With the warmth of another spring now approaching, I often find myself daydreaming during my full work schedule… longing to have a rod and reel in my hands and to be surrounded by the churning sound of river currents instead of the monotony of the daily grind.
I learned to love fishing as a young boy. My early childhood was spent in the rural town of Bishop, California, which was nestled up in the base of the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains. My father worked as a milk delivery man and ran his route up in the beautiful resort towns and shops which dotted the surrounding highlands. I often rode with him on summer days when out of school to load and deliver the milk, cheese and ice creams to the various locals.
Because his job started early in the morning, it also meant he was done in the early afternoon. Many a weekend saw us loading up our gear on a Friday afternoon, piling the family and our dog into the van or pickup truck, throwing our camping and fishing gear in the back, and venturing out into the wild for a weekend of drowning worms, spinning lures and chatting the nights away around a campfire.
Oh, those were days to be remembered, and such was the humble birth of my love for fishing. Since those days, I’ve waded many a stream and river in search of that intoxicating and addictive sensation of a pole vibrating in my hands by the force of an unseen quarry beneath the ripples.
In addition to those early California waters, my lines have danced the depths of the San Juan, Provo, Green, Madison and Kenai rivers just to name a very few scattered among Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Alaska.
I’ve even had the pleasure of hoisting some delicious Halibut off the Ocean floor (along with a 300 lb. tangle of red sea kelp – but that’s another story altogether).
But despite these many adventures and memorable catches, it is something altogether different I would like to reminisce about today.
Now I will admit that a strange phenomenon often occurs between the time a guy pulls a fish from the water and when he has an opportunity to tell somebody else about it. A magical force takes a hold of the specimen and somehow turns the smallest of pan fish into lardy lunkers that test the limits of a man and his equipment. This power of piscatorial pettifoggery will often make an otherwise honest man tell a little white lie now and again.
But the type of fishing deception I want to share today has nothing at all to do with the size of the catch, but rather the cloak and dagger ingenuity that was implemented to bring the bulging trout into our possession.
It was in those early days of Bishop, California and I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old at the time. It was a hot, lazy summer day and my older brother, Dirk, and I had our slightly older early teenage cousin, Todd, staying with us for a few days. Bishop was a great town to grow up in. It was a carefree time in history when even young kids could roam a town from end to end without a worry in the world.
Where we lived, at 352 May Street, there was a great city park only a few blocks and a short cut through a small field away. In the middle of that park was calm, relaxing lake, which just happened to be stocked with rather large trout. A boardwalk extended out into the middle of the lake where a large Gazebo allowed visitors to enjoy the water’s beauty and toss food to the large rainbows which swarmed below the surface. Of course it was completely illegal to fish in the city park, so the trout grew huge, uninhibited and accustomed to human presence, which they associated with food. For three bored boys who loved to catch fish, they mockingly glided beneath the surface, taunting us with twitching tails.
For our young cognitive processes, it wasn’t a matter of whether we would break the rules to try and catch the illegal fish; it was how to do it without getting caught that was our moral dilemma. You couldn’t exactly carry a 5’ pole out onto a public pond in the middle of broad daylight, cast, and reel a splashing fish up over the rail of a gazebo without being noticed.
Our trio of mental powers combined for some time over how the task could be accomplished. A few orange sodas and ice cream bars later, we hatched a brilliantly devious “get-away-with-it” plan that would have made Houdini scratch his head and wonder how we’d done it.
We scrambled home to grab our supplies and make the necessary preparations, our boredom now extinguished in the adrenaline rush that such vile, juvenile criminals as ourselves were now experiencing. Returning to the park to perform the dirty deed, we had to contain our enthusiasm for some time as other townsfolk lounged about the gazebo, taking in the relaxing view, as our impatient eyes drilled holes into their backs in attempt to make them leave.
Finally, when we found ourselves alone on the gazebo, we unleashed our dastardly surprise. Lifting our pant legs, we removed the rolled up fishing line tucked inside our socks, applied a small amount of bait to the hooks and dropped the line between the rungs of the gazebo and into the water below. The fishing line ran all the way up the inside or our pant legs and came out the top of the waist where it was tied off securely on our belts. Therefore, standing as nonchalantly as fishing delinquent boys can do, we appeared to be doing nothing more than casually watching the fish below.
The real excitement started as soon as the first of us actually hooked a fish. Then the process truly began! Grabbing the fishing line at your belt, you had to haul the line upward, somehow getting the rather startled and never-before-been-hooked fish up out of the water, between the rungs of the gazebo and right on up into the now slithering and slimy inside of your pant leg! Then it was a simple process of pulling your sock up over the fish’s tail and you were ready to go.
Because the fish were used to being harmlessly fed, it was only a matter of a few minutes before the three of us had our catch and were walking homeward. I’m sure it must have been a rather curious sight for any passersby who might have seen us; three young limping kids, each with one severely swollen lower leg that suffered periodic writhing muscle spasms and oozed a fishy smelling fluid. We were lucky no one called an ambulance for us before we made it back home!
When we safely secured ourselves in our fenced back yard on May Street, we extracted the now partially rigor-mortise fish from our pants and began our jubilant celebration of success, by finding a knife to begin the gutting and cleaning process. Our victory was complete. We had broken the rules of the stupid city adults, who had obviously only put them in place to prevent young boys from having fun… and we had gotten away with it! No one had ever planned a heist so stealthy and sophisticated!
“And just where exactly did you three boy get those fish?” Our mother’s voice of judgment called from behind us.
We nearly jumped out of our skins! BUSTED!!! How could we have been so foolish and blind? In our attempt to conceal our secret sins from others, we had failed to consider those who watched over us the most, our own parents.
Mom was upset, but luckily, she was also forgiving. She didn’t call the fish cops on us, but she did make us throw the fish into the garbage. Despite our protests that we wanted to eat them, she didn’t let us have enjoyment in our misbehavior, and reminded us that the poor fish had regularly spent their lives dining on not only bread and fish food, but also all the cigarette butts, aluminum can tops, and any other garbage people threw into the water at them. Not to mention that they had become half dried and covered with sweat from our legs in the summer heat on the journey home. Instead, she made us wash up and provided some sandwiches for lunch. It didn’t seem as exciting as frying up our fish, but it was probably the more healthy option. The rest of the day included some chores as punishment, but also time to play games and enjoy some good, honest fun.
And such it is with life. For some reason, we often feel compelled, like stupid children without the foresight to see the consequences of our actions, to think we can somehow violate the laws and commandments put in place for our well-being, and get away with it. But no matter how much we try to conceal our deviant actions from the probing eyes of others, our Heavenly Parent always knows of our indiscretions.
Luckily for us, He is also very patient, loving and forgiving. And while He doesn’t let us find lasting enjoyment in our sins, and sometimes makes us work our way back into His grace, He is quick to bless us and show a better way to true happiness and joy.
After all these years, the addiction of having a rod in hand and a fish on the end of my line is still there. But thanks to the lesson learned long ago in my youth, I have learned to find much more enjoyment in the process of fishing within the rules and regulations.
Life teaches us many lessons… if only we were smart enough so we didn’t have to learn them the hard way!