Thursday, March 4, 2010

Take Me Fishing...or Not...

This was going to be the year.  I've been waiting for it forever, it seems.  Finally.  I have reached the qualifying age of 65 which entitles me to my FREE fishing license here in West Virginia.

I used to love to fish.  Having grown up on Puget Sound, with saltwater right at my toes, I spent many an hour with a line trolling off the back of my rowboat.  When my grandpa passed away, he left his boat and his little trolling motor to me.  It didn't take me long to master the art of winding the starter cord, giving it a yank and off I would go.

Generally speaking, I fished with small spoons or sometimes worms; and I loved every minute of the peaceful back and forth I made with my boat and almost soundless motor along the shore of the bay.  I would troll perhaps four miles to the south and then return, perhaps four times over the course of a late afternoon.  I had a large dipnet and learned to organize my process when a fish would strike, so that I didnt'  drop anything into the 'drink" as my dad called it.  I would catch cutthroats mostly; sometimes a silver salmon would bite.  Of an evening I would bring in enough to make a delicious breakfast the following day.  We always ate whatever we caught from these pristine (pollution-free) waters.

Of course, even when I went fishing with Dad, I had to bait my own hook if I had decided to use worms.  He never let me get away with having him bait it.  Nor would he clean my catch.  That, too, was up to me.  There were lessons in this:  a squirmy worm, wriggling in my fingers as I tried to impale the creature on a hook, made me aware that it was alive and that I was the instrument of its soon-to-be non-alive status.  Same with taking the fish OFF the hook and smacking its head on the floorboards of the boat.  That was called "taking responsibility" and they were powerful lessons for a child.

Here JOTOLR, we live at the confluence of three rivers:  The New, the Greenbrier and the Bluestone.  The picture (above) alludes to one of the spots I've had my eye on where I thought I'd like to drop a line.

Having left saltwater, where I grew up knowing all the fishing lore I could possibly absorb and where I was reasonably successful not just in the fishing, but in the catching, as well...I now have to start from scratch as a freshwater angler, and learn what all I can catch amd how to do it.  First step:  the Internet.  I found a website called Take Me Fishing.  Talk about comprehensive!  I believe I can find answers to any fishing questions I have in the "How to Fish" and "What You Can Catch" departments.  There's even a section called Fishopedia that will answer questions about each species and how they live.  Fishopedia will also answer questions you never knew you had!

So, it was that I came to think about two things I'd not contemplated.  The first was the question of whether or not I could or would eat my catch.  Here in West Virginia (as in most other --if not all--states in the Eastern U. S. ) streams and lakes are contaminated with PCB's, mercury, selenium and dioxin.  In my youthful angling, I would have been shocked at not being able or allowed to eat what I had caught.  That thought never crossed my mind 57 years ago. Today, things are considerably changed to the point where, in addition to learning how to fish, how to clean the fish, where to catch it, it is necessary to learn whether you can eat the fish at all, or at the very least, how much (or how little) to eat so you don't wind up killing yourself in slow bites.

For that incidental bit of knowledge I turned to the Internet again.  This time is was the West Virginia Fish Consumption Advisories.  Now, don't misunderstand:  I am grateful for this information.  Very grateful.  But, you somehow casts a pall over the whole enterprise to learn that fishing could be lethal.  And...what if I'd never thought about it and just gone ahead and eaten the fish?  So, I learned that today's definition of "limit" has everything to do with food safety, in addition to the limit in my creel.  When it comes right down to it--after reading through this website--I wasn't at all sure I wanted to eat ANY of the fish I would catch.

So, what about "catch-and-release?"  Really, I've never liked the idea of working hard to catch and land my fish, only to turn it loose.  Where's the fun in that?!  Then again, if you can't eat it, what else can you do?

I decided to take a fresh, unvarnished, non-judgmental look at "catch-and-release."  For those who can't figure this out, catch-and-release is where the fisherwoman gets the "thrill" of landing her fish, but then turns the exhausted fish loose, supposedly unharmed and it lives to "fight another day."  Definitely a win-win, since the fish lives and I do, too.

I Googled "joy of catch and release."

I knew I was in trouble when the first hit that came up was called "Fish Don't Cry".  It detailed the evidence for fish feeling pain, (not to mention the worm) and the barbarous implications in the practices of catch-and-release--that the fish is simply being tortured for the sportswoman's pleasure.  By the time I got to the bottom of the page, my free fishing license--the one I'd been waiting years to have--had morphed into a free pass for me to torture animals that weren't worth catching in the first place because they're so filled with contaminants that nobody in their right mind would eat them, taking away any justification--fun, food or filosophy--for fishing whatsoever.

So, will I use my free fishing license?  Honestly?  Probably not.  Oh, and one more thing:  those pristine waters where I fished as a child?  We were a lovely community of around 3,000 back then when I lived there.  Now, there are approximately 70,000 in the same "neighborhood"  with a Sak's and a Nordstrom's where the tackle shop used to be.  Go figure.


  1. I know I should follow the links, but I thought I'd just ask ... what about ponds? Ours is full of catfish and needs to be fished. Are the little private ponds contaminated, too?

  2. What an illustrative piece of prose about our dwindling safe waters and the fish that live there. Personal accounts like this speak loudly about our troubled Mother Earth. -- barbara

  3. When I was a child I fished with my Dad too - freshwater. And even though I live on a lake here I never fish. It's so high-tech these days. I just want a cane pole, a hook and a cork and a worm. Can't even find a cane pole! blessings, marlene

  4. Couldn't help saying Yuck, when I read about the pollution. I don't think we have that problem here. As a child we would catch rainbow trout in the local (Cornwall) streams either with worms or by 'tickling' though our sucess was limited. Probably because there would be half a dozen of us kids striding up the stream together.