Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pretty Fish Are Big Enough

Little boys didn’t drive or own shotguns in 1956, so I had to be content reading about hunting timberdoodles with setters and Parkers in Field & Stream. Fishing, on the other hand, was not only allowed but encouraged, probably to get me out from under a loving and clever Mom’s feet.
Much of my early fishing was enjoyed with my closest friend and cousin Bill K. We started with dirt cheap bait casting outfits and night crawlers, fishing ponds, streams and lakes for whatever they held. By high school we’d graduated to spinning outfits, slinging plastic worms and Mepps spinners at bass and trout. As happens in life, we saw each other only on major holidays during our college years, blond women for a time replacing brown trout in our dreams.
Walking up trout in streams with a fly rod emerged as my favorite type of fishing after I started teaching. I used my Horrocks-Ibbotson “Ike Walton” fiberglass fly rod (Model #1348) from high school days until 1984 when I had a local TU member build me a custom 8 1/2’ 5 weight made of genuine boron! I upgraded reels at the same time, skyrocketing from my trusty but lowly H-I “Rainbow Reel” (Model #1107) all the way up to a Martin MG-7. I hope you’ll pardon my swagger.
Later in 1984 I received a disturbing surprise from the Be Careful What You Ask For Dept. My wife Nancy was still competing nationally in road races - for example, she was invited to and ran in the ’84 Olympic Trials - and was a marketable, if not quite tier one, “star.”
Nancy and Frank Shorter post race in Montana

The committee of the Anchorage Women’s Marathon solicited her to give pre race clinics, appear on local TV spots, attend some dinners and parties, and hand out roses at the finish line of their August race. For accepting this sweet gig she was awarded an all-expenses 2-week trip to Alaska complete with a financial honorarium. Sweetheart that she is, Nancy negotiated away the cash and turned it into a round trip ticket for me.
One day a local Anchorage paper advertised overnight floatplane mini vacations into nearby fishing lodges. I later figured out that the ads were selling the odd room that had not been pre-booked by Swells from the Lower 48: while I don’t recall exactly what price was asked, it was something like $100. My wife kissed me on the forehead and drove me to the deHavilland.

There was an unfamiliar noise coming from the creek behind the lodge when I checked in. After I hit the water 45 minutes later, I discovered that fish tails flapping through the shallows were raising the racket. The phrase “stacked like cordwood” accurately described the sockeye run. I began catching one fish after another. They were all of about the same size, which was much bigger than any trout I’d ever caught or even seen before. Like this:

After we returned to western NY, I soon discovered that the thrill of catching brightly colored, naturally reproducing local rainbows in the 4” - 6” range had been heavily discounted by my Alaskan experience. A TV advertisement then current bragged that “you never come all the way back from Alaska!” I guess not.
By 1990, lingering injuries forced Nancy to consider trading her racing shoes for whatever was the next best thing. She opted for golf. Since this was something we could enjoy together - she’s too antsy to enjoy fishing - it wasn’t much of a sacrifice for me to mothball the fly rod at the time and enjoy the local course with a brand new set of golfing friends.
It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I got the urge to break out the fly rod again. When local temperatures hit 95 on the 4th of July this summer, I finally decided it’d be lots more fun to wade in a trout stream than play golf in a sauna. I started scouting water I hadn’t fished for 20  - sometimes 45! - years. It didn’t take long to find fish, either. They were still nice to look at, and they were still small.

But it was different this time. The joy of catching and releasing vividly colored stream-bred trout, even 5 inchers, came back with a sweet vengeance. Life’s twists and turns over 26 years have a way of transforming a guy’s perspective. Sorry, Tom, but I had come back home again.
I’m very much looking forward to the 2011 season. I think I’ll pick up an 8’ 4 weight, if for no better reason than to continue my reckless cycle of buying a new rod and reel every 25 years. Adirondack brook trout need no help in the good looks department. But if the new rig brings out the inner musky in a 6” brookie, no one will hear me complaining.