Dad and I used to fish for bluegill at a place called Bob McNew’s Pond, which sounds like something Garrison Keillor would say.
“Bob over at McNew’s Pond said the crappie are the size of a cast iron skillet this spring, blah, blah, blah, something about Lake Wobegon.”
It’s a very idyllic bit of my childhood. I remember it with a hint of lens flare, like a photograph that seems too good to be true. In my head McNew’s pond was always full of fish, never rainy and seldom too hot.
Truth is, dad and I did catch two master angler crappie there sometime in the late 90s. And although I don’t remember for certain, I’m sure we hauled them home on a stringer and ate them for dinner.
For a large portion of my adult life I’d have scoffed at that. I became mesmerized with fly-fishing sometime in my late teens and have spent the last decade or so fishing pretty much exclusively by that method. Although it certainly brings some good, there’s a healthy portion of self-righteous judgment that comes along with fly fishing, most of which is directed at fisherman who use any other method of catch, or fisherman who don’t always practice catch and release.
If you’re outside perspective of fly-fisherman is that of rich, elitist yuppies that laugh at poor rubes with the nerve to carry a spinning rod, you’re not far off. I‘ve been one of those jerks in the past, minus the rich part.
When you start to get good at something you naturally try to find harder and harder ways to do it, so I’m guilty of looking at a grown man with a worm and bobber like a 30-year-old dude who still rides a bike with training wheels. But that’s just not always true.
Erin and I took a day trip over to Perch Lake north of Hudson last fall. She said she wanted to fish, so I took along a couple of spinning rods and stopped on the way for a dozen night crawlers. I took my fly rod as well of course, so passers by didn’t mistake me for a knuckle-dragging worm fisherman. We rented a canoe and paddled over to the western bank, which is shaded by a very tall, pretty stand of evergreens. I set her up with worm and bobber, and in five minutes she was hauling in medium sized bluegills about every other cast. I was trying to paddle the canoe and cast a fly rod, which is a little like trying to cook dinner and play badminton at the same time.
All the while my extra spinning rod was lying in the bottom of the boat. It didn’t take long for me to abandon my high and mighty scruples.
“Hand me that box of worms.”
I rigged up the spare rod, bobber and all, and we spent the next two hours catching fish just like I did at McNew’s pond when I was nine.
As the sun went down we stopped to watch a flock of turkeys fly into the pines to roost. We laughed about how they sounded like a car accident with wings when they fly through the timber, and then we paddled back to shore in the dark with a stringer full of bluegill. That night we fried them in shore lunch and ate them with tater tots and cheap beer.
The secret to the universe is balance, and that holds true in the pursuit of fish. If you’re a dry fly fisherman who doesn’t know how enjoy worm fishing for sunfish, you’re just as much of a newb as the bait fisherman who has no idea what a four weight is.
Two springs ago I caught a 24-inch rainbow on a fly rod. That’s a memorable fish, but I guarantee you I’ll still remember those bluegill and that night with Erin long after I’ve forgotten about that trout.