Opening day

Posted 4/13/22

In case you missed it, Saturday was opening day for fresh water fishing.

I missed it, too.  Yet it is a ritual that like the story of the big one that didn’t away, gets better in …

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Opening day


In case you missed it, Saturday was opening day for fresh water fishing.

I missed it, too.  Yet it is a ritual that like the story of the big one that didn’t away, gets better in time.  Since I’ve been at the Beacon, opening day hasn’t been about catching trout, although when the late Anna Minicucci wrote the fishing column I cast a line or two, but rather interviewing excited kids on the banks of a stocked pond and taking shots of them holding strings of fish.

Our longtime photographer “Hap” Mathews introduced me to opening day Rhode Island style in the early 70s. We were up early not to secure a favored spot, but to catch the action and then to take in an opening day breakfast that to my recollection was hosted by the Knights of Columbus. Hot coffee, scrambled eggs and bacon did a lot to shake off the chilling numbness of the early morning and set free the excited talk of kids and their fathers.

There’s more to opening day.

Carol teases me that the only way I remember her birthday is that it falls close to opening day. There’s truth to this for soon after our engagement, she accompanied me as I fished the Shepaug River in Connecticut. We packed a picnic and headed to the river where I was introduced to stream fishing as a high school freshman. Near Washington, CT, the river cuts through hilly terrain with sections of rapids and intermittent pools with sandy beaches and fallen trees. At one point the river does an oxbow nearly doubling back on itself as it circumvents a hill. A narrow gage railroad tunnel through the hill provided a quick way back for those not caring to walk the oxbow. 

We took the tunnel to arrive at a long stretch of still water. I had the pool to myself. Carol spread a towel and read. I got out the fly rod and tied on a Mickey Finn – a red and yellow streamer. I covered the pool not seeing a single rise or as much as an inquisitive swirl from a fish. When I returned, Carol had spread out sandwiches, the spring sun hot on our backs. It was then that I was gently reminded it was her birthday. That date and that particular day are now etched in my memory.

As a kid I caught turtles in a handheld net and sunfish with a worm on the hook and a bobber on the line. Later in high school, I learned one of the teachers was an avid fisherman. He talked of catching rainbow trout in the Shepaug and I was intrigued. He invited me along. It was my introduction to the river.

He had restored a Model-T that he used for his fishing excursions, an added benefit to our outing. As we drove along the embankment, he pointed out stretches of fast water and pools where he had landed fish. Holding a spinning rod I had never used, I wondered if we were going to fish or was this all stories. 

Soon he pulled to the shoulder of the dirt road and reached for his rod. 

“I’m going to fish here,” he said pointing to the fast water. “Why don’t you try down there,” he said using his rod to indicate a pool flanked by a giant blue rock.

Sensing this would be the extent of my instruction, I walked down the road and climbed the rock. I had a clear view of the black water below, swirling gently as the white water fed it. I released the bail on the reel and cast. The lure plunked in the pool. The reel flew off the rod and clattered down the rock. Clearly, I was not prepared.

I slid down the face of the rock to pull the reel from the shallows. With it secured, I started retrieving the line. It was taught.  Had the lure snagged on a submerged log, would I lose my only lure on my first cast? Then to my amazement, the drag whined. I had hooked something in those dark depths. Suddenly, a silvery fish shot from the water.

At this point, I realized I didn’t know what to do. Do I try to reel in the fish and risk breaking the line or do I try to follow him and probably fall into the pool?  I did nothing, but let the fish run, which as it turned out was the right thing to do. When he stopped, I started reeling and soon the fish -- lying on its side -- appeared in the shallows. It was big and beautiful.  Now what? I didn’t have a net. I reeled him in as close to shore as I dared and then dragged the rainbow trout up on the narrow strip of sand.

Prize in hand, I ran back to show the teacher. He was galvanized – speechless.

Finally, he uttered, “Where did you catch it?”

I pointed and he rapidly started the Model-T and we headed for the rock.  The teacher never invited me to fish again, but that didn’t matter, I was hooked. 

I’ve trolled for fish, bottom fished and unfurled casts in the direction of feeding fish on a lake reflecting the setting sun.  It’s fishing, but it doesn’t compare to stream fishing. The stream is always moving. It has a story. I’ve fished rushing streams brown from the runoff of heavy rain; sluggish streams with water as clear as glass where you can spot the fish and deep dark streams with eddies rotating conversely to the flow. There are streams with rocky beds, sandy bottoms and green with slippery weeds and treacherous holes.  Like books, they are to be read.

The fisherman is but a visitor. There are times when a couple of casts will do before moving on then there are other times when the movement of life’s water is entrancing and the catch is secondary. 

Opening day is a clarion that it is all beginning again and there’s a birthday to celebrate. 

This Side Up, opening day


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