Sunday, September 28, 2014

Life lessons learned while fishing on the dock

When I was five and later, six years old, I spent my summers lying flat on my stomach on a dock very much like this one at camp. The only thing different about my dock was that there was a square hole cut right in the center. It was about three inches square, not nearly big enough to pose a threat to people walking on the deck but plenty large for a small face to peer through at the wonderful scenes below.
By pressing my face tight to the hole and sometimes throwing my jacket over my head, and with the sunlight streaming below the dock from the side, I could see perfectly all the way to the bottom of the river. It was my portal to another dimension -- the world beneath the surface.
There were life-and-death dramas taking place here every day: rock bass that ate crayfish, perch that ate minnows and sometimes, huge fish like northern pike and smallmouth bass that ate everything! Once in awhile I even saw weird fish like suckers with their tube-like mouths sucking along the bottom.
There was an entire underwater community. Mostly it was composed of rock bass. They lived in the log-and-rock cribbing that held up the dock and would stray in groups several feet away most of the time. Out in the open they would mix with dozens of smaller yellow perch. At times they were also joined by a sunfish or two.
Although it was fun just to watch what the fish were doing, it was absolutely thrilling to see them bite my hook tipped with a bit of worm. I must have caught hundreds of these tiny fish. A big one would have been six inches long. I would use a hand-line that was pressed by my face tight to the boards of the dock. As soon as I hooked a fish I would spring to a sitting position and hoist my catch up through the hole.
It was just plain fun and I never went ashore except to replenish my worm can and maybe to get a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich to take back out on the dock.
Thinking back on this chapter of my life I realize now that I learned a great deal more than just how to catch little fish.
For one thing, I learned empathy. Sometimes the rock bass or perch would have swallowed my hook so deeply that I ended up killing it to get it loose. It saddened me to see the dead or dying little fish floating beside the dock. I learned not to let the fish take the bait too long before setting the hook to prevent gravely injuring it.
Virtually all of my catch was released on the spot, of course. I probably never kept more than one "lunker" for supper. There was just no point. If I wanted a fish to eat the next day I just caught another. And so I learned a lesson in conservation: take only what you need right now.
Before long I recognized the fish below me as individuals which I named: Scarface, Stubby Fin, Beauty, Fat Lips, and so on. They were like friends.
I recognized that fish have feelings. After being hoisted into the atmosphere above the dock, a hook taken from their mouths and plopped back into the water, fish would hide. The experience had scared them and probably, their mouths hurt. They would bite again, eventually, but it might take a week.
I learned that what happened above the waterline also had an effect on the fish below. Although they were present in sunny weather, on cold, rainy days, the fish were gone.
I also learned to read the fishes' behaviour. If they disappeared when it was sunny out it wouldn't be long before I would spot a big predator like a pike.
Sometimes the fish were right below me but refused to bite. This taught me never to dismiss an area for fish just because you don't catch something the first time you try. And it taught me patience.
If the fish weren't biting, there was little I could do about it. So I would roll over on my back and use my imagination to see animals and faces in the clouds. Once in awhile I also saw an eagle or an osprey soaring so far overhead it was only a speck.
I also used these down-times to look for bait. No grasshopper or cricket was safe nor were bait items hidden from view. I rolled over every rock and log in the yard that I could lift. Underneath there were often worms and incredible, sometimes scary-looking bugs like "hundred-leggers'" and even "thousand-leggers."
The best time to get worms, of course, was at night and although I was thoroughly scared of the dark, I wanted fishing worms so badly that I would arm myself with a flashlight and go outside. Whippoorwills and great horned owls would be calling and frequently I would spook at the sound of some rustling sound and would take off in high gear for the safety of the porch, tripping over boulders on the way. Eventually it occurred to me that I was as safe outside at night as in the day.
 Although I was quite the brave adventurer, actually my Mom and Dad were nearby. As long as I was wearing my life jacket, they figured I would always be all right. And that was, in fact, the case.
Of course, this was all a long time ago but the experience of learning by doing is still something I see youngsters do here at Bow Narrows Camp on Red Lake. Not all of them have their heads plopped in front of video devices. Some have found there is an amazing world out there, not a virtual reality but a real world.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Read this bedtime story ever !!! Goodnight from Ohio Boyers.