Fish Fishing in America

- an apology to Richard Brautigan

"An errant fly found its way into my apartment today to announce that it's officially spring and to remind me the window screens haven't been installed. A sharp THWACK of a folded newspaper announced the start of the 2008 fly hunting season. Albert Schweitzer's ghost was displeased."

- notebook entry, April 12

Then I installed the screens.

With spring officially sprung, screens hung, and nothing else particularly pressing to tend to, it was time to head up to Highland Lake: a longtime and frequent destination for a number of reasons. But the attraction now is a peculiar blend of being both different yet faintly familiar.

"A lone boat cuts a path down what a scant two weeks earlier was a thick layer of ice. From my vantage point, I'm viewing this through a swarm of gnats. Another harbinger of the seasonal change."

- notebook entry, April 12

Gnats was a guess. I'm not an emtomologist, or any other kind of "ologist." Other than the errant fly that found its way into my apartment, these gnats are the first flying insects I've seen this year.

As it warms up, the swarms form little, concentrated clouds that drift about. A sudden breeze disperses them, yet they regroup into whatever form of community they maintain. They'll be over the water later.

"The ice is two weeks gone. The trout - both natives and freshly stocked sacrificial immigrants - are hungry."

- notebook entry: April 12, 2008

There's an eery calm over the lake. A cloud of gnats drifts out over the water. Some fly high, others just off the surface. It's the daredevils who chance being dinner for trout that are often acrobatic in their dining habits.

Suddenly the glass-like surface of the lake shatters into an explosion of water particles. A brown or rainbow vaults skyward, deftly plucks a gnat out of thin air, and crashes back into the lake.

And for the first time in too many years I'm actually looking forward to the start of fishing season.


"How long has it been since I've actually fished? Last time must have been the early 1980s at the Connecticut River in East Windsor. So that makes it nearly 30 years.

Of course, it has been much longer since I actually caught a fish ..."

- notebook entry: September 14, 2007

I even started taking more silly notes, apparently to chronicle this paradigm shift in the way discretionary time is spent:

"2:55 P.M. Caught a young small mouth bass on a Rapala. However, from a weight point of view, I landed more lake weed than fish today, though that's fine by me."

- notebook entry, April 19, Opening Day 2008

Catching a fish on opening day is a good omen. And I'd rather snag and haul in lake weed than have the DEP dumping chemicals into the lake to "control" them.

"Caught a small bluegill on a plain, copper Mepps spinner ... later lost line and lure when a decent size bass hit around 15-feet out from the end of the dock. Only got about five feet of line retrieved when it snapped, though I did get to see the fish turn sideways in the water just before I lost it.

- notebook entry, April 21

And it was a pretty fish.

My tackle box is plastic and inexpensive. Inside are six or so lures, a few hooks, cork, tin of Copenhagen, and Leatherman multi-purpose tool. The Leatherman cost more than everything else within, and including, the tackle box!

That said, the loss of the Mepps spinner was significant and opened a serious void in this minimalist fishing arsenal. A visit to the perennial Winsted News was in order.

Yes, our local news store sells fishing lures. This is small town America. Want to make something of it?

When the proprietor heard the obligatory Fish Story about the loss of the Mepps and my actual seeing the monster responsible for said loss, he smiled and enthusiastically replied, "Yeah, but that's exactly what keeps us coming back!" And that enthusiasm in the voice was like an odd music: the veiled song of a kindred soul.

Though not exactly the lure wanted, I did pick up some a Mepps dressed Aglia and some swivel snaps. They were out of Daredevles, too. Dammit.

"Landed a small bluegill. Lost a medium bluegill and a lunker bass. All of today's fishing done with the new Mepps, which I didn't lose!"

- notebook entry, April 22

I got back to thinking about my visit to the Winsted News and what the proprietor said, though not so much what he said, but how he said it with such unashamed enthusiasm. It's that very enthusiasm we seldom witness. Whether worn down by time, poisoned by cynicism, or plain old sour grapes, it's rare to see such zest for either avocation or life in general.

When did this robbery occur?

The mystique. The wonder. The otherworld. The unknown. What lives down there? How many? What breeds? How large? Where? What about the lake bottom topography, or bottomography, if you will? You know - all those things we accept and take for granted without further thought as adults, yet yearned to know about in the innocence of childhood curiosity.

"As I was desirous to recover the long lost bottom of Walden Pond, I surveyed it carefully, before the ice broke up, early in '46, with compass and chain and sounding line. There have been many stories told about the bottom, or rather no bottom, of this pond, which certainly had no foundation for themselves. It is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it."

- from Walden, by Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau never lost The Curiosity. As chronicled in Chapter 16, The Pond in Winter, he formed a grid, chopped holes, dropped and retrieved sounding lines, measured same, recorded data, and drew maps.

Today he'd be prescribed Zoloft® ...

Instead of some self-important and foolish emulation of Thoreau's detailed analysis of anything and everything, I canned the idea of maniacal record keeping of every fish caught, its size, weight, breed, and implement of trickery used, either lure of live bait, to outsmart these marine creatures.

The laptop stays at home, though notebook and pencil remain.

For now and the foreseeable future, the $30, "fully" stocked, el-cheapo, Wal-Mart tackle box and old, used rod and reel will do just fine. Though a far cry from the classic barefoot boy's bamboo rod and tin can of worms, by 2008 standards it's simple, inexpensive, uncomplicated fun.

Fishing for fish and tranquil contemplation. And that's quite enough.


Caught a feisty little bluegill on the replacement Rapala. Hit and fought like a lunker, once again proving size doesn't matter with bluegills: they're the "little man syndrome" of fresh water fish.

- notebook entry, June 9

Wonder refreshed, enthusiasm recharged.