I’m feeling more like a fisherman than a teacher today, which is odd, because I won’t be going fishing for at least a week. Still, I’m timing out and reminiscing. I’m smiling too, because I thought of a “fishing situation” that unfolded over on the north Oregon coast in the days before I became a fly fisher and the river canyon became a refuge. (“Freddie” is my fishing nickname. It has a history.)
The Line Between Legal and Not
Back in the day when Freddie fished only with monofilament, he and a couple of other gear-flinging river monsters were getting ready to toss spinners into a hot fall chinook hole by the banks of the Trask River in western Oregon.
Our boys had seen lots of other roaming fishermen that day, but the catch was limited.
Among the other fishless wonders were two preppy college boys who looked like they could be related. They wore identical cheap gray fishing vests and identical cheap green hip waders. Prior to arriving at the hot spot, these guys had been sighted two or three times in various runs on the river. These boys were hard to miss, especially since their gear was by Zebco straight off the cellophane-wrapped cardboard. Apparently they didn’t know how to fish, because no one on the river actually saw them with a line in the water. Nobody gave them a second thought. It takes all kinds, right?
Shortly after scoping out the target hole, Freddie and his two buddies began tossing their spinners. Nobody else was around. Freddie got a solid grab, and the fight was on. A few minutes later, the fish was landed, bonked, bled, and put in a wet burlap bag near the bank. In the blink of an eye, as if by magic, Freddie and his friends were fishing with an audience. Guys had appeared out of nowhere. And right behind Freddie, as he worked his magic spinner, were the Preppy Twins.
Then Moby Chinook hit Freddie’s spinner. Moby hammered ol’ Freddie, but Freddie was up for it. Just a short way into the battle, it became obvious to Freddie and the entire crowd that Moby was hooked in the back. Most unfortunate.
Freddie looked forward to no choice but to release the fish after it was landed, preferably without taking it out of the water. The law is the law, after all, but Moby Chinook didn’t know he could get out of the struggle so easily, so he just kept kicking Freddie’s butt. Finally, Freddie got a little impatient to get on with legal fishing and reefed really hard on the 25-pound test Stren. The hook pulled loose with frightening results.
Treble hook, spinner, and line headed back towards Freddie’s head at Mach 4. Freddie quickly ducked the mass of lethal metal. As the heavy spinner reached the end of its monofilament tether, the last foot or so of line landed on the right shoulder of Preppy #1. Said shoulder provided a pivot for that short length of line and the treble hook, which had not lost much of its momentum, buried itself in Preppy #1’s back.
“AAAaaahhh!” Preppy #1 screamed, as he threw his arms out to his sides. His disposable Zebco outfit flew into the bushes. Freddie rushed to the prep’s aid, feeling very bad about the long-distance stabbing.
Preppy #2 brushed Freddie aside and said, in a manly voice, “I’ll take care of it.”
Meanwhile, Preppy #1 was screaming profanities and jumping around trying to reach the embedded spinner.
Two of the treble’s hooks had penetrated the unfortunate prep’s vest, shirt, undershirt, and skin, fortunately for him without disappearing past the barbs. His manly companion was able to remove them without much effort.
But sympathy on Freddie’s part turned to confusion when the formerly hooked Preppy #1 screamed at Freddie: “I need to see your fishing license!”
“Huh?” said Freddie.
“I need to see your fishing license!” the Prep repeated, modulating his voice somewhat, but still angry and shaken.
“Why?” Freddie asked, thinking, what does my license have to do with getting drilled by a spinner?
“Because I’m a game warden, dammit! (He’s obviously embarrassed, but he’s going to salvage something out of this debacle.) Is that your fish in the burlap bag?”
Not wanting to appear intimidated before the crowd and his two buddies, Freddie said, “You’ve got some ID to back that up, right?”
Freddie is thinking, this doughball cannot be a state cop.
He smiled at Freddie like a kid who’d just set fire to an ant hill and pulled a silver, five-pointed Oregon State Police badge from the breast pocket of his cheap gray fishing vest.
“O-kay,” said Freddie, beyond amazed.
Freddie pulled out his wallet to show the officer his license. The officer’s companion, also a game warden, checked Freddie’s bagged fish very carefully and found that it had been hooked in the mouth. Everything’s 10-4, and the wardens are very disappointed.
Then, as the wardens, their cover blown for the day, slowly moved upstream and out of hearing range, the crowd of fishermen began to chuckle.
Freddie’s buddy Jay summed it up, shaking his head and laughing: “He wanted to nail you for snagging a fish, but you snagged him. You snagged a game warden. Wonder what the fine is for that?”
Freddie couldn’t help but think that life sometimes dishes out surprises, like you get fined for snagging a salmon, but wardens are fair game for foul hooking.