Do you ever wonder why, when a stranger pulls out a phone to show you a fish they’d recently caught, you’re not terribly excited? Unless it’s a roosterfish, a recent world record, or a fish in a place we might soon visit, it’s cool, but not necessarily exciting.
It’s the circumstances behind a catch that make it memorable
Our fish photos, however, are exciting (to us anyway) and here’s my theory on why: Every fish is the culmination of a story. That brown trout, brook trout, striped bass or bluefish is the exclamation point at the end of a sentence that finishes a paragraph about how we found ourselves holding a rod, reeling a line, connected to a lure (or fly) that said fish inhaled. And it’s the story, more than the fish, that’s so endearing, so incredible.
I was standing in line at North Star Orchards two days ago, getting some fresh fruit, when I took off my hat, holding my polarized glasses on my head. The glasses hit the concrete and an an ear piece came off.
I’d had these glasses for more than a decade, they’d survived a trip around the country, I’d been soaked and frozen to retrieve them from various stream bottoms, I’d searched for them frantically right before a trip, and I’d managed to hold onto them through moves to and from Cape Cod, New Jersey, Florida, Salem, and New Hartford, New York.
If you’ve got a favorite pair of lenses, a lucky hat (we’ll save that for another blog), hoody or trinket, then you know what I’m talking about.
Let’s forget the facts of the matter for the moment — namely that without polarized lenses, ideally of a light amber shade, it’s harder to make out stream bottom, spot moving fish, or see holes or drop-offs underneath the water’s surface, or keep from squinting all day. Let’s focus on feel. Because when you don’t have your lucky/usual __________ (glasses, hat, hoody) you just feel different. You can tell, on some level, that’s something’s missing.
So, naturally, I drove like a crazy person to the nearest Walgreens, bought an eyeglasses repair kit, ripped it open in my Jeep in the parking lot, said a prayer, and picked the first tiny screw to try to put my glasses back together.
Let’s pause for a second here, shall we? Who in the name of Sam Hell invented these glasses screws. I have felt grains of sand stuck in my eye that must be twice as big as these things. They’re smaller than socks a flea would wear. I can imagine the microscope they must need at the factory where these things are assembled.
This has got to be some kind of joke on all of us right? Let’s see how many people we can get swearing, muttering and cursing while holding a screwdriver a quarter the size of a toothpick? I digress. By some miracle the screwdriver screwed the atom-sized screw back into the sunglasses and they (knock on wood) have held together since.
But now I was running behind, and I’d lost an hour of fishing time. Am I the only one who does this? “If I leave at ____, I’ll get there by _____, and then, well… the sun technically sets at _____, but I can fish until _____, which still gives me _____ hours.” I feel like I have this conversation with myself seven times per week.
Now there was just the matter of gas money. I work in retail, which is fun, interesting, and you meet some great people. I also drive a Jeep Wrangler that gets, by my estimate, a third of a mile per gallon. Basically, my income is direct-deposited into my gas tank, which was empty.
But would an empty gas tank stop you from getting on the water on your last day off before an eight-day work stretch. Of course not, which is where cans and bottles come in.
I had about seven bags of returnable cans and bottles, which were the closest thing to cash I had in my possession. I threw them in the empty-tanked Jeep, raced to the can and bottle return, and … waited.
I was third in line behind two people who, from the looks of it, were returning the cans and bottles consumed by entire sports franchises for the past six months. I tried to do the math in my head to decide if returning them to a grocery store, which would involve a drive, and feeding can after can into the machine, would be faster. When in doubt, stay the course.
What felt like 17 hours later, I emptied the cans and bottles, all five bags, onto the tray in front of the guy who counts them. Whenever I think about any aspect of a job I’m not wild about, I think about this guy. He counts, for hours at a time, other people’s soda-covered cans and bottles.
And you know what? He’s a pretty upbeat, easy-going guy. I always think: If a guy sifting through a town’s empties can be pleasant, what am I going to complain about?
It turns out I had sixteen dollars in cans and bottles, which is enough to get to a stream an hour away and back.
For a number of reasons, Nine-mile creek near Syracuse has become my favorite trout stream. There’s a handful of blue herons that frequent the area, and seeing the enormous, majestic birds always makes me smile. In the upper reaches of the creek, closer to Otisco Lake, there are brook trout, and even some wild ones. And I’ve caught browns to 21 inches in certain stretches, and if nothing else, that’ll make a stream your favorite pretty quick, won’t it?
So, with can-and-bottle money in the gas tank, and glasses held together by a drug-store screw, I made it to Nine Mile.
Not one, but two browns better than 15 inches made the trip an incredible one. The blue herons and a stunning sky on a start-of-summer night would have made it amazing either way, but two beautiful trout made it perfect.
And in-between looking at the photos and trying to put gas from a spare tank that I’d had for the lawnmower into the Jeep so I’d make it to work and back the next day, I couldn’t help but think: It’s the story more than the fish, isn’t it? We might need the fish, but we definitely need the story.