Cars start to arrive Friday night. Some come hoping to camp and others are content to sleep in their car. Some choose to wait until Saturday morning. It’s all about timing and claiming your spot. Now, looking back, it was not as crowded as I thought — especially after seeing elbow-to-elbow people fishing on the Russian River during the salmon run in Alaska. That was crowded! But, to my eyes at the time, there were a lot of people.
People find their way to the community club for coffee or an early lunch. The goal is to be in your spot at noon, pole in hand when the season begins. I remember being amazed at the expensive fishing poles, tackle boxes and the wealth of lures and bait like I had never ever seen before. My Dad tied flies and always had a jar of salmon eggs and a few spinners in his tackle box but that was about the extent of it. We kids relied on nightcrawlers, grubs or perhaps a dough ball on occasion.
The bait limitations did not exist then as they do now. Today there are restrictions on what bait you can use in particular waters. The size and per-day catch limits were in place, however. Those were rules everyone adhered to because the game wardens were out in full force.
One year I remember getting my tin can filled with dirt and nightcrawlers and resting my jerk pole on my shoulder as I walked down to the Big Bridge. This was a nice wide creosote-coated bridge which had ample room for cars to pass and a line of fishermen on either side of the bridge. I found a spot close to the edge of the bridge and dropped my hook into the water. My grandfather was with me, but stood off to the side allowing me to hone my skills. It wasn’t long before I got my first bite.
I caught a couple of good sized trout that afternoon, much to the chagrin of the highly skilled fishermen with their top notch equipment. After a while, someone would invariably ask, “What are you fishing with?”
That question would lead to a rather prosperous enterprise for my brother and his friend Tim. My brother grew up with a fishing pole in his hand. He was and still is an excellent angler. One year as he caught fish after fish, a man asked my brother the familiar question, “What are you fishing with?” to which my brother replied “Nightcrawlers.” On the spot, the man offered my brother $5 for what was left of the nightcrawlers in his tin can.
I’m not sure how successful the man was using nightcrawlers as bait. My brother being so good at the sport, would probably catch his limit on anything he put on his hook. But, he and Tim developed a plan to sell nightcrawlers and made a nice tidy sum as a result.
My brother still lives in the Valley. I called him this morning to see if the first day of fishing season is still greeted with such fervor. Sadly, with seasons open most of the year now, the first day of fishing season is just a memory of a bygone era.