Monday, December 06, 2004

Fishing 101

Every year, I forget to buy a fishing license until about September. Then, all of a sudden, I feel a deep and abiding inner need to sit by a lake not catching any fish, so I spring into action. I race to the nearest sporting goods store, drop 40 dollars on a license, and buy a variety of shiny, smelly or otherwise disturbing items that will help ensure the safety of the fish in my chosen body of water.

It's not as though I've never caught a fish. I should make that clear. There was even a time my friend Chimichanga and I went pier-fishing and caught 30 or so mackerel. That doesn't really count, though. Those fish were suicidal. We would drop a baited hook into the drink, and they would be falling all over for the chance to get killed. What really transpired was that we happened to be right in the middle of a passing school. This was evident when every single other fisherman descended on our location when they spied us bringing up four mackerel at once. In the ensuing frenzy of hooks, reminiscent of a cross between Bassmasters and Hellraiser, five men lost eyes.

So I have in fact caught fish in the past. But usually, I sit there by the side of a lake, contemplating the fact that I got 3 hours of sleep and have consumed too much coffee, and do a really inspiring job of not catching any fish. This time, I decided things would be different. My friends set up a trip to the delta ("the delta" in case you are wondering, is the Sacramento River delta) to not catch some impressive prey: Striped Bass or "stripers". Clearly this is the big time. This is the fish to not catch, if you want to not catch a really impressive fish.

Stripers of thirty pounds or more are caught every season in the delta. I have been told that, at least. On our fishing trip, only one of the six of us who went actually caught a fish, and I have no photographic evidence that even happened. Routinely, in the days leading up to a fishing trip, my friends and I will banter back and forth, firing email salvos proclaiming our illusory fishing prowess.

"Thirty pound striper, huh? I guess that'd be ok."

"Maybe I'll go for sturgeon."

"I am planning on catching an eight foot striped bass and riding him like a dolphin around the delta, waving at you poor saps on the shore."

In reality, I'd be at a loss what to do if I ever reeled a thirty pound striper in. I am confident this will never happen, though.

As I said, I assembled a truly astonishing array of lures for this trip. I had shads. I had Rebel Runners. I had Spinners With Vibrax Action, Rapalas, Hula Poppers, ridiculously large spoon lures, even a tiny rubber diplodocus I picked up in case anything Paleozoic was lurking in the deeps. I should mention that I stopped short of buying a bait that advertised "sex scent". Frankly, I don't want to encourage that sort of thing and wouldn't want to not catch the kind of fish that would respond to such perversion.

We made it out to the delta pretty early in the morning. Early for me, anyway: around seven o'clock. (Of course no matter what time you start fishing, it will be marginally "too late". After the first forty-five minutes or so with no-one so much as tugging your Spinner with Vibrax Action, you will probably get the idea that you should have been there at 5 am. Realistically, if you had gotten there at 5am, you'd just be colder and grumpier, but it is nice to comfort yourself with this sort of self-loathing.)

To summarize the results of the trip, I managed to not catch some really frighteningly large fish. Not that they were ever on my line, you understand. My fishing tactics included casting out a fair distance, and then reeling in my lure with the nagging feeling that I should probably switch to something else. Something more expensive. Then, about ten yards from shore, the lure would get caught on some hazard beneath the surface. Rocks, weeds, logs, dumped bodies. I don't know what. Then I would spend the next five minutes tugging pathetically at the line, trying to free it.

I managed to lose about five lures that day.

The most spectacular lure loss of the day came as we were getting ready to leave. I had decided that what I really needed to do was make a leap of faith. So I reached into my tackle box and pulled out a lure I'd had sitting in there for a good ten years: The Krokodile. The Krokodile is a ridiculously large lure that is advertised as good for stripers. I don't know why I bought the lure in the first place, but it's been with me so long, it's like an old friend. I'd be fishing at some lake, not catching some small trout or blue gill, and I'd see the Krokodile there in the box, and be reminded that one day I'd go for the big game.

I joked to my friend Bindlestick Billy as I tied the lure on my line that I'd probably cast it out and instantly get it snagged.

So, I don't have my Krokodile anymore.

Oh well, maybe I should have used the Sex Scent.

epilogue: The day was not a complete loss, as we stopped at Foster's Big Horn on the way home. Foster's Big Horn has a huge collection of slowly decaying game heads on the walls. The sight of a mounted Dik-Dik really makes you hungry for a patty melt was apparently the owner's business philosophy. So, we may not have caught fish, but we sure ate lunch in a place that had dead animals all over the walls. That's showing those stripers.


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