Adventures of an Amateur Angler: The Streak is Broken!

by Randall Cleveland

Five.

That's how many fishing trips it took for me to finally catch the first fish of my adult fishing career. I didn't expect it to matter as much as it did, to be honest. When I was first invited to a fishing trip with some friends a few months ago I figured I'd mostly be along for the beer, and a little sunshine wouldn't hurt either. I couldn't remember the last time I'd fished, but I was pretty certain my dad had to bait the hook for me. I guess catching crawdads on sewing thread tied around chunks of hot dogs counts, so let's say 12. I was 12 the last time I fished.

And I had forgotten how much fun it is.

When I was first invited along to the fishing trip, I went ahead and stocked up on essentials so as not to get laughed out of the cabin: a rod and spinner reel of moderate but not chintzy price, fishing line (I overcompensatingly bought the 20-lb monofilament. I'm not sure what I was expecting to haul in from a lake stocked with trout no bigger than your hand), and one of those clear plastic tackle boxes full of various lures and hooks they sell off the rack at Target.

A group of us headed out to the bluntly-named Fish Lake and spent the weekend drinking, barely-tolerating each other's snoring, and fishing. I think between the six or seven of us, we caught three fish. I was not one of the lucky few to land a fish, but I was happy just for the time outside and away from various screens. I decided fishing might be a thing I was into.

For my next venture with my neighbor, I was convinced to "do it up right" and head with my neighbor Joakim to Outdoor Emporium, a local gigantic warehouse for all things sporting, be it fishing rods, shotguns, crabbing pots, or whatever else you might need to help you stalk and kill various animals. "My friend here needs help," Joakim told the first friendly employee he could find before leaving me to go buy himself a crab pot. And while I appreciated the sentiment, I think I was more lost than the clerk could compensate for.

"So what are you fishing for?"

"Uh, fish."

"Right. Okay. Do you have a rod, at least?" And with that we were off! I wish I could remember the guy's name, because we was incredibly helpful and way too indulgent of my ignorance. Eventually I found myself in the lure section, which is where you can really spend too much money. Lures are fascinating to me. I mean, not in the same way they might fascinate a fish. Each one has its own purported target fish and size, and some of them get insanely specific ("Perfect for catching 7 to 10-inch left-handed salmon on cloudy Thursday mornings!") without mentioning really what the hell they do to work. And there are so many! So many styles, shapes, colors, and promises of fishing prowess! I bought $50 worth.

But despite my many lures, fish didn't bite. I had left fishing behind at a time when all I knew to do was put a worm on a hook and wait. I had no idea what trolling was. The helpful guys at Outdoor Emporium explained to me in detail several setups I could use to maximize my fish-catching, but my eyes glazed over at all the talk of jigs and rigs and sinkers and swivels. Feh, I thought, That's just for all the suckers. You put a worm on a hook and you wait. That's it.

Except it's not. It turns out fish are smart. Well, not smart, but wary. Skittish, even. And unless your bait looks exactly like an easy meal with no strings attached (aha!), they're not going to go for it. At least, that's what my friends kept telling me as I got skunked on trip after trip. I honestly didn't mind, as a bad day fishing was still a day spent in the sun on the water, but I was starting to get kind of paranoid that I might lead a life as some kind of pathetic pseudo-angler, always fishing but never actually catching anything.

Then, Wednesday last week, it happened: a bite. I thought it was a bite. Hoped it was a bite, anyway; we'd been reeling in nothing but weeds so far, but lo and behold there was a fish on the end of my line! I reeled it in while trying not to tip over Matthew's canoe. It was a rock bass, maybe five inches in length if that. It didn't matter. The streak was broken! I had fished! Successfully! I blushed with pride at the idea that if there were some sort of apocalyptic disaster that reduced us to subsistence living, I would be able to delay my family's agonizing death by starvation by at least a couple of hours. By the end of the night I'd caught another. Maybe it was the same exceptionally stupid fish. I don't care, I'm counting it as two.

So now that I'm officially a fisherperson, what tips and tricks do I need to know? What's your best fishing story of glory? Let me know in the comments.