It had been over thirty years since the last time I had been fishing. As I stood on the bank of the Colorado River watching the gray light of dawn slowly push the night away. I was filled with the same hope that I could remember feeling all those many years ago every time I went fishing.
I could probably count all the fish I have ever caught on the fingers of both hands, with a couple of fingers left over. Obviously, I was not a great fisherman, but my lack of success did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm.
As a boy, I lived for the opening day of fishing season. For weeks I had been reading about where to go and what to use to catch bass, salmon, walleye pike, muskie, crappies, catfish and trout. I read about what equipment to use, and would savor the magic of names like Shakespeare, Garcia and Zebco, and would pour over their ads for rods and reels. I had read about the secrets of catching the "Big Ones," the lunkers that were lying in waiting in hidden pools.
It was unfortunate that my dreams always took a back seat to reality. The few quarters that I managed to earn mowing the neighbor's lawn or washing cars could do little more than allow me to buy a fishing license and only the most basic equipment.
Every spring, as the beginning of fishing season approached, the stores in town would have a big sale on fishing tackle. It seemed that the only thing that mattered was insuring that every fisherman had enough of the right equipment for the opening day of fishing season. Customers and clerks would exchange secrets on where to go and the best bait or lure to use. I would travel from store to store, and listen in on their conversations. I never once recall being reprimanded for my eavesdropping. There were even times when a customer would turn and address me, and give me some pointer or piece of advice to improve my fishing. I listened to everything they had to say, and made mental notes that I hoped I could remember. Afterward, I would examine the big racks of fishing equipment, wanting to make my few coins stretch as far as possible.
It had never bothered me that no one else in my family was interested in fishing, that is, no one except my older brother Larry. But then, he only fished occasionally, and on those occasions he would borrow my equipment. That was only fair, because most of what I originally started with had come from his tackle box. My dad often voiced the opinion that fishermen were a bunch of "Goofs," and could not understand why a grown man would want to waste his time fishing. I guess he felt that fishing was a sport for boys, because he never said or did anything to discourage me. There were times that he was actually kind of proud.
Like the time that Larry caught his first fish. It happened at one of our family's infrequent picnics. My dad had found a nice campsite near the bottom of the old Pine View Dam. Mom had spread a blanket on the ground and we had all sat on it while we ate lunch. After eating, Francis, my older sister and I played while Larry went fishing in the nearby Ogden River. About the time that we began to pack everything back in the car for the journey home, Larry came running back into camp. He excitedly exclaimed, "I caught a fish." And he had. It was a beauty. It was a rainbow trout about twelve to fourteen inches long. Dad seemed as pleased as if he had caught it himself. "I didn't think there would be any fish in the river" he had said, "I'm surprised that all the people had not scared them away."
As we drove back home, Larry held the fish on his lap, gazing at it and said "Isn't it a beauty?" "Sure is" I had replied. I did not know a thing about fish then, so if he said it was a beauty, I was not going to argue with him. Besides, it did seem pretty impressive.
It wasn't until later that I was introduced to fishing. Larry and I had been given old, (even then) metal telescoping fishing poles. I am not sure where they had come from, although I believe that they had been given to us by one of our uncles. Larry helped me rig it up with a reel, fishing line, hooks and sinkers. He taught me the special way to tie a hook on so it would not pull loose. How to use a "leader" on the end of the fishing line, and of how to put the lead "sinkers" on the line so they would not slip.
Somewhere I found an old tool box that quickly became a tackle box. I gradually began to fill it with an assortment of plastic bobbers, spinners, dry flies and anything else that I felt a well-equipped fisherman should carry. I had also managed to accumulate items that were not of any immediate use, such as my fishing lures. Now I was not sure if I would ever get the chance to fish for large mouth bass, but if I did, I had the right lure for it.
I went fishing at every opportunity. The nearest place to fish was the Ogden River that ran through the middle of town. It was only a few blocks from home, and I spent hundreds of hours fishing that river. For some reason, I was never felt disappointed that I never caught a fish. Part of the reason was that after a few unsuccessful attempts, I became bored and my attention would be diverted elsewhere.
There were schools of minnows, and with a cup and a bucket I would try to catch them. Sometimes I would walk along the bank, exploring different parts of the river, or looking for some treasure that had been carried downstream by the river and left along the bank.
One of my happiest moments was the day I got a new fishing pole. My family had attended a picnic sponsored by the labor union that dad belonged to. They were having a drawing, and when my name was called, I was presented with a fishing pole. I ran back to the table where my parents were sitting and began to carefully unwrap it. I untied the string and pulled the pole from its cloth carrying case.
It was a gun metal gray "spin cast" pole, with a cork handle and trigger grip to help control the spinning reel that set in a specially designed recess in the handle. I flipped it back and forth in a spin cast motion, feeling the spring of the tip and testing the balance. It was perfect. I could hardly wait to get home and go fishing. Dad was as surprised as I. He could not believe that I had won the pole instead of some old geezer that had no real use for it. We talked of getting a fancy spinning reel for it, but it never happened. My birthday and Christmas came after fishing season had closed, and I would never have enough money to buy one by myself. I was content with a cheap "bait reel" that only cost fifty cents.
It was on a fishing trip with Larry that I caught my first fish. The morning was sunny, bright and full of promise for success. We loaded our gear and a cardboard milk carton full of "Night crawlers" in the back seat of his car and headed off to try our luck. We traveled north, up Ogden Canyon, past Pine View Dam and into South Fork Canyon.
Larry finally pulled the car off the road at what he said looked to be "as good as spot as any." We got our poles, grabbed a handful of worms, and set off for the river. We agreed to meet back at the car in about an hour.
I walked along the bank, occasionally stopping near what appeared to be a deep pool. After carefully baiting the "Eagle Claw" hook I was using with a nightcrawler, I dropped it into the river far enough above the pool so that the current would carry it into the pool and tease the "big lunker" down there to take a bite. This was a technique I had read about, and it was my first opportunity to test that theory. It should not come as any surprise that it did not work. At least, it did not work for me.
After two or three hours it became apparent that, if there were any fish in that river, they were not interested in what we had to offer. We had tried a couple more spots before Larry decided to call it a day. He was getting discouraged. I wasn't however, I was used to not catching anything. We put our poles and equipment back in the car and started back home. We drove along in silence following the afternoon sun down the canyon. Coming out of the canyon and just outside of Huntsville, we passed a sign advertising a fish farm. I was surprised when Larry slowed the car and turned onto the narrow dirt road that led along a narrow canal to the fish farm. He pulled up near an old building that served as the office, and we got out and walked over to the canal.
There were already several other customers, some standing around, others with poles catching fish. It seemed that their hooks no sooner hit the water before several trout were battling to grab the bait. I had never seen anything like it before, and stood watching, totally amazed. There were whoops and hollers from the fishermen as they pulled their prizes out of the water and onto the bank. I jumped back when one of these "monster" fish landed near me and began to flop around wildly, trying to get back into the water. I had never seen a fish that big before.
My reverie was broken when Larry came over and told me to get my pole. I was stunned. I believe he had to tell me at least twice before I finally realized what he was saying.
I ran over to the car and took my pole out of the back seat, pausing just long enough to grab the carton of worms. This got a laugh from Larry and the men who ran the place. I ignored their comments as I carefully baited the hook. I was a fisherman, and I wanted to do it right. The fact that I could have used a stick or piece of paper for bait and still caught a fish was not important to me at that time.
I kind of regret that I was not given any time to savor the moment. My baited hook no sooner hit the water and I had my first fish on the line. I pulled it up on the bank, and before I could bend down to pick it up, one of the guys who worked there, reached down and grabbed it. He deftly removed the hook from the mouth of the trout, then smiling, asked me if I wanted to go again. I looked over at Larry, and he nodded yes, telling me to "catch one for him." I repeated the process, only this time I through my hook out further in the water so I could at least play with it a little bit before I reeled it in.
The fish were taken into the office where they were quickly cleaned and measured. Larry dug in his pocket and paid the man two or three dollars for the fish, and we climbed back in the car for the trip home. On the way, Larry told me not to tell anyone how we had caught the fish. It would be our little secret. It was a secret I was more than happy to keep, but ironically, Larry let slip that we had had our success at a fish farm. That occurred some time later, but even the truth did nothing to tarnish the joy of those minutes and catching my first fish.
When we arrived home, I proudly took my prizes into the house to show mom. Larry got his camera, and had me pose in the backyard with the fish. Later he fired up the bar-b-q grill and broiled the trout. They were delicious. I was surprised that he did not want to help me eat them. After taking them off the grill and putting them on a plate, he went into the house and left me in the backyard. I sat there, savoring every bite, and wondered if he had any idea what he was missing.
Now here I was thirty years later, sitting on the bank of a river trying to catch a fish. I had a beautiful new Shakespeare rod and reel, and a tackle box filled with the latest in fishing equipment. I was using "Super bait" instead of worms. After about an hour, I packed up my gear and headed toward the car. I chuckled to myself as I walked along, I could not help notice the irony, I had the latest equipment, but the same old luck. I guess some things never change.