorts and tennis shoes. We wanted to catch more fish than the other guys, but it didn’t happen. We saw several fish caught, but we didn’t catch anything. Maybe there is more to know about trout fishing than how to tie a knot.
Bud and Cathy live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and they have a mountain summer cabin on the shore of Silver Lake, not far from where they live. Bud and I signed a fishing contract to fish for Golden Trout. The plan was to hike on the Pacific Crest trail to a lake located around the 9,500 ft elevation. Bud, his son, Ebe and I started our five-mile (each way) walk. About half way up the trail we talked to a couple guys going to the same lake. A little further up, we reached a spot where the drop-off below the trail was too steep for my acrophobia. Ebe is also afraid of heights, so we retreated and went fishing elsewhere.
A couple days later we were in a café having breakfast when the two guys we had seen on the trail came in to eat. They said they tried to sleep next to the lake, but the winds were so strong it rolled them around and kept them awake. Even worse: They didn’t catch any fish.
I changed the Fishing America rules. That’s what I like about making up my own games. I decided to go for what we called a “triple;” a Brookie, a Rainbow and a Brown. I did it.
NOTE: CALIFORNIA FISHER HAS WRITTEN THIS CHAPTER AS A GUEST AUTHOR. IT HASN’T BEEN SENT TO ME YET
On the way from my house in Wisconsin to Mike’s house in a Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati, I experienced good weather all the way, but it rained all around me. The next day I read there had been over seventy tornadoes from Alabama to Mississippi to Illinois to Ohio and places in-between, some close to where I had driven.
From Mike’s house we went to a lock and dam on the Ohio River where we didn’t catch any fish in the chocolate colored water. We drove to a river known for its supply of Kentucky Bass, but the water was also high and brown, so we didn’t even stop. At a state park we fished above and below a dam, but it was the same problem. At the next spot, a three acre man-made lake, we split up. I didn’t have any hits, but Mike caught 2 Kentucky Bass. I’m sick of high water.
Due to a problem in Mike’s family, he and his wife have inherited a one-year-old grandniece. Mike says it is nice being parents again, but more work than when they were younger. He doesn’t think we can go fishing again, so I plan to retrace our route sometime in the future, alone, to catch a Kentucky bass.
I decided to fish alone in Alabama and try to catch a species I’ve not caught elsewhere. It didn’t matter what. I didn’t catch a new species, but I caught some fish.
I met up with a guy who had his fishing equipment, but he couldn’t afford bait. He bummed bait from me. This happened late in the day on the Orange Beach fishing pier after I had fished several other places without much luck.
He saw we were running out of bait, so when I caught a White Catfish, he said, “Good, Now cut it into strips and we’ll use it as bait.”
We did this and I caught a Pinfish. He said, “Good, Now cut it into strips and we’ll use it as bait.”
We did this and I caught a White Catfish. This went on until it was too dark to cut up bait. I can tell you this, “You can catch White Catfish on Pinfish chunks and you can catch Pinfish on White Catfish strips.”
I like the architecture of this fishing pier.
New Mexico Chapter
James Holmes was the first person I contacted after I conceived of the Fishing America project. He is responsible for the creation of the fishing contract that was drawn up to hold people to their plan to fish with me. At the time James lived in Kansas and he agreed to fish with me in Colorado, which he did. He now lives in the desert near Santa Fe, New Mexico.
In 1972 I was a visiting artist at Illinois State University in Normal. As a visiting artist I created a limited edition lithograph with a master printer, named Steve Britko. Steve and I hit it off well and we vowed to stay in touch. He moved and I moved and we lost contact, so it came as a surprise when I was talking to James in 2002 and he mentioned that he walks every morning with his neighbor and friend, Steve Britko.
Since I had fished with James in Colorado and since I wanted to fish with a different person in each state I talked Steve into signing the New Mexico contract.
Fishing New Mexico was a big deal to me, because it was going to be the 50th and final state. My grandson, Jay and I arrived at James and Susan Holmes house on the second Sunday of June 2003. I handed James some homegrown garlic. “It’s organic,” I proudly said
“That’s okay, I have some chemicals I can put on them.”
James told us he and Steve had been fishing the day before.
“I thought you were branding cattle?”
“We did that in the morning and fished in the afternoon. That’s our version of multitasking. You want to go for a ride?”
“Sure, but only if you drive. I’ve been driving for three and a half days. Where?”
“To the Pecos River. I’ll show you where to fish for the Rio Grande Cutthroat.”
We did just that, seeing the town of Tererro, with its combination store-horse stable. The town of Cowles, which is just a county highway department pile of dirt, a dumpster and two ponds; one for kids and handicapped people, the other for anyone who doesn’t want to fish this catch and release only portion of the Pecos River. We saw Jack’s Creek campground and Panchuela Creek campground.
James talked about fishing for trout. He advised us, “Go beyond the Bud Line.”
“What’s that?” asked Jay, before I could ask.
“That’s the greatest distance most fisherman will fish from the beer cooler.” James said, smiling, because he knew he was right.
The next day Jay and I went to Panchuela Creek campground, because it was cheaper than the other campground and because the parking lot was somewhat guarded by the US Forest Service living compound next to it. Also, the creek was reported to have some Rio Grande Cutthroat. At least Dave’s Creek, which runs into Panchuela Creek, has a population of these fish.
I fished three solid days, in the Dave's Creek tributary of Panchuela Creek, in the Panchuela Creek tributary of the Pecos River and in the Pecos River without catching a fish. Jay, fished for a little while the first day and decided fly-fishing isn’t for him. He hiked and played in the creek and did sixteen-year-old things while I fished and I fished, trying to catch just one fish. That’s all I wanted, one Rio Grande Cutthroat.
The fourth day we went to Santa Fe for a halfhearted attempt at tourism. It didn’t take long to decide it is a theme park, so we were sitting in James’s yard when he drove up the drive, opened the car door and asked, “Catch any?”
“Did you fish?” He asked sarcastically.
“I fished a lot, ask Jay.”
“He fished a lot.”
“Yesterday I had five hits, and a swirl, but I didn’t hook any of them.”
The car radio was on: “Hi! Dave Workman, president of Altman Electronics. As a dad there’s no more important holiday than Father’s Day. Since, I’m in a position that I can do something about it, I’ve decided that now through Saturday Altman Electronics is holding the mother of all father’s day sales…”
“It’s not like I’m a moron or anything,” says James, “but I could have left the key somewhere for you and you could have gone in and taken a shower and slept and done your laundry and… GET DOWN!” he yelled at Queenie, the wilder of his two dogs. “THANK YOU!”
“It’s no big deal.” I said, “Are you set on going up there tomorrow?”
“I got the day off. Why?”
“Would you consider a different place? It’s about a hundred miles further.”
“Ouch! God damn it! Bad Dog! Actually, I wonder if we have the same place?”
“Cuba. Turn right; continue about eight miles to the parking lot. Go another two miles to the Rio de Las Vacas River.”
We talked about this for a while and realized the place I was told about is the same place James was told about by the people at his favorite fly-fishing shop.
The dogs are panting loudly as I tell him, “The guy said you walk about a half mile up stream past the old dam and there is an open area called a… I can’t remember anything anymore. What is it called?”
The land is called what?
“Let’s go inside.”
“You’re talking about a flat area?”
“It’s an area where the valley gets wider.”
James went looking for the UPS parcels that had been delivered. When he returned, I said, “Meadow!”
James talked about his landlord, Henry, and landlady, Peg.
Henry’s father was the first ranch foreman for Arthur Peck, who started the Ghost Ranch. Peg is the daughter of Arthur Peck.
They grew up on the Ghost Ranch and he knew Peg.
When Peg was about twelve, her mother ran off with an archeologist, a famous archeologist. Arthur stayed there a long time. Peg moved with her mother and new archeologist husband to Albuquerque. He became the head of the Archeology Department at the University. His name was Frank Gibbon and he was the guy who came up with theory of Sandia Man; how people got to North America. He also came up with the theory that there were six different types of people who came over on the Bering Straight.
It turns out that Frank fabricated a lot of his research. He became known as Fibbin’ Gibbon. In 1995 New Yorker did an article about him. That was Peg’s step dad. The Peck family had a lot of money. Peg married an archeologist also. He committed suicide. He had Manure’s disease of the ears. He did a lot of books on Indian Art, which are still available. He had a trading Post in Tucson.
“So they are older people?” I asked.
“She’s seventy four and Henry is seventy six. They got together in about 1978 or something like that. Arthur always liked Henry, even though Henry’s dad moved on, Henry came back and worked on the ranch during the summers. I think Henry thought he would get the Ghost Ranch… They were that tight. But in 1965, Arthur found religion and he gave the place to the Presbyterian Church.
First they built a house and lived in it for about a year while the compound was being built. Right after they moved to the compound, Georgia O’Keefe showed up and rented the house from them.
“Where did she come from? New York I assume.”
“She taught for a year in Canyon Texas at Panhandle Plains State College and she went from there to the Ghost Ranch. Arthur grew up with her and refers to her as the weird lady.”
“They considered her weird?”
“Yeah. Very private! Peg told me something real funny. They would go down to see her and she would give them candy to leave.”
“Henry and Peg have some incredible photo albums of the Ghost Ranch. The Ghost Ranch was amazing. You know the big touring cars of the 1920s? They used to take a six-week trip, overland, from the Ghost Ranch to the Grand Canyon through the Navajo Reservation. Overland! Not on roads.”
“Did they have roads then?” I asked.
“They don’t have roads out there now.”
We headed toward a Mexican restaurant. As soon as we sat down a guy walked over to our table and talked to James about all the business he has with his chuck wagon service. When he left, James said, “He’s an incredibly good cook. I knew we were at the right place, if this is where the cooks go to eat.
James asked if there were other fisherman where we had camped and fished. I told him, “Not many. Down stream, right by the parking lot, there were several fish in the stream. I tried to catch them, but they apparently didn’t know what a fly is. I think the Fish and Game people dropped the fish in that morning. The second day I went back and there were three locals fishing with Salmon eggs and they had caught all of them, Rainbows about six inches in size.”
James said, “You were within the Bud Lines.”
I suggested, “Maybe, since we both got the same information about the Rio de Las Vacas, we should go there tomorrow.”
A guy who works with James came over to our table and talked for a while. After he left, James said, “He’s French Canadian. He and his girl friend recently moved here from Maine.” Then after a short pause he added, “Yeah! That’s where we’ll go tomorrow, up to Cuba.
“I still don’t believe you didn’t catch any fish at the Pecos River. Anything interesting happen?”
“The first day, Jay walked up the creek to the caves. The stream flows into the cave and runs under ground for about a block before reappearing again. He went into the cave and wished he had a flashlight.”
Jay popped in, “I put my hand down on a rock and there was a flashlight.”
I continued, “I started walking to the caves, made it about three quarters of the way, but I was tired and decided to abort the walk when I ran into Jay and we returned to the campsite together.
“We went up to the parking lot, and ran into a woman who is a genetic engineer in Washington DC. She was staying with a friend who works for the US Forest Service and lives in the Forest service compound next to the parking lot.
“On another trip to the parking lot we found a very small zip lock bag with what was probably cocaine in it.”
James didn’t have to think long on that subject, “That lot is a natural place to do drug deals.”
I continued, “The next morning when I went to get something from the car, four forest service trucks caravaned into the parking lot. Two guys got out of each vehicle and after a meeting, one of them walked around the five-site campground looking for something. When he returned I asked why they were there and he said, ‘we have a report of a broken bottle in the campground, but I couldn’t find it.” On my way back to our campsite I found it and told them where it was located. The designated “worker” picked it up and they got in their trucks and drove away.”
“Later in the day I was talking to another guy in the parking lot who was getting ready to back pack to the caves with his two sons. The older one was going to carry a backpack for the first time. They seemed to take forever to get ready. I said, ‘Hope the walk doesn’t take as long as the packing.’ The guy explained that it would be too dark to pitch a tent when they arrived and thus they needed to find their flashlight, which they couldn’t find. I lent them the one Jay found and off they went. I halfway didn’t expect to see it again, but the next day they came back to our campsite and returned it.
“In the evening we were back at the parking lot, getting some supplies from the car and I talked to two fishermen who had just fished Dave’s creek. They had caught two Brown trout each. That’s how I got the Rio de Las Vacas information.”
James grabbed the bill from the waitress. “Come on James, I took some money out of the bank today with my debit card.”
He wasn’t going to give me the bill, “Those debit cards are real nice, aren’t they?”
“Yes” I said, “Traveling across the country in the sixties, you had better start your trip with enough money and hope you didn’t lose it.”
“Yeah, I remember in 1981 driving from Crede, Colorado to Lawrence, Kansas with a friend. I had a Standard oil credit card for gas and between us we had $3.81. I think maybe that’s why robbing liquor stores became popular.”
James told us the difference between a Mexican restaurant and a Northern New Mexico restaurant, “New Mexican restaurants use green chili and lots of it.” He prefers the Mexican. He then told us that breakfast burritos are really good.
In the morning James and Jay and I headed toward Cuba, stopping in Bernalillo for breakfast burritos, which were so good we went back for seconds.
In Cuba we stopped at the US Forest Service office for directions. They said we should go to the parking lot and walk the mile up to San Gregorio reservoir. A little further up we could fish Clear Creek, which has Rio Grande Cutthroat. We asked where the road turns out of Cuba and they said to go back the way we came and catch the “Go-round” which goes around Cuba. It meets the road we want. We looked for it for a few minutes and decided to go into town and find the road we wanted. James muttered, “It must be their little joke on tourists.”
We drove about ten miles into the mountains to the parking lot where we met three guys who were starting their walk to San Gregorio reservoir. James and Jay and these guys walked the three quarters of a mile up to the lake as I fell behind.
On the way to the reservation, I met two Fish and Game guys. They had driven up the trail a couple of days earlier and they damaged the road. The US Forest Service people told them they had to repair the trail or not use it again. They still had to take a load of fish to the reservation, so they gave in on the issue. While I was talking to these guys, a fisherman walked up to us carrying a real nice Rainbow. He had fished the lake for several hours having only one hit. He was happy though, because he caught the fish. The Fish and Game guys they were so proud to have stocked that fish they photographed it.
While James and Jay waited for me at the reservation they were told that Clear Creek trail goes to the Rio de Las Vacas. Since they had walked there in the past, they gave us good directions. The best part of the directions was, “You will know when you are there.”
As we walked on, I still thought we were going another mile to fish Clear Creek, but James and Jay knew we were going further to fish the Rio de Las Vacas. It was another half mile when I saw a sign for ‘Rio de Las Vacas- six miles’. They told me not to believe it, so I kept walking.
We came upon a very small tributary of Clear Creek and I started fishing, while James and Jay walked on. After a couple casts, I talked to a passing troop of boy scouts and they suggested I go further up the trail, “It’s real pretty up there.”
I walked on to the next stream. I fished there until Jay returned to tell me, “James has caught two fish already.”
Jay and I walked to the Rio de Las Vacas. It was a meadow, a most beautiful meadow and a most beautiful stream, full of Rio Grande Cutthroat trout.
After putting my waders on, I started crawling around sneaking up on the fish. When I hooked the first fish, I over-reacted; setting the hook so hard the fish went flying through the air, landing unhooked in the next pool down stream. Soon I came upon a large pool of fish. I worked my way over to the side where I would not be seen by these fish. I sat about ten feet from the bank and cast my fly into the pool. After several hits, the action stopped and I changed to a different fly. After several more hits I changed the fly again. After many fly changes and three or four hits on each fly, I realized I was fishing with barb-less hooks and that was why I wasn’t able to hook a fish, so I changed to a number 16 barbed dry fly. I caught the fish, a Rio Grande Cutthroat.
I left the digital camera at James’ house and took my better camera on this trip, because I wanted to have the best quality picture of this fish if and when I caught it. The camera broke during the walk up the trail. So there I was, holding the only Rio Grande Cutthroat I will probably ever see and my camera is broken. Jay was watching me fish and luckily, he had his digital camera with him. He gets credit for the photograph I used to make the print.
James and I both walked rather slowly back to the car. On the way James told me he had caught about a dozen fish.
That evening we headed over to Steve Britko’s house to talk about our trip. On the way we talked about how far we walked. It had taken me two hours and forty-five minutes each way. When we got there we talked about how far we had walked. On the way back to James’ house we talked about how far we had walked. I also told them, “It’s Friday the 13th and it’s a full moon and when I called home I was told my 8th grandchild was born today. A girl.”
“Congratulations! What’s her name?”
“You would have to know my son and my daughter-in-law to understand this… since she was born at home with a midwife, they don’t have to come up with a name immediately, so they haven’t. They are talking about waiting until she is old enough to choose her own name. They are also considering Sabine. I suggested, ‘Full Moon Friday the 13th’. Maybe ‘Rio Grande Cutthroat’ or ‘Thirteen and a Half Mile Walk.’”
My five-day fishing permit had expired and I didn’t want to spend any more money. Besides that, I had already caught my targeted fish species, so Saturday morning Jay and I tagged along with James and Steve, when they went fishing in Cow Creek. Jay climbed a mountain and I took photographs with my digital camera while James and Steve fished. Steve caught two Brown Trout. James saw a fish.
The area had a forest fire about three years earlier and I took several digital photographs of this burnt forest. I think burnt forests have a very beautiful quality.
While James was getting BBQ to take home for dinner, Steve and I talked.
Steve said he just started fishing again this year after a fifteen-year hiatus.
I asked, “Didn’t you and James fish last year from your horses in Colorado?”
“That’s right. It was the damnedest thing. The lake was full of Kokanee Salmon.”
I egged him on. “James told me some of this, but I don’t remember the details.”
“We were helping a friend round up his cattle in Colorado. We came across a fence the Fish and Game people put across the river that flows into the lake. The Kokes were trying to swim up stream to spawn and they were pilled up below the fence. They were already on top of each other before we rode our horses into the stream. We had the fish jumping out of the water onto the shore.”
“So you fished using horses instead of fishing poles?”
“I guess you can say that”
“They weren’t too far gone?”
“Oh No! They were good to eat.”
“Where have all the flowers gone…” is playing in the background and we already had heard two other covers by Johnny Rivers. Steve said, “This must be called, ‘Johnny Rivers Sings Everybody’.
Steve asked, “How many galleries do you have representing your work?”
“I used to have over a hundred, but it’s down to about twenty. My fame didn’t last very long. When I switched from doing black and white high contrast images to color images, I lost a large museum following. But there are trends that happen in art.”
“I’ve never been part of a trend.” I paused and continued, “I really believe art curators try to control the direction of art.”
“Of course they do, Larry and gallery people do too.”
“Maybe, but I believe most gallery people will go with the flow. Whatever sells.”
Steve agreed, “If you aren’t selling, you're gone.”
“Where have all the flowers gone… Oh, Where have all the flowers gone…”
Another guy stopped for the last order of BBQ. I said, “That’s funny, when you get older, everyone looks like someone you have met before.”
“Secret agent man, Secret agent man, they’ve given you a number…”
We talked about another printer I worked with in the past, “How many prints did you do with him?”
“Did you ever get paid?”
“I got half the prints. He got half the prints. He sold his half and I consigned half my half to him.”
“Then you never heard from him again, right?”
“Did you ever call him on it?”
“Yes. He said his ex-wife did it.”
“He meant he wasn’t responsible. And his sales person in Kansas City ripped me off too. He was going through some problems with lithium use and he asked for me to consign some rare black and white nude prints I had done in the early 60s. I asked him, ‘How do I know I wouldn’t get ripped off? Everyone else you deal with gets ripped off!’ He said he was over that period and things were better for him. The next thing I hear is that he went into see one of my other Kansas City dealers and asks her if he can give her my prints, because he doesn’t want them anymore. She thinks there is something fishy about this and doesn’t take them. He then goes to my other dealer in town, who is always willing to help anyone out, so the prints end up there. When I received the list of what he left there, I find six or seven prints are missing. I called him and he says, ‘Oh, That was during my lithium period and I don’t remember anything about it. Things have changed now.’ I haven’t talked to him since, but that probably doesn’t matter to him.”
“Are all your dealers consignment galleries?”
“Yes. The days of outright sales are over. Art dealers know they don’t have to buy anything. I used to travel across the country and be able to sell a print whenever I ran out of money. Now, I couldn’t sell a print for enough money to buy a Fun Meal.”
James returned with the BBQ and announced, “He’s from Argentina.” The BBQ smell filled the car all the way back to James’ house. After dinner, I suggested the place would soon be selling franchises and we could get the same meal in Evanston Illinois. James lamented, “Colonel Manuel’s BBQ.”
The following day, Jay and I were ready to hightail it home. We drove up through the mountains for a last view of the area (including Taos-another amusement park) and on to the center of Kansas. The day after that, I drove over 750 miles to get home.
I think New Mexico is one neat place, especially the Rio de Las Vacas River, where I caught the Rio Grande Cutthroat. This trip was such a great “Grand Finale” for the “Fishing America” project. Who could ask for anything more!