And he said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My Dream Year of Fishing....

The other night I had the pleasure of having dinner with my brother and his family outside Philadelphia.  The whole family sat down together (how often does that happen in today's society) and we all had a pleasant conversation about all kinds of fun and various topics.

The topic that intrigued me the most was, "If you had one year to travel, where would you go?"  The answers around the table came fast and furious....  Because that topic was so long and broad, we quickly trimmed it down to, "What four places would you spend the four seasons?"  The answers among everyone seated were very broad and interesting.

Wyoming, Prague, Bora Bora, New Zealand, Paris, South Africa and the Alps were among some of my various nieces' answers.  When it was my turn, I thought about it and said this:  I would begin in the Autumn....

Having just read David DiBenedetto's book "On the Run", regarding following the migrating striped bass from Maine down to the Outer Banks, while it certainly wouldn't be original - since he has already done it - it sure would be fun.  Without question, the striper is my favorite fish to catch.  From delicious hard-fighting schoolies from my kayak, to 20 pounders in the surf, to citation stripers from a charter, I love catching these great fish.  So why not repeat what Mr. DiBenedetto already did.  Rather than describe it in great detail here, I will link you to his book; it's worth the read if you love stripers as much as I do."On the Run" An Angler's Journey Down the Striper Coast.
An easy and entertaining read, if you love striper fishing as much as I do.
As my sister lives on the beach in Cohasset, MA, I would even spend a few days with her family, catching striper off their beach, before continuing south. 

So that would take care of September through December, as I followed the rockfish along their route south.  I certainly am familiar with how to fish for them from the Delmarva Peninsula and on south through Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay, and the OBX, but learning about how "Yankees" fish for them in New England, using plugs and lures, primarily, would be a lot of fun.  And catching 40 pound + fish from the rocky surf would be a blast!  The only chapter I'm not so sure I would want to duplicate is the chapter on "skishing".  You'll have to read it to to understand.  I think those days of being "brave" enough to do that, are behind me....

So it's now January.  Winter time.  I've spent the holidays at home (see how practical I am so far?  By December I'm within a couple hours from home), and now I'm ready to continue my dream year.  I had one of my nieces ask me if I would want to spend the winter ice-fishing in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes....  Um, let me think about that for a moment....  NO!

I mean, I like snow as much as the next guy, but, with all due respect to those that live up in that region of the country,... well, how do you put this....  There's a reason that Diehard Batteries used to do a commercial in International Falls, MN.  It's the coldest part of our country.  They weren't filming there, trying to sell their durable batteries because it was the most beautiful place in the country.  You know what I mean?
Diehard Battery Commercial from MN

And when you look at a chart that shows every location in the U.S. that has had days with temperatures of -50 degrees F or below, Minnesota and Montana pretty much dominate the chart.  So, I'm not interested in going to Montana (yet*) either.  Or Wyoming (yet*).
Where and when the temperature has dropped to minus 50 °F or below in the contiguous US
Place °F °C Day
Glasgow, Montana-59-50.6February 15, 1936
Thoeny, Montana-59-50.6January 20, 1954
West Yellowstone, Montana-59-50.6December 19, 1924
Jordan, Montana-58-50.0February 14, 1936
McIntosh, South Dakota-58-50.0February 17, 1936
Medicine Lake, Montana-58-50.0February 16, 1936
Bondurant, Wyoming-57-49.4February 1, 1951
Camp Crook, South Dakota -57-49.4January 12, 1916
Cascade, Montana-57-49.4February 15, 1936
Chester, Montana-57-49.4January 25, 1950
Culbertson, Montana-57-49.4February 16, 1936
Embarrass, Minnesota-57-49.4January 20, 1996
Frazer, Montana-57-49.4January 20, 1954
Havre, Montana-57-49.4January 27, 1916
Wolf Point, Montana -57-49.4January 26, 1950
Browning, Montana-56-48.9January 24, 1916
Fairview, Montana-56-48.9February 15, 1936
Lake Yellowstone, Wyoming-56-48.9February 9, 1933
Malta, Montana-56-48.9January 12, 1916
Couderay, Wisconsin-55-48.3February 2, 1996
Dixon, Wyoming-55-48.3January 12, 1963
Hinsdale, Montana-55-48.3January 25, 1969
Lamar Ranger Station, Wyoming-55-48.3January 10, 1962
Sugarloaf Reservoir, Colorado-55-48.3January 10, 1962
Summit, Montana-55-48.3January 3, 1959
Trident, Montana-55-48.3December 31, 1927
Wisdom, Montana-55-48.3December 23, 1983
Antero Reservoir, Colorado-54-47.8January 10, 1962
Brainerd, Minnesota -54-47.8February 2, 1996
Echeta, Wyoming -54-47.8December 24, 1983
Hinsdale, Montana-54-47.8January 26, 1950
Ingomar, Montana-54-47.8December 22, 1989
Loma , Montana-54-47.8January 14, 1972
Popla, Montana-54-47.8February 2, 1893
Seneca, Oregon-54-47.8February 10, 1933
Stanley, Idaho-54-47.8December 23, 1983
Steamboat Springs, Colorado-54-47.8January 7, 1913
Ukiah, Oregon-54-47.8February 9, 1933
Fosston, Minnesota-53-47.2February 1, 1996
Fraser, Colorado-53-47.2January 10, 1962
Huntley, Montana -53-47.2February 14, 1936
Lincoln, Montana -53-47.2November 16, 1959
Lone Rock Tri County Airport, Wisconsin-53-47.2January 30, 1951
Moose Lake, Minnesota-53-47.2January 15, 1972
Pine River Dam, Minnesota-53-47.2January 12, 1912
Redstone, Montana-53-47.2January 20, 1954
Savage, Montana-53-47.2February 16, 1936
Tiber Dam, Montana-53-47.2January 20, 1954
Austin, Oregon-52-46.7January 8, 1937
Babb, Montana-52-46.7January 30, 1950
Baudette, Minnesota-52-46.7February 19, 1966
Big Sandy, Montana-52-46.7February 15, 1936
Boulder Rearing Station, Wyoming-52-46.7December 22, 1990
Bredette, Montana-52-46.7January 20, 1954
Busby, Montana-52-46.7December 22, 1989
Butte, Montana-52-46.7February 9, 1933
Elbowoods, North Dakota-52-46.7January 18, 1950
Fairfield, Idaho-52-46.7December 22, 1990
Farson, Wyoming-52-46.7December 31, 1978
Havre, Montana-52-46.7January 24, 1969
Itasca, Minnesota-52-46.7February 2, 1996
Kendall, Wyoming-52-46.7January 17, 1930
La Barge, Wyoming-52-46.7December 23, 1990
Lonesome Lake, Montana-52-46.7January 24, 1969
Mora, Minnesota-52-46.7December 18, 1983
Old Forge, New York-52-46.7February 18, 1979
Ovando, Montana-52-46.7February 9, 1933
Plevna, Montana-52-46.7January 12, 1916
Roseau, Minnesota-52-46.7February 2, 1996
Roundup, Montana-52-46.7February 15, 1936
Tamarac Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota-52-46.7February 1, 1996
Wright, Minnesota-52-46.7January 15, 1972
Augusta, Montana-51-46.1January 10, 1909
Babbitt, Minnesota-51-46.1January 17, 2005
Big Falls Hydro, Wisconsin-51-46.1February 2, 1996
Big Falls, Minnesota-51-46.1January 20, 1996
Crookston, Minnesota-51-46.1February 15, 1936
Eagle Airport, Colorado-51-46.1January 12, 1963
Forks, Montana-51-46.1January 12, 1916
Grand Rapids, Minnesota-51-46.1January 26, 1927
Hatfield Dam, Wisconsin -51-46.1January 30, 1951
Idaho Falls, Idaho-51-46.1January 12, 1963
Lame Deer, Montana-51-46.1December 22, 1989
Langdon, North Dakota-51-46.1February 16, 1936
Malta, Montana -51-46.1January 24, 1969
Marcell, Minnesota-51-46.1February 3, 1996
Meadowlands, Minnesota-51-46.1January 30, 1950
Minong, Wisconsin-51-46.1January 15, 1972
Opheim, Montana-51-46.1February 28, 1962
Ovando, Montana-51-46.1January 26, 1957
Park Rapids, Minnesota-51-46.1February 2, 1996
Recluse, Wyoming-51-46.1December 24, 1983
Remer, Minnesota-51-46.1February 2, 1996
Ridgeway, Montana-51-46.1December 22, 1989
Sage, Wyoming-51-46.1January 1, 1979
Sun River, Montana-51-46.1December 29, 1968
Ten Sleep, Wyoming-51-46.1December 22, 1990
Thorhult, Minnesota-51-46.1February 1, 1996
Vanderbilt, Michigan-51-46.1February 9, 1934
West Yellowstone, Montana-51-46.1January 12, 2007
Worland, Wyoming-51-46.1January 17, 1930
Yellowstone National Park, Montana-51-46.1January 12, 1963
Zortman, Montana-51-46.1December 22, 1990
Almont, North Dakota-50-45.6December 23, 1983
Baggs, Wyoming-50-45.6January 18, 1984
Ballantine, Montana-50-45.6February 15, 1936
Bemidji, Minnesota-50-45.6January 30, 1950
Big Black River, Maine-50-45.6January 16, 2009
Big Piney, Wyoming-50-45.6December 23, 1983
Bigfork, Minnesota-50-45.6January 15, 1972
Bloomfield, Vermont-50-45.6December 30, 1933
Brimson, Minnesota-50-45.6January 31, 1996
Chinook, Montana-50-45.6January 20, 1954
Choteau, Montana-50-45.6February 15, 1936
Cook, Minnesota-50-45.6January 14, 1965
Cotton, Minnesota-50-45.6January 14, 1965
Crow Agency, Montana-50-45.6February 15, 1936
Daniel Fish Hatchery, Wyoming-50-45.6December 22, 1990
Denton, Montana-50-45.6December 24, 1983
Driggs, Idaho-50-45.6February 9, 1933
Eureka Ranger Station, Montana-50-45.6December 30, 1968
Floodwood, Minnesota-50-45.6January 20, 1996
Gavilan, New Mexico-50-45.6February 1, 1951
Glendive, Montana-50-45.6February 16, 1936
Harlem , Montana-50-45.6January 24, 1969
Hibbing Airport, Minnesota-50-45.6January 20, 1996
Hysham, Montana-50-45.6December 22, 1989
Jackson, Wyoming-50-45.6January 1, 1979
Lake George, Colorado-50-45.6January 10, 1962
Lake Yellowstone, Wyoming-50-45.6January 12, 1963
Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin-50-45.6January 30, 1951
Laramie Airport, Wyoming-50-45.6January 12, 1963
Littlefork, Minnesota-50-45.6February 2, 1996
Loring , Montana-50-45.6January 20, 1954
Many Glacier, Montana-50-45.6January 27, 1972
Mildred, Montana-50-45.6February 16, 1936
Mitchell, South Dakota -50-45.6January 25, 1955
Mount Washington, New Hampshire-50-45.6January 22, 1885
Potomac, Montana-50-45.6December 23, 1983
Red Lake Falls, Minnesota-50-45.6January 21, 1954
Saco, Montana-50-45.6January 25, 1969
San Jacinto, Nevada-50-45.6January 8, 1937
Spicer, Colorado-50-45.6February 6, 1989
Strawberry Tunnel East, Utah-50-45.6January 5, 1913
Tioga, North Dakota-50-45.6December 24, 1983
Williston, North Dakota-50-45.6December 23, 1983
Worland Airport, Wyoming-50-45.6December 21, 1990
National Climatic Data Center. Comparative Climatic Data.
  • So where would I go?  Well, my parents live down in Florida, so, doesn't it make sense that I would want to visit them right after the holidays?  Isn't that what a good son would do?  So why not fish the entire Gulf Coast during the winter months?  I'd start in the Keys, and spend about a month there, from Key Largo to Islamorada, to Marathon, to Big Pine Key and Key West, I've seen enough fishing shows on the Versus channel to know that the fishing there is incredible!  From deep sea fishing for sailfish and marlin, to inshore (fly)fishing for permit, tarpon and bonefish, that would be a great way to start the new year during the winter months.  Florida Keys Website.  I've never caught any of those species I just mentioned.  And this being the "Sportfishing capital of the world", I would stay there until I've caught all of them.

Islamorada: Sportfishing capital of the world

Then, after a quick visit with my parents in Sarasota, I've got a cousin who lives in the Fort Meyers area, who loves to catch snook.  So next I would go kayak fishing the canals, backwaters, and inlets of that region for snook.  Having never caught a snook either, it is definitely another fish on my bucket list -- as it's supposed to be delicious, too.

My Bucket List of Fish I Haven't Caught Yet
White Marlin
Blue Marlin

After I've marked each of these species off my bucket list, I'd want to hit some of the lakes of Florida for some citation size largemouth bass, before I continue around the Gulf Coast.  Once I've left Florida's panhandle,  I'd focus on a lot of inshore redfishing -- always one of my favorite fish to catch -- especially since they've been scarce around here the last couple years.  As I understand it, the BP oil spill of 2010 has not affected the marshlands and grasses as much as experts had feared would occur, so the nursery that these waters are, is still okay and thriving.  I'm relieved to hear that.  Of course, we would also catch plenty of seatrout, too.  And I'm okay with that.  They are delicious, too.

On a side note, if I time it all right, perhaps I'll be in New Orleans right around Mardi Gras, enjoying some of Paul Prudhomme's blackened redfish, some crawfish and oysters while watching the parades and festivities.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans

After I've recovered from Fat Tuesday, I'll keep going around the coast and into Texas.  There, I'll look to go offshore and do some tuna fishing, in addition to deep water fishing around some of the rigs and wrecks for grouper, jacks, cobia, kingfish, snapper and whatever else we may catch.  Then, with my year half over, I may need a break.

After spending Easter at home again, it's time for the spring time.

And what fish is sought after the most in the spring, as the winter snows melt in the mountains, and run downstream into the cold, crisp waters of fast moving rivers?  Trout.  Brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, it doesn't really matter.  It's time to pick up my fly rod, and head out west -- to the clear mountain streams of Wyoming, Colorado and, of course Montana.  Anyone who has ever seen the film "A River Runs Through It" has seen the beauty that is Montana, and to fish those streams for a hard-fighting rainbow is truly a dream of mine -- even if I don't look like Brad Pitt.
A great movie about a good Presbyterian minister and his sons.  But it's the cinematography and the fishing scenes that steal the show, in my humble Presbyterian opinion.
The art that is flyfishing really hasn't changed in the last hundred years.  It is an art I would like to master.... or at least get a whole lot better at.
Springtime would be a time to learn the finer art of fly fishing.  Wide streams, narrow creeks, long casts to open moving water, or gentle tosses toward a small whirlpool behind a rock, I would work on my technique during the day, and learn how to tie a variety of flies at night.  I understand the allure of fly fishing, even if I've never really mastered it.  It is truly a mixture of sport, art and intellect.  And I would use the spring season to at least master some of the basics -- recognizing that it takes more than a lifetime to master it all....  I can think of no place I'd rather travel around, than the crisp, clean waters of these western states.

And that takes us into June, and the final season of my dream year.  I'm going to cheat a little here.  Because while my ultimate destination for the summer is a place that I have visited, there is a stop or two I'd want to make before I keep heading north.

There are two other fish on my bucket list I'd like to tackle.  They are the walleye and muskellunge, aka, the muskie.  And I guess this is when I would head for a brief stop to the place I disrespected earlier, the Land of 10,000 Lakes -- Minnesota.

Jigging and trolling for walleye is how I would start this brief trip; but the highlight I would really look forward to is catching a 50" muskie on some sort of loud, spinning, whirling plug.  I can think of no greater excitement than watching a massive beast explode through the calm surface of the early morning water, attacking my lure while I'm reeling it back.  And then, just hold on!
This much larger cousin of the yellow perch is supposed to be hard-fighting -- and delicious.  The Walleye
The big brother of the Northern Pike, the Muskellunge or "Muskie" is the king of the northern lakes.
After marking these two fish off my bucket list, I'm heading north across Canada, and back to Alaska.

Back to Alaska, where I'm sure my buddy Joel would join me, to catch the king salmon and sockeye runs, in addition to some more halibut and lingcod.  Of course, while I wouldn't mind revisiting the Kenai Peninsula, there are other parts of Alaska I would want to try, as well.  When Parke and I went before, we slammed the sockeye, limiting out wherever we fished for them.  Same for the halibut.  But we never caught a king (or chinook) salmon, and we never caught a lingcod.
the King Salmon, or Chinook, is the largest of all the salmonid fishes.  It is as delicious as a sockeye.
Looking kind of like an overgrown big brother of an oyster toad, what the ling cod lacks in physical beauty, it makes up for in delicious white flaky flesh.

So I would definitely like to mark these two fish off my list, too.  And, since I've mastered fly fishing now after my spring in the Rocky Mountain states (ha ha), I would go after one last anadromous fish - the steelhead trout.  "Anadromous" is a $.25 word that describes fish that spend parts of their lives in fresh water (usually growing up and later spawning there) and then migrating out to sea to grow, feed and reach maturity, before returning to their streams to spawn -- and in the case of some salmon, die.

My fishing buddy Mike has caught steelhead where he grew up in Ohio, using a "noodle rod".  But I'm thinking if he hasn't joined me for any of my trip so far, he's definitely with me by the time we hit Alaska, for sure.  (Actually, this is my dream year trip, but I'm wondering how many of my "Boys' Weekend" friends are thinking, "Let's make this a "Boys' Year"!)
While the steelhead is literally the same as a rainbow trout -- the difference is that steelhead migrate from streams to large lakes or oceans.  I've caught rainbows, but I've never caught a steelhead.  This would be the last bucket fish for me during my dream year....

Assuming I caught one of the steelhead making its "late summer" run, my year would now be complete.

But I can think of no better way to tie it all together, because across the continent to the east, and just to the south of Canada in Maine, another anadromous fish is beginning it's migration pattern again... the striped bass is heading south for the fall and winter....  And so will I.

Now all I need are some sponsors and the funding to make this happen....  Berkley?  Penn?  St. Croix?  Please contact me a.s.a.p.
Looking at a map of North America, I realize my dream year trip is quite practical.  3 months in the autumn, down the East Coast from Maine to North Carolina.  3 months of winter on the Gulf Coast from the Keys up and around to Texas.  3 months out west in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana during the spring.  And a brief jaunt over to Minnesota before heading up to Alaska to spend the rest of the summer....  It could happen....

Until next time, in my dreams....

Fish on!


P.S.  After I've accomplished this dream year, I'll work on my International Dream Year.  Trout in New Zealand, beautifully colored peacock bass in South America, tiger fish (which look like the Mr. Hyde version of a striped bass) in Africa, massive sturgeon around Eurasia....  Who's going to go with me, and what other ideas do you have...?
The peacock bass is native to South America, though there are lakes in Florida where it is stocked....  Hmmm....
The Tiger fish of Africa's fresh waters grows quite large, and is a prized gamefish there.  One day.....  One day....

P.P.S.  What is my family doing this entire time?  Well, since this is MY dream, they are with me, as we caravan in two John Madden-like RV's around North America.  See, I've thought it all out.  It could happen....

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fishing for Memories from Years Gone By

"Never shall I forget the days I spent with you.  Continue to be my friend, as you will always find me yours."  Ludwig van Beethoven.

A rainy summer Sunday afternoon....  As good a time as any to remember some old times fishing.

You see, I just had my 30th high school reunion last weekend, and, to be honest with you, I wasn't crazy about going.  Too much going on in my life right now to spend a weekend thinking about what's in the past.  Who needs it?  After all, today is the first day of the rest of your life, right?  Why focus on what's over and done with?  Why go back and think about all the hopes and dreams you had that didn't come true.  What's the point?  Who needs to think about all the "woulda's, coulda's, and shoulda's"?  A pretty pathetic pity party is what all of that sounds like....  (My 10th Grade English teacher would have been so proud of that alliteration, right there.)
The Brandywine Bulldogs.  All together now, "Three cheers for old Brandywine.  You bring the brandy, I'll bring the wine."  I don't remember the rest of that fight song.  But I do remember our class slogan:  "Raising Hell and having fun, we're the Class of '81!"  Sheesh.  I'm old. 
Well, that's kind of what I was thinking, but when I talked with my old friend Joel and he said he was going -- and he lives in Anchorage, AK, for crying out loud, I figured I can drive five hours and go.  Besides, as a good reformed Presbyterian, I know that everything we do has a purpose and there are no mistakes in God's plan.  I would take a weekend and embrace the past -- and maybe remember a few good times while creating a few more.  Who knows, I might even learn something....

The drive up the Eastern Shore was spent listening to old Eagles and Springsteen c.d.s (my SUV doesn't have an eight track player like my '74 Gremlin did), and my thoughts of high school days and nights made the drive go by as fast as any I've made.  It had been too long since I had thought of those old days that help form us to be who we are today.
Back in high school, this baby had L.L. Bean sheepskin seat covers (over the vinyl seats), an 8-track player and four stereo speakers.  It was the penultimate vehicle from the '70's.  The AMC Gremlin.  Truly, one of America's ugliest cars.  I didn't complain, though.  Shoot, I was just glad to have a set of wheels.  I drove Joel, and two neighborhood girls into school every day.  One of them, I'm still friends with...  The other has disappeared, it seems.

I was excited to see Joel and all my old friends, and just drive around the area I grew up.  Since my parents moved to Florida several years ago, I have had no reason to go back there, so I was curious to see what was the same, and what had changed.

One of my first fishing memories of growing up in the Brandywine Valley area, was trout fishing the local streams in the spring.  I've already written about that in my Tribute to Trout post back in December.

I got to Wilmington Friday afternoon, and drove around my old neighborhood.  Seeing my old house brought back a flood of memories:  The games spent kicking a football in the front yard with Joel.  Playing in the woods in the back with any number of friends.  Building igloos and snowmen in the front, and sledding down the street when the snow on the street became packed and then froze.  We would sled forever down the street.  Skateboarding, too.  And countless games of Kick the Can down the street....

I passed the house. My house.  I stopped.  I pulled up into the driveway.  Nobody was home.  The memories flooded back even more.  Climbing on the roof.  Picking blueberries and raspberries in the back.  The monster apple tree grafted with four different types of apples had been cut down, as had the 50 foot tall blue spruce that almost forty years ago had been our little Christmas tree one year.  But the house still looked like home.  I had the local Country station on my radio at the moment, and couldn't help but laugh when Miranda Lambert's "The House the Built Me" came on.  Irony.  Coincidence.  Whatever.
From 1970 until I graduated college, this was home to me.  And seeing it today brought back a whole new flood of memories I hadn't thought about in years.  The apple tree was in the side yard to the left, and the monster blue spruce was on the right side of the front yard.  Our basketball goal was by the garage on the right.  It's gone, too.
I drove around the neighborhood and went by all of my friends' homes.  The distances seemed shorter, and the homes all seemed smaller now.  Joel lived "on the other side of the neighborhood".  That was far away when I was a kid.  I don't even think it was a quarter mile in my car.

I've recently gone bass fishing with Parke in the lakes around Suffolk.  The last time we went out we were using plastic worms.  I told Parke it had probably been decades since I've bass fished with a Texas rig and plastic worm.  And I told him this story:  When Joel and I were in high school, we went fishing all the time.  But north Wilmington doesn't have a lot of public fishing areas.  It's certainly not like Hampton Roads.

Anyway, there are a couple of country clubs in the Brandywine Valley area, and they all have golf courses.  Golf courses have ponds.  And those ponds have bass.  Big bass.  The problem is, you can't fish those ponds if you aren't a member.  In fact you can't fish those ponds if you ARE a member.  Because people are playing golf, obviously.  Those ponds are consequently never fished!  That was too tempting for a couple of diehard, young fishermen.  So Joel and I would park on a side road late at night, and sneak onto the course with our rods and tackle.  My favorite lure was a black plastic worm.  And it worked!  How a bass saw a black rubber worm at night, and why it attacked something that smelled like plastic only goes to show that bass attack a target based on movement and vibration as much as anything.

One night we were fishing a golf course pond, when we heard a service truck coming.  We were near a service hut on the course, so right as we saw headlights approaching, we dove down flat onto the grass near the pond.  The truck stopped at the hut; its driver got out.  He went into the hut for a minute, retrieved something and then got back in the truck, turned around, and left, none the wiser that we were there within 30 feet of him.  Then we got back up and kept fishing.  It was always catch and release with us.  Going home with the smell of fish on our hands was the only reward we needed.  And good memories of fish stories.

I crossed the Brandywine River and went into downtown Wilmington.  I checked into the hotel, rested up for a bit, and then before the "Pre-reunion Get-together" at a local bar, I went out and toured around again.  I drove by our old high school -- it looked the same, and I pulled into the old parking lot I used to park my Gremlin in all the time.
Through these doors walked over 300 people who graduated in my class.  Preps and stoners, jocks and nerds, blacks and whites, urban and suburban.  And it still looks the same 30 years later.
I remembered a story of Joel and I coming to school late one day, Spring of our senior year.  I smiled to myself, as I idled in the parking lot for a moment.  I was looking forward to seeing my old friends, but first I wanted to go by my old workplace.

The hardware store I worked part-time at through my high school years was still there.  In the same shopping center where the bar was that we were to have our get-together, was Action Hardware.  Since I was dealing with plumbing issues back home, I figured I'd walk in and see if they had the part I needed.  I walked in....  Oh my word, it smelled the same.  Suddenly it was 30 years ago, and I was 17, working 20 hours a week for $3.35/hour.  Or was it $2.65, when I started there.  Then, a high school kid walked by pushing a broom with sweeping compound in front -- one of the jobs I used to do.  I smiled.  I walked to the back and to the left -- and the plumbing department was still there.  The store was still set up the same.  It hadn't changed in 30 years.  Yes it had... It was no longer a True Value affiliate.  Otherwise, it was caught in a time warp.

An older man walked up to me and asked if he could help me.  I asked him if they had the part I was seeking.  They didn't.  Oh well.  "By the way, I used to work here 30 years ago," I said.  "Oh yeah?", he said.  "So did I."

I did a double take.  "Have you worked here all this time," I asked.  "No, I just came back.".  We exchanged names, but didn't remember each other.  I asked who owned the store now, and he said the same guy.  Wow, I thought, some things really don't change.  I walked out, ready for a drink.

By the time I walked in to the bar, several old classmates were already there.  After the initial "hellos and hugs" I had with several of my classmates I remembered, another guy came over to me and asked me who I was, and did I remember him.  I didn't.  I asked his name.  It still didn't register, though he said he remembered me.  I looked at him as though he was from Mars.  "That's okay," he said.  "I was kind of a 'stoner' back in high school, and you were more of a 'prep'."  I laughed.  "Yeah, you had a great reputation... and I didn't."  He continued.  So I told him the story I had thought about earlier in the high school parking lot.

In the spring, after our term papers were turned in, Joel and I decided one morning we were going to go fishing on the Brandywine River for the morning, and then go to school around lunch time, when our French class was having a pizza party.  After dropping off the girls at school, we went down to the river -- Springsteen's River blaring on my speakers.  Several hours later, smelly and hungry for lunch, we came back to school.  I parked in the student lot, and we got out, backpacks in hand, fishing equipment still in the car.  Our worst fear lay ahead of us.

Mr. Miller, the Assistant Principle of the school was waiting on the sidewalk by the side door of the school.  Oh crap, I whispered to Joel.  We tried to play it cool, and kept walking to the door.  As we approached him and the door, he took a few steps towards us -- I was sure he was ready to bust us, but still we played it cool.  "How are you doing, Mr. Miller," I said, eyes down, just hoping to get to the door.  "How's it going, boys," he replied and then focused his attention to the "stoner" who had just driven up behind us -- probably at a legitimate doctor's appointment, or something.

"Alright, young man, where have you been."  And he walked to the lot to confront the flannel-shirt clad kid.  And as Joel and I walked into the school, I smiled and said, "All those years of having a good reputation paid off today."  And we laughed all the way to French class.

The rest of the evening in the bar was spent reminiscing with old friends, and learning about the fishing on the Gulf Coast and around Georgia and Florida, from some newer ones.  I look forward to catching snook down there someday on a visit.  I didn't make it too late a night, as I knew the next night would be a long one.  I was back in my hotel room by 11 p.m.  The next morning, I enjoyed a rare, lazy morning with no agenda....

By the following afternoon, Joel had arrived from Alaska, and had rested up enough where he called me, so that I could come visit his family.  His parents had moved to a retirement community on the outskirts of the Valley, and as I drove out to visit them, I passed another high school that reminded me of another old friend.  In fact, this one, I had known since we lived in Switzerland.

Jonny was my best friend in Geneva.  When his family was also relocated to Wilmington, they moved to the Valley.  Many a fun night/weekend was spent at his house "in the country", riding dirt bikes, playing guitar until the wee hours of the morning, and playing the first Atari games.  One of the other advantages of going to Jonny's was that they had a pond.  Once I could drive, I drove over to Jonny's as often as I could, as it was one of the only private ponds I had permission to fish.  It was stocked with plenty of big largemouth bass.  In fact, too many.  It is the only place I've caught 24" long bass that weighed only five pounds.  But I still only practiced catch and release.  

Hula poppers were one of my favorite lures there.  I remember one evening fishing there, and hooking a big bass on a popper.  With only 4# test on my ultralight rod, the bass broke my line, and my hula popper was gone.  Lost.  Two weeks later, I was back fishing again with a rubber worm.  I still hadn't had time to go buy another hula popper, so worms were my backup.  One of Jonny's neighbors, however, had recently gotten a Golden Retriever puppy.  He came down to see what I was doing, and where ever I cast my line, he would jump in the pond and swim, scaring any fish around, and ruining my fishing.  I was really getting annoyed with the pup, and tried to run around the pond to avoid him, or leave him behind.  Yet he always followed.

As I squatted on the grass near the edge of the pond, switching my worm and cursing the fact I didn't have my hula popper anymore, here came the retriever pup, having followed me again as I had run around the pond to try and create some distance between me and the troublemaker.  I glanced up at him, and it was obvious he had something in his mouth.  His tail was wagging and he came up to me and dropped what he had by my tackle box.  It was my hula popper.  Apparently the fish I had hooked two weeks earlier had spit it out, and it had floated somewhere to the side, hidden by the cattails, reeds and other plants.  Yet this puppy had found it.  And brought it to me, of all people.  I couldn't believe my good fortune and the coincidence.  I patted the dog, hugged on him, and somehow didn't mind him following me the rest of the evening.
How the pup didn't get hooked by one of these treble hooks, and how he knew this was my lure, I'll never know.  All I know is that I have never been so glad to have an annoying puppy follow me around after that.  In fact, from that point forward on my trips to Jonny's pond, I would look forward to the Golden Retriever coming to join me.  Eventually I even got a Golden Retriever.  Maybe that's why.  I knew what a great dog they are.
I had a wonderful visit with Joel and his parents, catching up on the last few decades with them.  They still looked great, and were doing well.  Then I went back to the hotel, resting up for the reunion that night.  Soon enough, it was time to go back in time.  I dug up my old yearbook, laughed at old photos, and wondered who would look the same, and who would look different.  I knew I was different:  less hair, more pounds, you know, the usual things a middle-aged guy says.
Our senior portraits were actually taken during our junior year.  The following week after this portrait was taken, I left the '70's behind, and started parting my hair on the side.  Now if I could only part with the 20 extra pounds I've put on since then....  Oh well.
The reunion was a blast.  We had over 100 people show up, and it was so great catching up with so many people from so long ago, I was really glad I went.  And major kudos to the two that took over a year of planning and put it all together.  They did a tremendous job setting it all up.  The event was supposed to end at 11, but it was midnight before we all left... and then it was just to go back to another buddy's hotel room.  It was 3:30 before I got back to my room, after many memories, laughs, and a couple more drinks with friends I realized I do care about -- even if I hadn't seen them for so long.  Joel and I weren't the only two that fished, I discovered, and a few fishing dates were planned, to get a couple of the other guys down here to "God's Country", so that they can try and get down and enjoy the types of fishing I have come to love.  I hope they follow through.  I don't want to wait decades again, before I see some of these guys again....

As I drove back home the next day, (a little hungover, I must confess), I realized that I am blessed with so much.  And one of my greatest blessings is that I have good friends... true friends.  Friends back home in Virginia that I see all the time... and friends from Delaware that I may not have seen for decades, but all you have to do is spend an evening with them, and you realize the bond is still there.  And it is still tight.  And I am very grateful for that.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them."  I would add that it is not just that you can be stupid, but you can be yourself.  And there are times when we are all stupid.  But friends understand us; and we are just forgiven.

Until next time,
Fish on!


P.S.  There was one time, when Joel and I were encouraged to keep the largemouth bass we caught in that private pond near my buddy's house.  There were too many, and they were too skinny, so we kept a stringer, so that others may have a better chance of thriving in that small pond.  Joel recently found the photo his family took (he kept the fish, as I don't like to eat bass).  It was quite a day!
Joel, looking part young Springsteen in this photo (let alone, he still had hair), with the results of a successful day, fishing hula poppers and rubber worms in one of the smallest ponds I've ever fished regularly.  Impressively long, but skinny fish.  It wasn't a bad thing to weed out a few, so that others could have more to eat.
Ahh, memories....