My dad made to me an odd proposition early in June of 2011. “Come fishing Saturday morning with me at 5 AM.” The thing that made such a request odd was that it would mark the first time I had done any fishing since I was probably 14 or 15 years old. Seeing as how I love spending time with my family (brothers and sister both came along as well), and how the spot he had picked was only 15 minutes from my house, though, I agreed. The spot he had in mind is a nature preserve frequented most often by hikers, nature photographers and bird watchers. Access to it is somewhat limited, and getting to the ponds themselves required some questionable street parking and trekking through some thick vegetation. My dad had been tipped off by a coworker that the fishing was spectacular, though, in no small part due to high barrier of entry. Since you couldn’t park in a public lot and easily walk to a pier or shoreline, the spot did not receive much pressure from casual fishermen.
I, however, have always loved an adventure, and isolated settings were always one of my favorite parts of fishing, so hiking 15 minutes on the muddy, winding trail through the Bear Grylls-ian woods that opened up on a beautiful bay was well worth dealing with thorns and brambles. I met up my brothers, sister and dad to find out that, aside from the typical crop of bluegill, one of my brothers had landed a nice perch, a species we had never encountered in the angling outings of our youth. Already, it had been a successful trip before I had even had a chance to wet my line.
I had gone out to Meijer and purchased a Shakespeare lake/pond spinning combo that week in anticipation. 6′ medium action rod with a small assortment of plastics and tackles. Also included was an illustrated guide to Texas Rigging, a methodology I had never heard of or employed back in my nightcrawler/stick bobber days. The whole thing cost me about $30 I think. I wanted new gear of my own to use, as I knew the stuff my dad would bring was the same stuff I was using 15 years ago, but I also couldn’t/didn’t want to spend too much money on anything, as I had no idea of whether or not I would ever use the stuff again after this first outing. Anxious to shake off a decade and a half of rust and give some of the Texas Rig tips and tricks I looked up on the internet a try, I got setup and started casting. It didn’t take long for me to find the comfortable balance of weight that only a spinning reel offers and my casts started getting more accurate and I felt more confident working the bait.
I didn’t even notice the strike on the first hookup, but as I began to retrieve, it became obvious to me that this was definitely the biggest fish I had ever had on my line. Although that didn’t mean a whole lot at the time, it was exciting to see the tip of my rod bow over and hear a fish actually taking line. It was at that point my dad reminded me to tighten my drag, as that thing was sitting on a shelf in Meijer for who-knows-how-long and who-knows-how-many prospective customers had fiddled with it, leaving it on it’s loosest setting. After horsing him in, I had managed to, if this were Sega Bass Fishing, pop a whole bunch of achievements. First largemouth. First fish over 12″. First fish on soft plastic lure. Perhaps, most importantly, first species I ever targeted and landed using the right time, bait and technique.
After catching another one of the same size not long after, the bite died down and we headed out. Two things became clear to me on the hike back to the car, though.
1) I would be doing a lot more fishing
2) I would be doing a lot more fishing at this particular spot
You may have noticed that I have yet to mention the name of this particular forest preserve, though. The reason is simple. On a subsequent trip, I found out, from a volunteer who was picking up garbage off the trails, that recently the spot was designated as NO FISHING. Curious as to why the rug was suddenly pulled out from under me, the volunteer went on to say that, because of the density of the woods and the isolated location, it wasn’t feasible for the park district to get trucks and cleaning crews in there, and that the fishermen are the ones who make the most mess. He admitted that he and most of the other people who volunteer there do not care about people fishing. This was not a preservation issue with the fish population or concerns about the water quality. It was simply a matter of, “the garbage left behind by fishermen is more than they can keep up with.” The worst part was that I wholly agreed with him. In the few trips I had taken there, I noticed all sorts of litter and detritus left behind by disrespectful anglers. Balled up line, bottles, cans, bait bags and containers…it was disheartening. Knowing full well that a large bulk of the charm of this spot was it’s beauty, I understood the decision, even though if I was sincerely bummed out by it.
This winter, though, I have been thinking long and hard about that spot. Not only about how bummed I am about the NO FISHING signs that would greet me if I were to go there, but also the reason for which they were erected. Those signs are meant to keep out the exact opposite type of fisherman that I am. Those who litter. Who park illegally. Who ignore when the reserve opens and closes. Who ignore creel limits and size restrictions. The type of people who not only go through the trouble of carrying a Little Caesar’s pizza through the woods to a fishing spot, but then leave the empty box – which would be much fucking easier to carry – behind next to the remnants of a campfire surrounded with Busch Light cans.
So, I’ve been debating with myself on whether or not I want to go back there this season. I reckon a couple of the spots I have found there will be hopping crazy come spring time, and as someone who is strictly catch-and-release, and as someone who doesn’t litter, I am wondering if it might be worth my while to return with my telescoping rod and a small assortment of tackle tucked in to my backpack next to a few 50 gallon garbage bags and a pair of gloves. I would be happy to split my time between fishing and picking up garbage. I am a janitor, for Christ sake. It’s in my nature anyway, and if I can easily prove that I am providing the very service whose overhead mitigates the ability for me to fish there, perhaps I could be granted some leniency.