Thursday, April 25, 2013

Missing Opening Day

I missed the New Jersey trout fishing opening day.  I am not talking about the high minded (pretentious, perhaps?) “I am not going to join the opening day hoards” mindset.  I am referring to driving past the North Branch of a trout stream, seeing a guy with a fishing rod with looks like a garbage bag full of trout being loaded into the back of a pickup and thinking “Jesus, I can’t believe guys are poaching in the middle of the day.”  Driving a little bit further and seeing more cars and guys on the river.  With each fisherman I see it slowly dawns on me…today is opening day, and I was totally oblivious.

For me as a kid opening day was always exciting, a chance to hit the road and fish all weekend long. The week before the trip we would review the color coded trout stream maps provided by the DNR to see what rivers we could keep the most trout. I would be loaded in the back of a pickup truck like a bird dog and driven 3 hours across Wisconsin to fish the spring creeks around Southwestern Wisconsin.  The next day I would Get up sleepy eyed, head to Country Kitchen for some pancakes and milk, and hit the river before the sun was up. 

It always seemed to be warm, sunny, with red wing blackbirds calling, and ruffed grouse drumming, sounding like an old John Deere tractor starting up.  I don’t think it ever rained on opening day, the river was never too high or muddy, and the trout were willing.

I don’t specifically remember a “hoard” of guys assaulting the river.  Mostly I recall fishing with my family, asking to bum a worm off my cousin, and trying to fill up my canvas creel before 10:00.  Then it would be off to another diversion, sometimes bullhead on some slough along the Mississippi, or maybe up to a tavern my cousin owned in a small town in WI where we originally were from, to drink coke or beer, and play shuffle board until bed.

I learned practical life lessons, too, on opening day.  Life lessons like don’t put your reel in the sand, don’t set the hook on a trout like it’s an alligator, and don’t pee on an electric fence.  Fishing in southern Wisconsin meant sharing the stream with cows, and trying to avoid the occasional billy goat that would chase us across the field if we got too close.

Now opening day is more complicated, more cerebral.  You have to face moral questions like should join the opening day hoard and fish with all the yahoos.  You also have to ask yourself should the state even be stocking a nonnative fish in the environment.   And of course, you have to actually have to remember when opening day is.