I learned long ago that sneaking around to fish isn’t a real good idea.
Growing up in New York State just south of a famed trout fishing stream, Beaver Kill, it was common knowledge that the best fishing areas for brook trout were posted.
Isn’t that always the way?
My dad was the kind of guy who would make a special trip back to the grocery store if the clerk had given him $1 too much in change. Fishing, however, was different.
Deep in the Catskill Mountains, near where Beaver Kill originated, my Great-Aunt Ruth managed a hunting and fishing camp. On our visits, we would pass mile after mile of posted signs. No trespassing.
My dad never thought it was right to have all that land and all that stream accessible to only the rich. So one night, he decided to step out of character.
The plot was to put me in the car after dark and drop me along the river. This wasn’t exactly “Mission: Impossible.” You could sit for hours at night in the middle of the road without seeing a car. I had a better chance of being eaten by a bear than being seen by a human.
Even so, there was a certain amount of intensity to this adventure, probably associated with the fact that what we were doing was ... well ... wrong.
I was about 12 at the time, and my dad wanted to make sure I was traveling light. So he bought the handy-dandy Ron Popeil Pocket Fisherman. I’m not sure how they managed to sell a whole lot of those poles, which folded up like a pocket knife, but I would imagine I wasn’t the only one who was attempting a fishing hit-and-run.
The day of the heist, we drove along the road and checked out various spots. One particular place, down a little bank where the stream broke into a small waterfall, seemed perfect. You could see those trout just sitting at the bottom, staring back at you. Oh baby, this was going to be an easy caper.
After dark, my dad dropped me off as planned and headed on down the road. He would be back in an hour.
Equipped with a flashlight, I soon understood this wasn’t going to be so easy. First of all, this was the deep and very dark woods. There were no street lights or grocery stores. Just darkness.
The flashlight worked pretty well on the road, but once I started sliding down the bank, it wasn’t of much use. I hoped there was no poison ivy around.
And that little bank wasn’t so little, especially in the dark. I was very close to ending up in the river but fortunately was able to grab on trees and bushes to slow my momentum. I realized I was going to have a hard time getting back up the hill.
Nevertheless, I had arrived at the scene of the crime. It was going to be like taking candy from the baby. I put a worm on my hook and made my first cast. In only a couple of minutes, I had two nice brook trout, probably about eight inches long each. Maybe I should have brought a bigger creel.
Then things got ugly. The fishing line inside my Pocket Fisherman got all tangled somehow. I try to fiddle with it with no luck. Now what?
I yanked out enough line and thought I would simply toss it all in the stream and let the current straighten it out. Instead, though, my toss ended with the line in the bushes all tangled up. I gave a good tug with my pole; and, instead of the line coming free, my Pocket Fisherman snapped in two. Yanking the line off the bushes, everything had found a new target. I had become a human spool.
So there I was in the dark with a couple of fish, a broken fishing pole, tangled line, bruises on my legs from sliding down the bank and a sudden fear that my dad would forget where I was. I had to get out of there.
I worked my way up the bank and, thankfully, I saw the headlights of my dad’s car.
I delivered the bad news. A $19.99 Pocket Fisherman and a whole lot of effort had netted us two fish. Indeed, crime does not pay.
The good news here in Indiana is that you don’t have to break the law to fish Saturday, which is an Indiana Department of Natural Resources “Free Fishing Day.” All Indiana residents do not need a license or a trout-salmon stamp to fish. Other free fishing days are June 1-2.
So grab a pole and take the family. There are plenty of public lakes and streams to enjoy.
Just stay off posted property.
Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.