It’s been rainy and cool all weekend, and today fog and a ground-hugging mist were added to the mix. Fog and mist don’t stop the intrepid lobstermen of Stonington, however. Betty and I watched this solitary fisherman navigating cautiously through the murk and returning to dry land—although, given the wet conditions, it would be more accurate to say “solid ground”—this afternoon, just before another cloudburst drenched us all.
Skilled fishermen — and I’m thinking of the likes of the Brown Bear, here — will tell you that getting a fish to bite at the hook and lure is only the first step in the battle between the angler and his watery quarry. Fish that just nibble at the bait don’t end up caught. If you don’t make sure the hook is firmly lodged in its mouth, the fish will wriggle away and live to taunt the fisherman another day.
So the key is to set the hook. The accomplished angler will inevitably have a subtle move, a flick of the wrist that ensures that the hook is set firm and deep in the fish’s mouth, and that elusive fish won’t be a challenge any more.
The same holds true for modern television producers hoping to attract viewers to their shows. There are so many options out there — on Netflix, HBO, Showtime, Amazon, the networks, and countless other outlets — that some people argue that right now, rather than the ’50s or ’70s, is the true Golden Age of Television. And because there’s a lot of content to watch, if you’re a couch fish looking for a new series to binge-watch on a cold winter weekend, you’ll nibble at an episode or maybe two, but you’re not going to spend too much time on shows that don’t immediately set that hook and leave you happily wriggling on the line, looking forward to the next episode.
Kish and I experienced this phenomenon this week. We watched the first episode of Russian Doll, which has been getting some buzz recently, and it just didn’t do much for us — it was just too flagrantly New Yorkish and a bit too consciously contrived for our tastes. We decided to try something else, and we’d heard good things about Ozark, so we gave that a try . . . and after one episode we were absolutely hooked.
The flick of the wrist that set the hook, firm and deep, probably came at about the time the quick-thinking Marty Byrde seized upon a Lake of the Ozarks pamphlet to talk his way out of disaster, or maybe when Wendy Byrde’s paramour met his maker. But whenever it happened, as soon as the first episode was over, we knew we’d be riding the Ozark train to the end of the line and our weekend and immediate TV viewing future was set. And the series has only gotten better as unforgettable characters like Ruth Langmore and the Snells have entered the fray.
I wonder how many TV producers fish in their spare time?
Cousin Jeff lives on Lake Mohawk, near Malvern, Ohio. Lake Mohawk is one of many man-made lakes in Ohio — I think the only natural lake in the Buckeye State is Lake Erie — and was made from an old quarry and some fresh springs and streams. It’s been around for years and has reached a mature state, with lots of fish to be found.
This little boy and his Dad were enjoying a warm late Saturday afternoon, fishing from one of the docks in the lake. Dad was putting bait on a hook and giving some instruction, Son was trying his luck, and they both were having a grand time.
The tides on this side of Barbados are so fierce that casual swimmers are cautioned not to venture into the water. That does not deter the native fishermen, however. One of them, with dreadlocks carefully tucked under knit cap, scrambled down a rocky hillside and waded out into the surf to try his luck at netting some fish.
Framed against the blue water, the lone fisherman made a cool photo.
This weekend I took a few lessons at Professor Brown’s College of Troutology in Asheville, North Carolina. Lessons included crash courses in casting, dry fly technology, unhooking snags from trees, wading, and the crucial differences in hardiness and water temperature sensitivity among the native brook trout, the brown trout, and the rainbow trout.
It was like being transported back to the in-car portion of your driver’s ed class, when the instructor unnervingly watched your every move and provided a running commentary on your failures — except this time the running commentary was about casting with an appropriate flick of the wrist and trying to get the fly a little bit more to the right, rather than smoothly applying the brakes or turning the corners more sharply. But the lessons worked! I caught one of the elusive and beautiful “brookies” — his photo appears below, just before we released him into the stream — and the day on the water was a success.
Thanks to Mr. Brown and the lovely Donna, for showing the Wrestling Fan and me a wonderful time down in Asheville, and thanks especially for the patient fishing tutorial. Fishing is a reel challenge, and a lot of fun besides.
Today as I was driving home I heard a snippet of a press conference given by a police chief somewhere in America. He was talking about an investigation he was conducting in coordination with the federal government, and reassured citizens that no stone would be left unturned thanks to their “duplicitous” efforts. Sounds like the kind of devastating admission that could be used to good effect by the lawyers who defend whoever gets arrested as a result of that joint investigation!
Of course, the police chief should have said “duplicative” — which is probably what he intended — but he botched it. No doubt he wanted to sound highly educated, but instead he gave people who were paying attention a hearty chuckle at a pretty good malapropism.
I received an even better malapropism recently via email. The emailer said he was waiting for something with “baited breath.” I laughed at that one, and thought of all the witty, fish-related responses that his error made possible. Should I say that when he finally got a response he shouldn’t fall for it hook, line and sinker? Add that I hoped he wouldn’t worm his way out of his responsibilities? Observe that if it didn’t work out there were other fish in the sea? Fret about the possibility that the project might hit a snag?
“Baited breath” — as opposed to bated breath — seemed like an especially succulent metaphor because it conjures up the idea of the speaker eating worms, minnows, and maybe even a little chum and tackle. Alas, it turns out that “baited breath” has become so commonplace that linguists think it might soon become the usual form of the phrase. Horrors! Has illiteracy reeled in and ruined another deft phrase that traces its lineage back to Shakespeare himself?
Why would a whimsical person put a fake fisherman out on the water? Well, why do farmers put a scarecrow out in the field? Obviously, a fake fisherman is intended to scare away fish!
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia is a fishing town. When you walk down to the dock, you see a somber memorial to all of the sailors who have lost their lives at sea over the centuries. You also see one of the crafts on which Lunenburg’s fishing tradition was built — the humble dory.
A dory is a long boat with a flat bottom, narrow bow and stern, and high sides that is made with ribbing and wide wooden planks. It’s a sturdy little vessel with ample room for the fisherman, his gear and his bait, and (we hope) the day’s catch. The dory has carried many a fisherman out onto the water in search of the elusive schools of fish, and it carries them still.
A would-be angler at the number 5 pond apparently thought so, but his casting hit a snag or two among the buds on the tree limbs overhanging the boardwalk. He’ll have plenty of time to work on his technique in the coming months.
When I went to Canada for a fishing trip recently, I took along a cribbage board. As I’ve noted before, I think cribbage is the best card game ever invented, and I thought it would be a perfect way to spend some time with my friends.
I’m happy to report that the cribbage effort was a great success. We played for hours, my friends learned the rules, and for the most part we joshed good-naturedly about the cards and the state of play.
Even better, I’m happy to report that one of my fellow fishermen, The Sage, became an enthusiastic convert to the world of cribbage. Since his return from Canada he’s purchased a board, read up on the history of the game, and taught his wife and daughter how to play. I’m pleased that he has acknowledged the obvious merit of cribbage and become a member of the ever-increasing Cribbage Kingdom.
Of course, for every convert to cribbage, there is a sore loser who cannot gracefully accept a serious thumping — as the unfortunate photo accompanying this posting confirms.
Until last weekend, in my 55 years on this planet, I had never eaten something that I caught or killed. Last Friday, that all changed.
As I mentioned yesterday, thanks to the excellent guide work of Woody Becker, our little party found an area where the fish were biting. I caught a plump small mouth bass that, according to my much more experienced companions, probably weighed between 3 and 4 pounds. It fought like crazy as I reeled him in, bending my fishing rod almost to the breaking point, and after Woody netted it and we dropped it in the tub it continued to flop and thrash. At the time, it was exciting.
When we later returned to our dock, and one of our party prepared to fillet the fish, I began to feel uneasy. The fish stared at us, wide-eyed, and its gills continued to flutter. My friend the Brown Bear loves to fish because he likes the challenge, but he’s a catch-and-release man. Perhaps I should let the fish go?
The temptation to at least try eating something that I had caught and killed, however, overcame my reservations. My friend expertly filleted the fish and tossed the remains into the harbor, where it would serve as sustenance for other aquatic parts of the food chain. I felt guilty, but remembered that I had caught the bass only because it couldn’t resist gobbling up the live minnow that I was using as bait. The fish clearly understood the circle of life and the notion of survival of the fittest — or so I rationalized.
We prepared the fish fillets in simple fashion, by dunking them in corn meal and then dropping them in a skillet where hot oil popped and snapped. After a few minutes the fish fillets were ready, and they were astonishingly good — the flesh firm, light and mild, absolutely fresh, with no oily or fishy taste. It was, quite simply, the best fish I’ve ever eaten. I’d do it again.
One morning on Lake Temagami, we hired a fishing guide to help us solve the fisherman’s eternal riddle: where are the @$%&*# fish? The guide’s name was Woody Becker.
Woody is an Algonquin who has lived in the Lake Temagami area for decades. He’s hunted, fished, trapped, and camped in just about every nook and cranny of the lake, its islands, and the surrounding forested hills. As you would expect with that kind of background, Woody is a practical, self-sufficient man. When he came to pick us up in his small boat on a cold morning, he wore weather gear that looked as comfortable on him as an old shoe. He also wore a snowmobile helmet, face shield down to ward off the chilly air, and was smoking a cigarette behind the plastic faceguard. As he took us to where he thought the fish might be biting, he strung out a net across one of the connecting waterways. He was just interested in seeing what he might catch in that spot at that time of year, he explained.
Woody knew his stuff. He could pilot a boat like it was an extension of his body. He instructed us on what method (jigging) and what bait (minnows) to use. And, he found the fish. Drifting along a rocky outcropping in a desolate part of Cross Lake, we caught some huge small mouth bass. Woody nimbly maneuvered the boat as we fought the fish, netted them, and then used some wire he had handy to repair our net when one of the thrashing fish ripped it to shreds.
Every fisherman know that, for every moment of catching, there are hours of drifting, and feeding out line, and unsnagging hooks that have caught on a watery obstruction. During those quiet times, Woody liked to talk, and smoke, and laugh. He talked about how he tried to take down at least once moose a year, for food. He talked about how the price for pelts isn’t what it once was. He talked about his ex-wife, and his sons. He talked about where he’s fished before and where he hoped to camp for a week or two this coming summer.
And he talked, often and forcefully, about the issues confronting the First Nation in Canada — the negotiations with the Ontario provincial and federal government on new treaties, the involvement of some new tribe that he thought was trying to bargain away the Algonquin’s rights, and his mistrust for the deals and arrangements that were being offered. He knew every treaty involving the First Nation, by name and date and contents. He made me realize that those little bits of history that we learned in school that seemed so dusty and abstract had an enormous and continuing impact on this interesting man and his friends and family. Sitting on that boat with Woody, as he talked and bailed and lit another cigarette, gave me a different perspective on things.
I’m glad Woody helped us catch some fish, but mostly I’m just glad I met Woody Becker.
Since he retired to the Tar Heel State my friend the Brown Bear has been prowling the wilds of North Carolina, exploring remote streams and searching for the elusive brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout. Although he is by training and temperament an angler, he occasionally can take a pretty good photo — like this shot of one of his secret, sun-dappled fishing spots, deep in the Carolina woods, on a warm late summer day.
One of my friends, the Brown Bear, recently retired to a life of fishing and frolicking in Asheville, North Carolina. He goes to UNC-Asheville basketball games, walks his dog, audits classes at the college, brags shamelessly about the special beers brewed in the area, and occasionally — to really torment me — will send photos of the views on his hikes to secret streams where he leads “water aerobics” classes featuring the elusive brook trout.
It’s pretty country down there, if you don’t get sick of all of the Carolina Blue.
Last Saturday Russell and I tried an hour or so of fishing, because when you are at a fishing club and you’ve spent $21 for a Canadian fishing license, you probably should try to fish. So we commandeered one of the Quinnebog Fishing Club boats and a few rods and reel, got a small cooler of worms, and set out onto Lake Erie with Russell manning the outboard.
Unfortunately, we didn’t catch any fish. Indeed, we didn’t get so much as a nibble. The Lake was calm and other fishermen who tried that day were reporting that they had no luck, either. From our brief expedition, however, I have drawn the following conclusions:
1. Fishing is one of those exercises that look easy, but really aren’t. There are a lot of moving parts: knowing the good spots where fish might be found, determining the right lures and bait, deciding whether to troll or cast, and so forth. If you don’t know what you are doing — and I don’t — you are in the laps of the gods.
2. I stink at casting. I mean, I really stink. Not only can I not get the hook and bait more than a few feet from the boat, I inevitably tangle up the line every four or five “casts” and then have to painstakingly try to unsnarl things or cut the line and start over. This process teaches you the palliative power of curse words, as well as patience.
3. You are a very attractive target for biting flies when you are out in a boat, with no other sources for bloodsucking in the immediate vicinity.
4. Even if you don’t catch anything, it is fun and relaxing to skim the surface of a lake in a small craft on a bright summer’s day, stake out a spot, and then drift listlessly while you try your luck.
5. I think I’d like to try it again.