Opening Day of Trout Season

Opening Day

I think I pointed out in my last post that this coming Saturday is Opening Day of Trout Season here in the state of Rhode Island. It is my husband’s Holy Day. (This is the day which the Lord, God hath made…we shall be glad and make sure we have purchased our fishing licenses for the year – with the trout stamp – well before 6:00 am on the morning of Opening Day)

Anyway, this is the post from last year. Alex is older, so I’m not sure if I’ll have the opportunity to write this year as I did then.

So, here goes…

(from my old blog)

For those of you who weren’t born into and didn’t marry into the same religion as my husband, today is the most holy day of the year.

Today is the second Saturday in April…Opening Day of Trout Season in Rhode Island.

Last night my husband carefully and reverently loaded my car (his is having ignition problems) with the various articles necessary for today’s activities: two fresh-water poles with 6-pound-test line, tackle box, smaller trout-specific tackle box, net, new spinner bait lures he bought last night, new cushions for the canoe while it is held aloft on top of my car on the journey to Mecca – I mean Carbunkle Pond…., rain gear for himself and his nephew, Joe (Joe’s using my rain gear), straps to hold the canoe on the car, a blanket to put on top of the car but beneath the cushions and the canoe, a garbage bag for the day’s catch, a stringer, the canoe motor and battery (Carbunkle is pretty big, and it’s not a whole lot of fun paddling when there are 50,000 other pilgrims out there looking to catch the same 6 trout you’re after)…a paddle, just in case…life jackets (required by law), current fishing licenses with trout stamps, gloves, and meal worms.

I think that’s everything. I didn’t convert when we got married, so I only have a small part in the Opening Day activities.

This morning we were all up by 4:30 am, except Alex, who is too young to participate…he will be baptized when he is old enough to fully grasp the seriousness of this day – it is not fishing for fun, like the pagans (Mommy) do. This morning’s venture is a mission from the god of fishing. It is to be treated with the utmost respect and reverence. If it is cold and raining (like it is today), too bad. There will be no going home until the limit has been caught, until the clouds part and the angels sing, until nirvana is reached, until…well, something like that. But there’s definitely no going home without fish.

While my husband and Joe put the last few things into the car, and put the canoe on top, I started the coffee and made them the traditional Opening Day breakfast. Fried egg on an english muffin. With melted cheese. And this year – slices of pepperoni that had been warmed in the pan while the eggs were cooking. This is my contribution to the day. I know, I know, some of you (Mom, Meredith) think I am nuts to bother getting up and feeding them if I’m not going anywhere myself…and it’s probably true. But I do it anyway.

Maybe it’s for luck (“Luck? We don’t need luck, foolish woman! We have powerbait! We have spinners! We have meal worms! We don’t need luck!”)…or maybe it’s because I like to fish too. Just not on opening day. I lack the faith and devotion that oozes from my husband’s pores. I will want to go home and be warm.

So anyway, they should be arriving at Carbunkle Pond any moment now. (It is 5:48 at this moment.) It is a cold, wet morning. We had a lot of rain last night, and I think it’s supposed to rain this morning on and off as well. But that’s okay. Rain is not a bad thing when you’re fishing for trout. Much better to have rain, or at least a dark, overcast sky, than bright sun. Bright sun will cast shadows on the water, and nothing makes a suspicious trout decide to stay right where he is than the shadowy shape of a canoe and two tall men with poles and a net directly above. So this morning’s weather is a good thing. It will extend the prime fishing time by at least another hour, maybe two.

Opening day commences at 6:00 am. Sharp. Not a second before. And if you start a second after, you might as well reel in your worm and dauber, pack up your gear, and go home. There will not be a single square inch of water available after all the Opening Day veterans have cast.

Here’s why. Imagine John Lennon and George Harrison come back to life for one weekend. And they get together with Paul and Ringo somewhere for a reunion concert. Tickets will go on sale at 6:00 am on the morning of the Monday preceding that weekend. In one place only. Imagine all the people (couldn’t help that) traveling for miles and miles to camp out in front of the ticket window for at least a month, just to make sure they get a seat somewhere within a 5 mile radius of the concert. Anyone who ambles out on Monday morning at 6:00:01 with any hope of getting a ticket is obviously running a few CD’s short of a boxed set. (Okay, forgive me for that, but I tried.)

So it’s the same principle here. Many people camp out the night before Opening Day. For some, it’s a family tradition. They bring their children, their tents, their marshmallows, Hershey bars and graham crackers, and have a fun night of cooking outside their tent, over an open pile of damp logs and cold, wet coals. Then they curl up in their sleeping bags, safely out of the elements inside their snug tents, and pray that the mud slides hold off until morning.

Before dawn, these campers, and the other, smarter people who have “roughed it” enough in their lives to appreciate the convenience of a warm, dry bed and a warm, dry car, all gather at the water’s edge (or out on the water, in their canoes and other vessels) to bait hooks, test line, plan strategy, determine wind direction, sniff the air (“there be trout in them thar waters…”) and wish they’d brought a second set of gloves because it’s really, really cold right now.

Everyone waits. The wind dies, the birds hush, and the fishing faithful pray. And then – it is 6:00 am – and in one beautiful, sweeping motion, reminiscent of Radio City Rockettes kicking, or a Busby Berkley (sp?) musical extravaganza, poles already angled back, ready for that first, exhilirating cast, arc forward with a SNAP! Lines fly out across the water, bait and lures of every kind break the water’s surface, and Opening Day, the most wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful day of the year, has begun.

And then the next minute you hear a lot of unholy words being muttered because most everyone on shore has had their line tangle with about 5 or 6 other lines. It’s hard not to tangle when you are standing shoulder to shoulder to rib cage to hip bone to elbow with 50,000 other people, after all.

My husband chooses to avoid this delay in his quest by going out onto the water. And it’s nice to sit out in a canoe, early in the morning, smelling the damp, earthy scent of mud and sludge that has been stirred up by a million other boats and sinkers and feet…it’s nice to listen to the birds singing their morning songs (they are permitted to begin again after 6:02 am)…it’s nice to be far, far away from phones and news broadcasts and the daily grind.

Of course, it may be nice, but it don’t catch you no fish. So you don’t just sit there. You survey the water. You choose your spot. You take a cast . Let the worm float, let it hover there, calling to the starving trout who, only weeks before, were splashing happily in their home ponds at the trout hatcheries. The trout who, just weeks ago, had 3 square meals a day and didn’t even have to look for it. Sure, they had to share with all the other trout in their age and size group, but there was plenty of food, and it just came right to you. Then they were gathered up and trucked away to these new ponds. At first they were kind of cool – much bigger, less crowding…more nooks and crannies to explore, and all that…but…no free food any more. Now they have to work for it. And having been hatched and raised in domesticity, they are complete novices. Sure, instinct will take over, but it’s just not the same. Not half as much fun as hearing the dinner bell ring and racing all your buddies to the edge of the hatchery pond and fighting for breakfast pellets.

So Opening Day is actually kind of a cruel joke for the trout. After a couple weeks of trying to figure out if bug larva tastes as good as a pellet, (tastes a bit better, actually – not as crunchy, but there’s a small pop when you bite it and the filling is smoothe and creamy.), suddenly, one morning, tons and tons of FREE FOOD falls into the pond. Hooray! The punishment is over! And the fish race each other again, laughing with giddy relief, toward the banquet.

And then sharp things pierce their cheeks and they are dragged to the surface of the water. Something dips into the water and next they are trapped in a tangle of what seems like a thousand ropes. The net lifts them out of the water and into the boat, where the hooks are removed from their tender mouths. And then they are either thrown back to go through this again (not likely), or they are put on a stringer. The humane fishermen will bleed them right away, so they die quickly. Ripping the gills out is a quick and effective means to this end. The less humane will put the fish in a bucket and let them flop around until they die. People have seen my husband rip the gills out and think that is cruel (or cool, depending on the age and gender of the observer). But he is not a cruel man. He does it so the fish will die fast and suffering is minimal.

And yes, this is necessary. These fish will not survive the year in these ponds anyway. The majority of the ponds are relatively shallow, and the water will get much too warm in the summer. Most of the ponds that are stocked are generally stocked twice a year – early spring and then again in the fall. Most of the trout have been caught before summer or winter hit.

So anyway, back to fishing.

Some years are good, others, not so good. Last year was a great year. Bill went with his friend and beer-brewing partner, John. Rather than sleep over, as Joe did this year, John slept in his own bed and promised to be at our house by 5:00 in the morning. Ha. He was late. And that is a BIG no-no on opening day. Actually, it is a bad idea any time you are going fishing first thing in the morning with my husband. But there’s a reason. Very often the best fishing is done before the sun comes up. The fish can’t see sun-backed images hovering menacingly above them. They think the things plopping on the top of the water are really little bugs or larvae. So the less sun, the better the fishing is. Unless you’ve been cursed by the fish gods, but that’s different. You’re doomed no matter what. Anyway, my point is, you want to catch fish, you get to our house on time. ESPECIALLY on Opening Day. Tardiness is a mortal sin.

And John was late. The car was ready, the canoe was strapped on top, coffee was made, and Bill had had his breakfast. The clock ticked. “If he’s not here in five minutes I’m leaving.” Okay. Okay. Maybe he’ll be here. Pace, pace, pace, pace, back and forth, coffee in hand, one eye on the clock, the other squinting in fury. Finally, we hear a car pull in. John has arrived. He is late, but he will live. Bill has prepared coffee for John (“F*** him, he can drink it the way I make it!”). I offer to fix John breakfast. Bill takes the cold english muffin from my hand, thrusts it at John. “Here. You can eat that.” And off they go.

Despite the ugliness of the start to their day, they caught 10 trout between them. The limit is 6 per person. They stopped at 10 because there was really no need for 12 fish. My husband is not greedy. He just wants to catch his limit. That’s all.

There have been not-so-good years, and even an ugly year (my first experience as an Opening Day widow) when my husband, my brother-in-law, my father, and my cousin all went together, 2 canoes between them, and were gone a long, long time. They arrived home around 3:30 in the afternoon, if I remember right. With 2 fish. That’s it. Not 2 fish each. Just 2 fish. My cousin, Steve, caught at least one of them. Either my dad caught the other one, or Steve caught both and my dad had one on but lost it…something like that. Anyway. Steve doesn’t even really like to fish. He went along because he’s a nice guy and a team player and this way there were 4 of them so they could use the 2 canoes in various combinations. Bill, the mighty fisherman, who has been doing this since he was an embryo, caught nothing. Little girls were reeling in monster trout on their Snoopy poles and he caught nothing. Not even a bite. It was not pretty. No. It was an ugly, ugly day. We don’t talk about it.

So who knows what today will bring. Bill has vowed, as he does every year, not to come home without fish. Without at least one fish. And I hope he is successful. Partly because I like trout. Partly because I want him to be happy. Partly because I don’t want him to be miserable for the rest of the day/evening/weekend.

And partly because I want to take a picture of him and Alex and Joe with a stringer of fish. Alex has a really cute tiny little fishing vest, and that combined with a green plaid shirt and jeans and a goofy hat will be just adorable. So what if he didn’t catch any of the fish. Some day he will.

And now, I am going to fix myself some breakfast and warm up my coffee again. Alex is awake. Time to start our day.

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