Monday, May 24, 2004

Fish Tail Soup for the Blogger’s Soul

This has actually been a difficult post to write. It’s not that there were so many exciting things that happened that I don’t know where to start. The problem is that I want to make it interesting.

That’s not to say that the weekend wasn’t interesting but I want to share the story, not just the facts.

I arrived at the hotel on Firday afternoon about ten minutes before dad so I sat in my car listening to the audio book I’d been using to pass the time on the road. It wasn’t long before dad showed up and we got checked in. By “checked in” I mean we made sure our key-cards worked, dropped off our suitcases then headed for Bennett Spring about 15 miles up the road.

When we arrived, we headed straight for the park store to get fishing licenses, etc. squared away. Once that was done, we headed back up to zone 1 for a little fly fishing.

When we got there, we were met by the sight of 15 or 20 fishermen standing in the water waving long sticks and making day-glo string dance about. There honestly isn’t much of a shoreline so the majority of the fishermen were wading. It was a little intimidating seeing that many dedicated fishermen in one place knowing that I don’t know the difference between an Adams Parachute and a Zonker and I certainly have no clue when to and when not to fish either of those. As dad was unpacking the rods and tackle I was so afraid of using the wrong type of lure or crossing someone’s line or just making mistakes that a 37-year-old man shouldn’t make that I honestly thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing here? I’m not a fisherman.” Plus, I was a little embarrassed that I’m 37 years old and I still need my dad to tell me how to bait my hook.

The feelings of inadequacy quickly vanished as soon as we got the lines wet. Once I remembered how the damn spinning reel worked, I got into the groove. The groove, unfortunately, was short-lived. I was cold, having left my jacket at the hotel, and the fish weren’t biting. We spent 30-45 minutes testing the waters then headed back to the store.

At the store I met one of dad’s fishing buddies, Lyndon. There’s nothing special to tell about Lyndon except that he’s who I met first. He and dad chatted a bit then examined a $60 fly fishing combo (rod & reel) the store was selling. Somehow, we killed another hour or so and it came time that we could buy our daily tags for Saturday.

Saturday was the big day. The KC Chapter of the Missouri Trout Fishermen’s Association sponsors a Kids’ Fishing Day and it was the start of the Spring Trout Derby. For $5 above and beyond any fishing tags and licenses you could register for prizes. The Hatchery at Bennett Spring released 60 tagged fish Friday night and another 40 Saturday evening. Between the first whistle at 6:30 am on Saturday and noon on Sunday, registered fishermen could bring in any tagged fish they caught and be registered for prizes after the close of the derby. Your turn at picking your prize would be determined by the tag number on your fish.

After buying our Saturday tags and registering for the derby, we spent some time chatting with other club members then finally headed back to the hotel.

Saturday morning dad and I enjoyed our complementary breakfast of eggs, hash browns, coffee and a biscuit and headed for the park. We dropped our lines for half an hour, swapping flies every four or five minutes and caught… nothing. After that, we decided to go see how the kids’ fishing was going.

The “honey hole” was packed with kids and lined with tents registering first fish, demonstrating fly tying, and showing off the talents of the people from Tailgate Taxidermy (that’s the name of the business, I swear). This last was, by far, the most interesting – at least to me. Next to all of the inanimate critters the owner, I presume, had borrowed a great horned owl, a screech owl and some sort of raptor similar to a red-tail hawk from a local bird sanctuary and had them on display. These were live birds! My camera loved them.

The club was handing out donuts and coffee so we located them and assisted. I resisted the Krispy Kremes as long as I could but after an hour they were just too much. I only had one, though.

As the morning wore on, the table offerings began to shift. Cases of individual-serving potato chips were stacked at the ready as were boxes of miscellaneous Little Debbie snack cakes. Eventually, two grills were brought in and started heating.

Lunch time.

For the kids, the MTFA serves hot dogs, chips, soda and… Little Debbie snack cakes. There were also plenty of Krispy Kreme doughnuts left.

Even though I’m not at all involved with the club - except that dad is a member, I assisted in making sure there were plenty of snack cakes and doughnuts at the ready. I also dug through the ice-cold troughs of soda to bring a variety to the surface. The funny part about that was that the troughs were loaded long before dad and I got there. It originally looked like they had Mountain Dew, Lemonade, Diet Dr. Pepper and Sierra Mist. As the top layers were removed and the ice started to melt, we unearthed Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, caffeine-free Pepsi, caffeine-free Mountain Dew (who knew they made that?), and two cans of diet Sierra Mist.

That was actually a lot of fun. It gave me something to do other than stand around watching dad sit and give his fishing buddies a hard time. It would have been interesting had they been swapping fish stories but everyone seemed to be batting zero for the day.

After feeding the kiddos, the club adjourned to another shelter for burgers, brats and their annual state-wide meeting. Hey, if you’re going to have a state-wide meeting for a fisherman’s association, you might as well have it somewhere that you all like to fish.

Once the meeting was over, dad and I decided it was time to hit the stream again. We went back up to the area we had been on Friday. I stayed with what I had been using but dad tried a different tactic. He decided to put the fly on a leader and, using a bobber strike indicator, he started casting upstream and let the fly float with the current. This was apparently appealing to at least one fish because dad landed one in short order. It wasn’t tagged so he let it go.

In the true spirit of the sport, everyone close to us asked the question that always comes immediately after a fish is caught… “What are you using?” Even though dad told them – a white grub – nobody switched. I did switch tactics, though. I moved to the cast-and-float method but used a different color fly.

Dad and I fished about an hour and a half total, swapping flies every once in a while, but neither of us caught anything else. On our way out, we stopped by the store again. While we were there, dad ran into one of the club members.

“Any luck?” he asked (the mating call of the fisherman)
“I caught a nice little rainbow. He was about 12 inches. Real pretty colors.”

I thought about this later. I don’t remember the fish being that “pretty” but I surmised that 12 inches was probably close to accurate. While in Colorado last October, I caught a 10.5 inch rainbow (we measured it) and this one seemed a little bigger.

As dad was repacking his tackle bag Saturday night, he pulled out all of the flies we had used during the day - you're not supposed to put them away wet so we just dropped them into one of the pockets on the bag. Between the two of us I'd bet there were a dozen flies and only one of them had worked.

Sunday morning we didn’t roll out quite as early. We again scarfed down our complimentary breakfast of eggs, hash browns, biscuit and coffee and headed straight for the water. I baited up with a white grub and floated it in the current.

About 10 feet out into the stream, you could see the bottom. Past that, it was a little murky on Sunday. What I found most fun was that you could see the fish moving in the clearer parts. As I would reel in, I could see the fish at least notice my lure. More than a few times, I would see a fish notice my lure, lock onto it, follow it, consider it, then decide, “Nah, I think I’ll have Chinese instead.”

About 10:30 on Sunday, after testing the waters in zone 1 and zone 2, we headed for Shelter B where the tagged fish prizes were being handed out. That’s when I got to experience fish stories first hand. As people came up to dad and asked how we’d done, he’d tell them about the single rainbow trout he caught. With each telling, the fish became slightly larger and more beautiful. By the end of the weekend, it had grown to somewhere around 16 inches and was, “the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen.”

Maybe it was the most beautiful he’d seen. To me it was just a fish – mostly because it wasn’t on the end of my line. In my memory, the 10.5” rainbow I caught in Colorado was prettier.

But I digress.

At the prize ceremony, there were hamburgers, bratwurst, hot dogs, chips and cobbler left over from the meeting on Saturday. They’re just as good reheated.

Of the 100 tagged fish released, 13 were caught. This meant plenty of prizes would be leftover and raffled off. The prizes were quite nice. They had three fly rods, a couple of sets of FRS radios, about four pair of compact binoculars, some fishing vests and jackets, hand-tied flies, and lots of fly tying materials. Even though the majority of the prizes were of little use to me, I kicked in ten bucks to support the association and got 12 tickets.

For the derby winners (those that caught tagged fish), the fly rods went first – duh. After that went FRS radios, sleeping bags, and some of the binoculars. (I had my eye on a hat from the Bennett Spring general store.) Once the winners were done picking their prizes, they started calling numbers for the raffle.

Surprisingly, in short order, one of my numbers was called. Unfortunately, the winner just before me took the hat and the FRS radios were all gone. I thought about picking up the last pair of binoculars but I have three pair at home – why do I need another? In the end, I grabbed a small tackle bag that will probably end up holding camera equipment.

By the time it was over, four of my numbers had been called. A few people had their numbers called several times more than that but I think everyone who participated in the raffle won at least once. I ended up with the aforementioned bag, a mug, a Bennett Spring baseball cap and a box of hand-tied flies that I gave to dad. He’d told me he wanted them so when they pulled my second number and dad hadn’t won anything yet, I grabbed them and gave them to him.

At the end of the raffle they pulled out three extra-special prizes that they specifically held for the raffle. Included was a $300 fly fishing rod designed by Jim Rogers who works out of Bennett Spring state park. I would have loved to have won that or seen dad win it but it wasn’t meant to be.

Once all the prizes were gone, everyone started saying goodbye and so did dad and I. He dropped me off at my car (I had driven from the hotel separately Sunday morning) and I went home with another weekend of memories… much better than any fish.

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