The first day of trout season just opened up in a couple states neighboring Florida and putting a note about it on the chalkboard outside the shop got me thinking about years gone past and what the opening day experience meant to me growing up. Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and many others have a rich fishing tradition similar to my home state of Pennsylvania, and I'm sure a lot of folks in that region have similar memories to mine.
We used to pack up the van as soon as my father got home from work Friday night so we could hit the road in time to unpack at camp and have dinner at a local watering hole called “The Tannery” in West Hickory. I’d have my usual (a large fish sandwich) and we’d all enjoy a casual dinner amongst the other anglers who were equally eager to get their lines in the water. Getting to sleep was always tough with all the anticipation and high expectations of epic success we’d enjoy the next morning. Visions of dancing trout and full stringers populated our thoughts as we’d finally drift off in troubled slumber.
The next morning dawned with an early breakfast and a frenzied gear inventory so we could get to our secret spots on one of many stocked streams throughout the region. Brokenstraw, Spring, Tionesta, Hickory, and Pine Creeks all had fish and we just knew we’d hit the motherload if we could just get there before everyone else. Of course, all the others had the same idea and we’d end up standing side by side one a likely hole just waiting for legal fishing time to approach. Like a bowyer standing at full draw, everyone waited for the clocks to move past eight o’clock.
Ziiinnnngggg…All lines cast forth in unison when legal fishing time passed, followed immediately by the frustrated exclamations uttered by 90% of the anglers because they all backlashed or overzealously cast right into the nearest patch of brush with their first cast of the season. I know I was one of them although my language was likely a little less colorful than that of the adults. It would take a little while to settle down and get in the groove after months of inactivity and lack of practice, not to mention the ever present threat of toppling over into the current after hitting a slick rock while stumbling around on numbed legs and feet.
Eventually things came together and someone would hook up, proving that the commission actually did stock the stream, which then would cause everyone to crowd a little closer to the productive hole. I never fell for the hype, and sought out less pressured fish instead, relying on my budding skills to find fish of my own. Eventually I would. They might not have been the biggest or the most numerous, but I found them and they were all mine. Although I’d never rank up there with true professionals or my father for that matter, I’d land a few to take home for dinner while at the same time, donating a bunch of tackle to the river and the surrounding foliage.
My parents allowed us to wander on our own once they thought we could handle ourselves in the water and were reasonably assured that we would conduct ourselves in a courteous and respectful manner, but supper time would eventually arrive and it was time to compare our day's catches. Dad always did the best, considering he had the most disposable income and could buy the latest tackle, while my brother and I would fare reasonably well given our limited experience and available equipment. Mom would come back with all her paraphilia intact likely proving that she participated only enough to be on the water with us rather than risk actually catching a fish.
All in all, the days were successful on a fish catching level, but more so on a slightly spiritual one as well. We spent time together as a family, we experienced a gathering of kindred spirits on something akin to a state holiday, and we enjoyed the moments communing with a natural world (albeit enhanced by sanctioned stocking programs) that folks in cities never get to encounter.
I dearly miss the innocence of those years and the simple joy of standing alone with my thoughts and dreams in a gurgling creek on opening day.
Brian “Beastman” Eastman