Original print date July 10, 2012
Chariton Valley News Press
God has quite the sense of humor. My family goes on a float trip and trout fishing vacation every summer and I have resisted being bit by the fishing bug for many years. Last year, it finally sought me out and bit hard. God’s sense of humor kicked in because he also started whittling away at my patience about the same time.
For anyone who enjoys trout fishing in Missouri State Parks, you know exactly how much fun and frustrating it can be all wrapped into one big wad of fishing line. For anyone who has never been, I have a little bit of explaining to do.
The spring fed rivers in southern Missouri provide a great place for the state to release hatchery-raised rainbow trout for fishing enthusiasts. The water is clearer than the water that comes out of my faucet most days. The cold water will make your eyes snap open faster than munching on a coffee bean of a morning. Who wouldn’t want to go fishing when you can see those little buggers floating five feet in front of you?
It sounds like the perfect setup, doesn’t it? Hatchery raised fish are fed from the day they hatch. Floating fish food makes breakfast, lunch, and dinner easy to find and catch. It also makes for stupid fish – in theory anyway.
Enthusiasm for the sport runs high every evening at the lodge as the daily tags fly from the pile behind the counter to eager fishermen. As I stand in line for my first tag of the year, my confidence abounds. With a daily limit of four fish, I just know that with the first three casts of my line, I’m going to have enough fish for my supper. I can then leisurely cast the rest of the day, only keeping the last fish so I can make my way back to my air-conditioned trailer for a nap.
The blare of the alarm clock at 5:30 a.m. the next morning puts the first dent in my armor of enthusiasm. I am not a morning person. But I willing drag myself out of my warm nest to go show these people how to make trout fishing look like kids play. I pour myself into my waders, strap on my fishing vest with pride, ensure my tag is secure to my vest, and tuck my travel coffee mug safely into the bibs of my waders and head for the river. If all goes as planned, I’ll be snuggly back atop my air mattress by 7 a.m. Don’t bother waking me for breakfast guys, I’m sleeping through it today!
I wade into the river next to my brother, husband, son, and niece. They all part the waters to allow the room for the professional. The truth of the matter is, they have all seen me cast and no one wants a chunk of their hair used as a lure. I smugly sip at my coffee until seconds before the whistle blows. My perfect fish sense tells me when to put the coffee back in the bibs and unsnap the lure from my rod.
As the whistle blows, the first cast is made – by everyone around me. Instead of mine landing perfectly in the deep hole about 10 feet in front of me, it soars to the right across the lines of everyone standing upstream. I apologize quickly as I make note to buy myself a new reel as soon as I get to the lodge. This one is obviously defective. The splash of water catches my attention as my niece’s boyfriend reels in the first lunker of the day. He is no longer Keith to me and his new name is certainly not printable here. I make note to tell my niece when we get back to camp that I certainly don’t think he is husband material.
I reel in the renegade line and take a moment to reassess the situation. About 20 feet to my left is a school of fish. Wait, that’s not a school, that’s a college. There must be hundreds of them waiting patiently to swallow my jig. I confidently cast in that direction and the crappy reel I’m using malfunctions once again. This time my jig lands in the tree canopy covering the college of swimming filets.
My aim gets better as the coffee kicks in. The jig I’m using must be the wrong color. As I confidently continue to cast, Keith reels in yet another fish using the exact same lure I am. Same style, color, and weight as the one I just brushed effortlessly across the back of the stupid fish five feet in front of me. The law of averages says that the more fish in the school, the more dropouts and flunkies there should be. Obviously Keith and Jake are better in finding them than I am because they have three on their stringer already.
My brother Donald, who bought his first tag this year, has even caught a freshman fish – it’s too uneducated to know the difference between food and a lure, too small to contribute anything to the dinner plate but it certainly adds life to the party when it hangs on his stringer. As most of our group heads back to camp to enjoy breakfast, I make like a college student who has flunked a class or two, and stick around for my fifth year. I am determined to come out of the river smarter than the colorful critters I mean to make into dinner.
When the day is done, I lovingly look in the freezer and am very thankful. My fishing ego didn’t kick in until we hit the welcome sign at Montauk so I brought plenty of food rather than rely on my fishing skills for my supper. I am now in about year 12 of fishing college and Professor Rainbow and Professor Brown Trout are happily swimming upstream exchanging stories of the goofy woman wading around in her son’s tennis shoes like she owned the campus.
I’m sure God knew what he was doing when he starting taking my patience away. Even he needs a hearty, belly laugh now and then. Pairing my lack of patience with the desire to fish for trout guarantees him a comedy show like none other for a few days every year. I just hope before this fishing trip is over, he has pity on me and pairs me up with a fellow flunkie – one of those pretty multi colored ones that is swimming around in the river.