The First Day of Fishing Season, Part III – It’s Saturday!

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.

My brother fishing
My brother fly fishing on the bank of Big Creek.

The First Day of Fishing Season, Part II – Preparation

There was a flurry of activity leading up to the first day of fishing season. At that time, the creeks were closed for fishing for a few months prior so the fishermen and fisherwomen were anxious!

The old one room school where my mother once taught was purchased by the community club in 1958 for $1,025. The ‘community club’ then became the place where we gathered for holidays and special gatherings. The first day of fishing season was no exception.

Fishing season began the first Saturday in April precisely at noon. Most of the women in the community spent the days leading up to the event preparing homemade pork BBQ for sandwiches, hotdogs and chili, and a few side dishes to sell at the community club. It was a big fundraiser and well received by the visiting fishermen because the home-cooked food was delicious!

It was a different story for the kids. We were all about waiting until dark and going out with our flashlights to catch nightcrawlers. What is a nightcrawler, you ask? It is easiest to think of them as a large earthworm. They generally stay below ground during the day unless it is a cool day, after a rain or in the cool morning dew. They do not do well above ground in the heat. For us, they were the cheapest and best bait to use.

Anyone planning to fish would then go about readying their poles. I was young and managing a fly rod was out of the question and honestly, with the number of people coming in to fish, casting was not a good idea either. No need to have fish hooks wielded by a child whipping about aimlessly. So, no rod and reel for me. I was left with a jerk pole.

A jerk pole is just as the name implies. It is a lightweight stick or bamboo rod outfitted with a line, a sinker (a weight used to help the hook sink to the bottom of the creek) and a simple hook — usually outfitted with a nightcrawler for bait. When a fish took the bait, you ‘jerked’ the pole to set the hook and pull the fish out of the water.

Once the community club was setup to sell food and everyone had their bait and poles readied, all that was left to do was wait!


The First Day of Fishing Season, Part I

The first day of fishing season was a huge event where we lived. Nestled in our little Valley, the creeks were well known as some of the best fishing streams in the state. The fresh water streams flowed down from the mountains across large rocks with occasional deep ‘holes’ that provided excellent habitats for Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout.

My father was an excellent fisherman and a talented fly fisherman. He could make a ‘fly’ (artificial lure) dance on the water. The idea is to make the lure look like a natural insect to the fish causing them to rise to the surface and grab the fly. My brother soon learned the same skill and remains an excellent fisherman to this day.

Houses in our Valley were usually built along the creek’s edge so we were always aware of the habits of fish and spotting them as we walked along the creek banks was not difficult if you knew where to look. There were always the elusive big fish that the local fishermen watched until fishing season opened.

We were not trophy fishers. We ate what we caught. We learned to ‘clean’ a fish early on. By examining the content of a fish’s stomach you could see what they were feeding on. A boon to the fisherman as he could bait his hook accordingly.

Wild streams are not stocked meaning they are NOT populated with fish from state hatcheries. Stocked streams are repopulated throughout the year with fish from local hatcheries. As a kid, my father often took us to the hatcheries to ‘feed’ the fish. These hatcheries were squeaky clean, in beautifully maintained and well-filtered cement pools. My dad would buy ‘food pellets’ from the park rangers for us to feed the fish. I was amazed at how many fish were there.

The Valley had two creeks that flowed together – one was wild stream and the other a wild stream that was also stocked from the hatcheries. Fishing season did not open until the stocked fish had a chance to acclimate to their new environment allowing them their best chance for survival. The buildup to the first day of fishing season was palpable. It was a big day for sure.


Living By The Creek

My brother fly fishing on the creek bank

Day 225

I love to share the stories about growing up country. It was a different life then, a sheltered life I guess. It is such a dichotomy to live so sheltered yet have so much freedom. When I say we were sheltered, I mean we knew nothing about the horrors of the world. News was at 6:00 P.M. and 11:00 P.M. and Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite were trusted to bring the truth to American households. Was that true? I am honestly not sure. We each decide that for ourselves.

We were spared the news. Ours was a life of simplicity and exploration, not to be tainted by the reality of man’s potential to be horrible and hate-filled. We believed in good.

The Creek

The creek was part of the livelihood of growing up country. The creek seemed to be the fastest, although not the easiest, way to get from one place to another. It was not unusual to either wade into the creek, tennis shoes tossed across our shoulders, or to jump the rocks from one side to another. We had to be wary of the moss that sometimes covered the submerged rocks — it was slick and the reason for many an unplanned fall into the creek. Especially for our cousins visiting from out of state.

On days when we were had nothing else to do (we NEVER used the term bored), we would go to the creek.

Skipping rocks was a favorite pastime. Our creek-beds and creek-banks were covered with smooth rocks tumbled over and over as the water ran from mountaintop to basin. It was not challenging to find a smooth flat rock, but finding the perfect fit for your hand was worth some extra looking. My Dad and my brother were excellent rock skippers. I can close my eyes and still see the rocks rising and falling into the water again and again.

Then of course, we loved to catch crawl-dads. There is an art to that process. Always good to have an old tin can with the lid removed. Since crawl-dads flee backwards, putting the can behind them, then placing the stick in front of them would cause the crawl-dad to scurry backwards into the can. There was always the BIG rock that housed the HUGE crawl-dad that only the most fearless child would even attempt to catch. Most of the time we let them go, other times if the size was right, we saved them for bait. We always loved to find a nest of babies to hold for a moment because they tickled when they attempted to pinch you. The pinch of an adult was another story all together.

The creeks were full of treasures. I had quite a collection of smooth glass I gathered over the years. Old broken china, broken pop bottles, and discarded jars. They were beautiful with all the sharp edges worn away from tumbling over the rocks on their journey downstream. It was so exciting to find a piece of glass with an unusual color or a delicate flower still intact on the surface.

I remember the water spiders (is this the same as a water strider?) skipping across the top of the water. The part of rock under the water was covered with periwinkles which we often pulled off, just to drop back into the water and drift to the bottom. Of course there were also water snakes (non poisonous) and something we called hog mollies (a type of sucker fish), which I was horribly afraid of. It was the fish of scary campfire stories.

Of course, fishing was a favorite pastime. As kids, we all had our first jerk poles. A jerk pole is a fishing pole (often a stick) with no reel and fishing line tied to the end. If the fish would bite, you had to jerk the pole to pull the fish out of the water. The first week of fishing season was always a big event. The women in the community made bbq and chili and sold it to the hungry fishermen to raise money for either the chuch or the community club. My brother would go out in the evening and dig for nightcrawlers to use for bait. He was always an excellent fisherman and it was not at all unusual for him to sell a can of night crawlers to frustrated fishermen from away, who could not seem to catch anything with their fancy poles and shiny lures.

Our creeks were also where we learned to swim, where we were baptized and where we chilled our watermelons for summer picnics. The water was cold let me tell you, but the creeks were the very lifeblood of everything growing up country.

I always came home on time, though. My grandfather told us if a snapping turtle got us, he would not let go until daylight. That was enough of a possibility I had no trouble coming home in time for dinner and bedtime. I guess a little healthy fear never hurt us and kept us out of harm’s way.