I have been fishing before. A few times as a child in North Carolina. When I was terrified of catching a fish because every adult around me said I would have to clean and eat it...waste not!
And a handful of times in California. The first time I was told to choose my bait? I was so relieved I had a choice and didn't have to use poor worms that I chose the prettiest of all baits...a little jar of pinkish-orange salmon eggs.
Seems fish in the lakes and rivers of California don't really like pretty. But whenever I fished that was the bait I used. Tiny, tiny little salmon eggs.
Just one. I never doubled up. I never caught a fish, I never even got a nibble. Sometimes I would kinda mumble "got a nibble" or "the fish don't seem to be biting today" but I never really lost a pink egg. It was always there....bright and shiny when I reeled in my hook. And that was another thing, CASTING. I was a great caster! I would cast my line and then quickly...I mean very, very fast...reel it in. If any fish wanted my pretty pinkish-orange salmon egg, they were going to have to work for it! I thought THAT was fishing. The baiting of the tiniest hook with the tiniest of pink egg and then throwing the line out and reeling it in fast and inspecting the egg for nibbles and mumbling my phrase of choice. When my arm was tired I would read my book a while, sunbathe and then do it all over again.
Then I was asked to go fishing while vacationing in Wisconsin. I knew how to fish, no big deal. I had no idea what they meant when they asked what hand I cranked with. I was in the middle of explaining why I thought salmon eggs were the best bait...So, when everyone stopped talking and looked at me...I picked a hand. I had no idea what crank he was talking about. I found out what he meant on the first day of fishing when he handed me a pole that he had put together especially for me. Fortunately, I found out I was a ambidextrous cranker and a left-handed reel worked fine for me.
At 7 in the morning, in a small boat, in the middle of the lake, they each opened their own personal bucket of worms. Now, I have seen plenty of worms before. But the worms I had seen lying pale and small on the city sidewalks in California, after a small rain, were sickly compared to these huge fat worms. They looked like fat baby snakes. They were so big they were only using a half of a worm at a time. So, not only was I expected to use live bait and drown them after piercing them many times....I was expected to tear them apart first. Fortunately, or maybe it was the pale look on my face I get when I have vomit burning the back of my throat..one of my fellow fisherman offered to bait my hook. I quickly said yes....my first test and I failed! But I didn't care much right then. I just wanted to hurry and drown the half worm wriggling on my hook so I wouldn't have to see its suffering anymore. It was the kindest thing to do.
And no casting. The only thing I was good at. The fishermen explained about fishing in the shadow of the boat, how the fish have poor eyesight and the sun hurts their eyes and that they will look for shade. So we just dropped hooks...no bobbers or anything! In about 15 feet of water. And I am thinking...wow, these people have some strange fishing ideas.
Seconds later I felt my first nibble and man, was it a nibble! It was a hard, quick jerk....I had been reading about the huge sturgeon and muskies in the lakes of Wisconsin. I thought oh no, OH NO!...I caught a man size one! A man-sized one with teeth! For a brief second, I seriously considered throwing the pole in the water and letting the toothy man-sized fish have it. I did NOT want to see what size of fish could pull that hard.
But I was brave, I quickly pulled on my pole and reeled in the cutest little pike that I had ever seen.....it was little more than palm sized and was so pretty hanging in the air as I swung my pole around so everyone could see it. That's when I realized I had hooked his eye! My first fish, and as I struggled to get the hook out I was glad I was wearing sunglasses so his one good eye couldn't see my tears. The same hook-baiting fisherman finally had to remove the hook for me. I prayed I wouldn't catch any more. He patted me on the back and said "good job" and damn if he didn't quickly bait my hook again! I glared at him. He didn't notice....they were all laughing about my fish eye.
Seconds later I felt another big tug...I quickly reeled in my hook...hoping to scare the fish away...but nope, I snagged the second one in the tail fin. The other three fishermen got another good laugh about that one too...seemed they thought the tail fin was even funnier. I didn't cry about that one. He seemed pretty calm about it too. Just swam away. Unlike the one I caught in the eye...that one had kinda just floated away, one fin in the air as it rolled on its side. The third one.....I caught in the side. Actually, in the belly, truth be told. This seemed to get the boat a rockin' they were laughing so much. That fish also handled it pretty well and calmly swam away after I unhooked him.
I needed a drink...preferably vodka. It was 0730.
The rest of the morning I learned how to fish the proper way. I didn't drop a line that wasn't quickly nibbled on...I learned how to bait my own hook and set the hook when I got a nibble. Not just jerk on it so it would hook the poor fish anywhere. I learned how to hold the fish when I was removing a hook to cause the least damage...I learned how to tell a pike from a bass....ok, that one took time. I just waited until someone said "you caught a big mouth bass" or "what a good sized pike", before I knew what it was...I learned how to measure size and most importantly I learned how to reel 'em in when they wanted to run the line. The biggest one I caught was 16 inches and it was my finest moment. I actually wanted to kiss it before letting it go. I didn't...but I wanted to for a brief, really brief second.
I even suggested after 5 hours we go back to the bait store and buy leeches and fish longer...that was quickly discouraged!
I had a great time.
That afternoon, I went to Hayward, Wisconsin's Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. I am so glad I went fishing first! Otherwise, I would have NEVER tried to catch anything in those lakes. As you approach the museum.....you notice the giant Muskie that is 4 and half stories tall. It has stairs so that 20 people can climb to the top and stand in his toothy mouth. I am sure it can be seen by anyone orbiting in space. No wonder there are so many UFO sitings in Wisconsin....the aliens want to get a better look at our wildlife. They wont attack us.....They think we have giant fish, with teeth, to protect us! It is a wonderful museum full of interesting facts and stories. But when I saw the Walking Catfish, I actually thought it was a prank. "Walking Catfish".....how funny. I read the little blurb beneath the mounted catfish hanging on the wall. It said that these walking catfish can walk on land and look for other waterways. Apparently...these fish can swim to the shore and then walk around and just jump back in the lake whenever they want! What a cute story.
The horror I felt later that day when I googled "walking catfish" and watched videos of them and realized it was true! I thought I could get in a boat...travel to the middle of the lake and fish and release, fish and release....kind of tease them. Then go safely back to shore and feel a little superior about my walking ability and my breathing out-of-water aptitude. I mean, its not like they can come after you once you are on dry ground.....hah
The rest of that week.....I kept an eye out (and down) for any fish that happened to be walking along the sidewalk. I was positive I would see a few. I mean....I was sure the fish I had caught and released had complained to their walking catfish friends, giving them my description. I mean I had looked them all in the eyes or eye in one case.
Overall, I had a great time fishing.
When I came back to California , I insisted I take my pink FISHERGIRL pole and hit the waters....I insisted on nightcrawlers while everyone else used salmon eggs. I insisted on fishing shallow when everyone else wanted to fish in 90 ft of water. I insisted on fishing in the shade of the boat while everyone else was casting. And guess who caught the one and only fish of the day? Yep, me. (But, I am still scared to Google "walking catfish in California" just in case we have our own version of them. I would rather not know!)