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April 26, 2011 / flogginwater

Contest Essay – My Most Treasured Fishing Memory

To my readers: The OwlJones.com / Rise Fishing Company rod giveaway contest is getting close to being over. I’m not sure what else Owl has in store for us, but this week he’s got us writing our second essay – this one being true – not fictional like the last essay. I must admit that I can’t pick just one single memory – but then again, I’ve been fishing for 27 years – ever since I was 3 years old – and there’s been a LOT of fond memories made. Without further adieu, my essay:

I can’t pick a single memory and say it’s my most treasured. In all my years of fishing – I’ve had so many great experiences, trips, and adventures I honestly can’t pick.

From the time I was old enough to pick up an old Zebco 202, I’ve been a fisherman. I would practice casting in our back yard, eventually being able to knock the head off of a flower from 30 feet by the time I was four years old. During that time – my family had a membership with a private camper’s association – the Camper’s Hideaway on Lake Merwin outside Amboy, Washington. My parents owned a 35 foot fifth-wheel trailer that they’d built a cabin around up there, and every weekend when my dad got off work, we piled into the car and headed north. Weekends were filled with relaxing around the cabin, fishing, visiting with friends. The fishing I don’t remember a lot of – except for one very memorable, short trip. I was four years old, and my dad took me down to one of the docks below the campground. I had my trusty Zebco rod & reel with me, and I had convinced (okay, I threw a tantrum until he relented) my dad to buy me some plastic worms to fish with. They were purple, with a pink curly tail, 4 or 5 inch. Dad rigged my pole up with the ubiquitous red & white plastic clip on bobber, a small tear drop weight, and a #6 snelled hook, that he impaled the plastic worm on. Dad honestly didn’t expect me to catch any fish – but I loved fishing, even if I didn’t get anything. Standing at the end of the dock, I cast my bait out into the cold, clear waters of the reservoir. “Okay, reel in that slack,” my dad would say. I’d crank the handle until the little bobber started moving toward me.

Suddenly the bobber disappeared. I gave a mighty yank on the rod, setting the hook into a whale of a fish! The fish was strong, and it made a quick run straight at us. I reeled in the slack line as fast as I could, looking back, I think the thing that saved me from loosing the fish was that little red & white bobber, keeping just enough pressure on the fish as he pulled it through the water, to prevent him from spitting the hook. The fish dove straight under the dock – and then it happened. My dad yanked the rod right out of my hands! He didn’t want the fish to get away, and he didn’t have enough confidence in my ability to land it. I do believe I started to cry, and I gave my old man hell for taking away my fishing rod! He did land the fish – a nickel bright 16″ kokanee (land locked sockeye salmon.) Dad took photos of me and my fish, and I wouldn’t let him cut the fish’s head off for a couple years. He froze the fish, and every few months I’d make him pull it out of the freezer so I could show it off to family and friends, or take a picture of me with the fish in the back yard. I did finally eat the fish – when I was 5. I don’t remember how it tasted, or even how it was prepared. My mom only knew two ways of cooking fish – breaded & fried, or baked with lemon juice and butter. For years, I’ve given my dad grief about taking my rod out of my hands.

A couple years later, my dad, my brother Leonard, and I were fishing out of dad’s little 11 foot fiberglass skiff on Henry Hagg Lake here in Oregon. Hagg Lake is the closest lake to home, and the only large reservoir in Washington County. It’s also one of the best still water bass fisheries in the state, and used to have a really good reputation for trout fishing. We started fishing early in the morning, motoring over to dad’s favorite cove. We dropped anchor in the usual spot and dropped our bait – night crawlers pinched in half and impaled on a #6 Eagle Claw baitholder snelled hook – to the bottom. We hadn’t got a nibble in an hour or so of fishing, so I started doing what kids do – and I reeled my line in bit and jiggled the rod up and down (this was my unintentional introduction into the art of jig fishing). I got a bite, and set the hook. I brought a fat little 12″ stocker rainbow to the net. Then another. And another. Then for good measure, I added a 14″ largemouth bass to the mix, and wound up catching a limit of 5 trout plus that bass, all within about half an hour’s time. My dad and brother, fishing no more than three feet away from me on either side – got skunked. I had a stringer full of fish, which was the envy of many anglers back at the dock.

A few months later, on the same lake, in the same little boat – we almost got sunk at the dock. It was late in the afternoon, and we had started to head in. Another, larger boat was nearby, passing us at full throttle – which was a serious no-no on the half of the lake we were on (Hagg Lake has a large no-wake zone covering the entire northern end of the lake, the south end of the lake having a 30 knot speed limit). The lake is patrolled by the Sheriff, and the deputy working the marine detail was on the ball that day. He tried stopping the speeding boater, and the guy in the hot rod boat must’ve thought that fleeing from the police was only a crime on land. We had made it back to the dock, when the speeding boater came roaring up to the dock, probably in an effort to get his boat loaded before the sheriff caught up. The big power boat sent a wake 3 feet high as he came up to the dock – it slopped waves over the dock’s deck, and damn near put our boat ON the dock, then as the wave broke, it almost came over our gunnels.

The operator of that boat didn’t realize that the sheriff’s office had a deputy in a car checking the parking areas and monitoring traffic on the road around the lake this day, and that deputy was waiting at the top of the ramp, and met the fleeing boater at the end of the dock. We watched as they arrested the man – and his companions wound up loading up the boat without him. I can’t begin to imagine what he was thinking. Even if there hadn’t been a deputy in a car waiting for him, there was no possible way he would’ve gotten his truck & trailer back down, and the boat loaded onto the trailer before the police boat arrived at the dock. I don’t remember how many fish we caught, but I sure do remember the adventure at the dock!

When I was about 12, we took a family vacation to Kansas. My dad’s oldest children, save one, all live there. We would go back to visit them – but mainly we went back there to fish for catfish and crappie. The neat thing about Kansas, compared to Oregon, is that they allow you to fish 2 rods, without buying a special stamp for it, or restricting where you can do so. We took advantage of this when we were seeking cats to put in the freezer. The last fishing day of that trip, we were fishing on Pomona Lake (Res.) outside the town of Pomona. This was my dad’s favorite lake to fish when we were there, so we fished it often. We’d moved around the lake, doing some exploring, looking for some big cats to take home with us. Dad & I set up our rods on one side of a point, mom chose the other (it was more shaded). I had cast my first line out – baited up with a gob of night crawlers, and proceeded to rig up my second rod. When I turned around to cast my second line out, something was wrong. I couldn’t see my first rod! I looked around and it wasn’t anywhere on the bank. Then I saw it – in two feet of water, rapidly making way for the middle of the lake! I dropped the rod in my hand and ran into the water. I was in thigh deep water when I grabbed it. I set the hook (probably unnecessary, but instinctual) and the fight was on! A few minutes later, I banked and released a 5lb drum. I was thrilled and excited, and it taught me a valuable lesson – keep an eye on your gear!

Earlier on that same trip – I caught and landed my first ever common carp – on a 4’6″ Quantum Micro spinning rod with matching tiny reel. The tip of the rod was about as thick as a thin tooth pick, the butt of the rod was half the diameter of a #2 pencil. The thin EVA foam rod handle had two plastic sliding bands holding the palm-sized spinning reel on. I loaded that rod up with 4lb test co-polymer line that I’d won from the North American Fishing Club (my dad had bought me a membership back then.) I had great fun fishing with that rod for crappie and bluegill – they really put up a fight. Then one afternoon we went to our default starting spot on Pomona – a sheltered cove that had a fishing dock, complete with cleaning station on it – to get a mess of fish. Floating out in that cove was a fish feeder. We watched it kick on once, and the whole cove came alive with fish. We couldn’t tell what kind – I figured probably panfish. I was wrong. The second time that feeder kicked in, I fired half a night crawler on a #8 hook, fished weightlessly under a tiny Thill float out into the melee, hoping to get a fat crappie or bluegill. The worm hadn’t had a chance to sink six inches, when the float shot under. I set the hook, and my tiny, tiny reel cried out in pain! Line was zipping off faster than I’d ever seen, and I knew I didn’t have a panfish on. My first thought was catfish – a good one at that. I somehow turned the fish with about ten wraps of line left on the spool, and gained my line back – the first time. Five minutes of cranking and pumping and pumping and cranking, and I had the fish close. I still couldn’t see what it was, and the fish wasn’t in the mood to let me yet. He took off again, taking almost all of my line, down to the last three wraps. I was sure I’d loose this fish – my dad was looking on, standing close by with the landing net. We were both having visions of a 10 lb catfish at this point. I brought the fish back in close to the feeder, and it decided to make yet another run. I was getting worn out, and wondering if my little rod was going to explode and fill my face with graphite shrapnel, as I’d read in some older Field & Stream editions. A full half an hour after I first hooked the beast, I brought it close enough to shore to see that my prize was not a catfish, but a carp. Dad netted the lippy fish, and we put him on the trusty DeLiar scale. Just a hair over 5lbs. Being a carp, no one wanted to eat him, so I let the fish go, gently pumping him back and forth in the water like I’d seen the trout fishing guys on TV do. Didn’t take long for the carp to let me know he tired of my company, and with a strong kick of his tail, he shot from my grip and headed for the depths. You couldn’t wipe the grin from my face for the rest of the afternoon with a round house kick from Chuck Norris himself!

A few years later my family made a trip to Alaska, by way of the Al-Can Highway. On the trip back home, we stopped at many Canadian lakes (lots of rest areas in Canada are attached to lakes, at least the ones we saw on that trip) and I did some unsuccessful trout fishing. There were two remarkable events on that trip home. First – we’d stopped at a lake in the Northwest Territories, and I was tossing every lure I had in my tackle box – rooster tails, kastmaster spoons, dare devils – and got nothing. Just as my dad & I were heading back to the motor home to get going, this middle aged fellow with a full beard stopped us and said “Here, try one of these,” and he handed me a large spoon – the body was about four inches long, brass bodied, the top side was two tone – half red and half white. We thanked the man, and went our separate ways. I didn’t get fish that trip with that spoon – but it would later prove magical on coho salmon on a small southwest Washington river, until getting hung up and broken off in a tangle of roots on the far bank.

The second memorable event from Canada came from yet another fishless (I actually never did get a fish in Canada, something I hope to one day correct!) stop at a gorgeous little gin-clear lake. There were fish everywhere – I could see them swimming around, I could see them rising. I threw my trusty rooster tails and daredevils, I even broke down and tried the salmon-size spoon out of frustration. Nada. Then this other fellow stopped, and as his wife or girlfriend was walking their dog, he waded out into the water with a fly rod. I watched him strip off some line from his reel, then he began false casting. This was the first time I’d witnessed fly fishing in person – I’d soaked it up on the television fishing shows – but never actually saw anyone do it right in front of me. Finally, the man let his line alight on the water. A moment later he gave the rod a quick lift, the brightly colored line went tight, and he was playing a fish. I watched him land that fish, and half a dozen others before my dad said it was time to go. Right there, at that moment in time, I decided to learn to fly fish.

When we got home, I dug through my dad’s magazines and books – finally finding an ancient copy of the Popular Mechanics Encyclopedia that had an article on how to fly cast. My brother had an old Eagle Claw fly rod, with a Medalist reel and a level fly line hanging on the wall – unused. I bought a package of Danielson wet flies, which were sold in bubble packed cards, $4 for a dozen. I took that encyclopedia, and that old Eagle Claw rod into the back yard and started teaching myself how to cast. I didn’t know it then, but that setup was completely inadequate – and improperly set up. the fly line, for starters, was wound directly on the arbor of the reel, without backing. The rod was an 8’6″ 8 weight, the line was either a number 5 or 6, level line. My leader consisted of a level piece of 8lb Trilene. It took a season of reading fly fishing books and magazines, including a hard back copy of John Gierach’s Trout Bum, before I realized just how bad that first setup was. I saved my allowance and bought a “better” rod, and a double tapered line to match it.

My first fly-caught fish was a bluegill. I cheated with that one too – not being completely confident that just a sparsely decorated hook could catch a fish by itself, I added a small bit of “garden hackle” to the hook – which the bluegill and pumpkinseeds on Hagg Lake took with gusto. By the next season, I bought another rod – a lightly better rod (a South Bend graphite rod, with a foam grip made to look like cork, and a South Bend knock off of the Pfleuger Medalist) and took my first fly-only caught fish – a small wild cutthroat trout from one of the forks of the Nemah River in southwest Washington. The fly I used for that fish was a small pheasant tail – that I’d gotten from Orvis. I was even using a good, knotless tapered leader and a 5X tippet for that fish – I was learning, and I was actually getting some fish on the fly!

That same year, my dad and I were fishing another fork of the Nemah River, when dad caught his very first salmon. We were fishing on my uncle & aunt’s property – which was on the river. Dad caught a silver bright Coho salmon. I’d never seen my dad RUN before that day. When he landed that fish, he grabbed it through the gills and RAN up the hill to the house, where my mom, aunt, and uncle were all sitting around shooting the bull. Dad HAD to show off his fish. The next day we went up near the hatchery and had a blast, catching and releasing dozens of fish, keeping three fish for dinner, all of them caught on the spoon the nice man in Canada had given me years earlier. That was the ONLY lure those fish would hit, they ignored Blue Fox spoons, spinners, even fresh salmon roe. That red & white brass spoon sent those fish crazy, they would slam it violently. We stopped catching fish after breaking the spoon off in a root wad. On the walk back to the truck, dad’s fish – a buck – unloaded his milt all over dad’s leg. I thought it was hilarious, dad didn’t agree. (I guess having fish jizz on his leg wasn’t such a warm and fuzzy feeling?)

When I was 16, we took another trip back east. On the way out to Kansas, we stopped in Colorado Springs for a few days to visit with my mother’s cousin. For two afternoons, my dad and I fished a small mountain lake just outside the city, for rainbow trout. It was almost surreal fishing – using rooster tail spinners. Dad had a fish literally leap from the water and grab his spinner in the air. It was so good the first day, dad and I went back the next day. We watched a lady fishing for her breakfast, using worms, getting skunked. Dad & I gave that dear lady eight rainbows, the smallest being 12 inches, all caught on spinners. She was delighted!

On the return trip, Dad wanted to stop in Yellowstone for a few days, he reserved an RV camp site for us for four days. Upon arriving in Yellowstone, dad was disappointed to learn that the trout fishing in the park was restricted to artificial flies and lures only, but he kept his chin up, because of our experience in Colorado a couple weeks earlier. I was delighted, and excited, as I was able to actually fish the famed Yellowstone River, and Yellowstone Lake. I had purchased another flyrod on this trip, a Pfleuger Summit 8′ 5 weight, from the Wal-Mart in Colorado Springs. I matched it up with a rim control drag Medalist reel and a weight forward Scientific Anglers line. I caught bluegill on poppers in Kansas with this rod, but I bought it with Yellowstone in mind – and it didn’t disappoint!

The first day of fishing, we tried Yellowstone Lake. After half an hour without a fish on his spinners, dad gave up fishing and was content watching me with my flyrod. I had waded into thigh-deep water, near a group of other fly-fishers. There was an insect hatch coming off – so I tied on a #12 March Brown dry fly – and proceeded to catch fish. Big, beautifully colored Yellowstone cutthroats! They thrashed my March Brown dry. In an hours fishing I had landed six fish, and lost a few more. During one cast I felt a bump on my leg, and looked down to see a fish of about fifteen inches casually swimming between my legs – the fish were everywhere, going crazy feeding on those bugs! The next day we hit up the Yellowstone River, and I caught another half dozen fish on a #8 bead head olive woolly bugger, swung through a run. There were some violent takes and the fish fought really well – in fact, it was on this trip that I experienced a fish taking me into my backing for the first time. The smallest Yellowstone fish I landed on that trip was fifteen inches – my largest just under twenty. I didn’t realize how much I’d gotten spoiled by those fish, until I got home and was back at fishing for 8-12 inch stocker rainbows, that just didn’t fight like those wild, gorgeous cutthroats.

Time passed, I grew older. When I was 20 years old I married my first wife. She had a 4 year old daughter from a previous relationship, and it was my first experience with parenthood. The girl enjoyed fishing – and when she was five I introduced her to one of my favorite ponds. We took my 4 weight fly rod, and I taught her how to dap. Watching the little girl catch her first fish – fairly on a fly (no garden hackle necessary!) – was amazing. She loved it, and so did I. It was a shame that her mother and I were so incompatible, but the problems with adults unfortunately affect their children, and the problems I had with her mother were simply too big to work through. I hope the girl is still fishing.

My 2nd attempt at marriage has so far worked out thousands of times better than the first – and when I married my wife Kay, we took 2 weeks off work for a honeymoon. The first week we spent at the coast – it was her pick. We had much fun exploring, shopping, walking on the beach. I even did a little jetty fishing. The second week of the trip was spent camping and fishing along the Little North Fork of the Santiam River here in Oregon. The LNFS is a beautiful, small trout stream nestled among the foot hills of the Cascades, roughly half way between our state’s capitol, and the town of Detroit – which is most famous for the reservoir named after it. We had a great week of fishing and exploring this drainage, getting lost on a forest road after getting BAD directions to a particular small lake from a BLM Ranger (I’ve sworn off asking forest rangers for directions since then) – but finding the lake anyway. We hiked up stream and down stream on the river itself, catching lots of wild cutthroat and rainbow trout, seeing wild life, and getting the crap scared out of us a couple times by snakes. (I hate snakes) My wife liked taking more pictures than fishing. She somehow thought I looked good in my “frog suit” – as she called my old neoprene Hodgeman waders.

There’s been numerous trips out with my nephew – trying to get him into his first salmon and steelhead (unsuccessfully.) He’s broken a finger, sprained an ankle, taken countless falls, gotten cuts, gotten soaked, gotten cold, and gotten sick in pursuit of these mythical beasts. We’ve pounded water using everything from eggs to flies in the last year. Now he’s switched his focus to carp – and we’re trying to get him his first carp. Poor kid is a decent fisherman, but has had a really bad run of luck this year. Never the less, we’ve made a lot of fun memories. A great trout fishing trip to the Wilson River last summer where I caught a few fat cutthroat, and showed him how to properly fish in-line spinners.

Then there was the trip to Lake Takhenitch with Lewis and his family. His little girl loved playing in the live well with the fishies. She spent most of her time in the front of the boat near me – because I was catching more fish than everyone else. She even reeled in a few fish I hooked – and loved petting the fish before we either put it in the livewell, or releasedit. I am pretty sure she’s going to be a fisher-girl when she gets a little bigger.

There have been other trips, other memories, these are but just a few. Memories that are burned into my brain, trips and faces and events I will never forget. Trips with my dad – he taught me how to fish, and never discouraged me from becoming more than a bait fisherman. Trips with my nephew, who I have been passing my knowledge onto, and who I will be teaching to fly fish this year. Trips with my adopted brother Lewis and his son – where we caught a bucket load of catfish – which I then got to clean. And there are memories to be made – with my wife, my nephews, and most importantly now – my own son, James. I know that my most treasured memory to be, will be watching him catch his first fish. I can’t wait.

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One Comment

  1. d. nash / May 3 2011 20:13

    wow. Just wow.

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