“Gus” is a typically taciturn Mainuh. He is in charge of our town’s transfer station, otherwise known as the dump. He looks quite serious and intimidating when he checks one’s garbage to ensure the recyclables aren’t mixed with regular trash. He is a man of few words. Mostly he just scowls. But three years ago when I decided to take up fishing and had absolutely no idea how to begin, I screwed up my courage to ask him for help.
This was not my first attempt at getting help. But every other Mainer, when I asked “how can I learn how to fish?” just laughed. Not because they were mean-spirited; they just couldn’t believe I was serious. How hard is it to bait a hook and put it in the water? For rural Mainers, I might as well have asked, “How does one breathe?”
But Gus didn’t laugh. Once I asked his advice, his entire gruff demeanor changed. It was as if a dam had opened. Advice, suggestions, help, and the usual exaggerated fish tales – – Gus could go on for hours. I had never seen him look so happy or be so talkative. From then on he treated me like a bestie every time I dumped my trash.
Last year I did something really stupid. I broke my fishing rod, not once, not twice, but three times. The first time, I stood the rod upright next to my front door. Unfortunately, when I opened the door, the rod fell, and the door shut – right on the rod, snapping off the top. Another time I laid the rod next to the window and forgot about it. When I closed the window, the top of the rod got wedged in the window and snapped off. The third time the rod snapped when I slammed the car’s trunk on it and this time it was beyond repair. Due to my carelessness, this was getting to be an expensive hobby! When I confessed my klutziness to Gus, he didn’t laugh. Instead, he told me his own stupid fish story about how he lost his brand new rod and reel from his boat. He had been fishing with two poles simultaneously, and while he was using one, he forgot to secure the other and down to the bottom of the lake it went when a fish snagged the baited hook. “That’s fishing fuh ya,” he said, slowly shaking his head.
I had been carefully monitoring the sales in search of a new rod and a better reel. Prices start at $15 and can go to several hundreds of dollars. I am of the school that says “it’s the Indian, not the arrow” so I wasn’t looking for anything fancy. I had used this principle when I went trap shooting. Many men had gorgeous double barrel shotguns that cost well over $1000. I was using an inexpensive pump shotgun that I bought used at a gun show. And guess what? My trap shooting score was only a point or two behind theirs, and that was mostly due to my inability to practice regularly. I’m not bragging here, just making a point. A better tool can make a difference, but if the person using the took is inept, even the world’s most expensive tool/fishing rod/shotgun is just not going to help.
Gus recommended that I get an Ugly Stik, which is a brand of fishing rod that is practically indestructible, and is covered by warranty if it breaks. I saw one at half price in my home town at a store that sells overstocks for $20. Then I went to Cabela’s in Scarborough Maine for a reel, and the sales staff were really helpful in advising me what to buy according to my needs. The reel I decided on was normally $40 but was on sale for $30. I was about to purchase it but suddenly I had a notion to look in the “Bargain Cave” section of the store, where clearance items, returned goods, and seconds can be found. There was the reel I had picked out in the main part of the store, for only $20, and it was brand new! The sales person said it had been on a defective rod, so he threw away the rod and put the reel in the Bargain Cave. Not only would I get a nice Shimano reel at an affordable price, they’d even string the line for me for free. While I managed to do this on my own in the past, threadingg fishing line on a reel is an annoying chore that doesn’t come easy to me, so I was happy that they offered this service.
But the bargains didn’t stop there. When I went to pay, the clerk asked me if I had a Cabela’s credit card. I told her no, I had no interest in adding yet another credit card to my collection. But when she explained that by opening a Cabela’s credit line, I’d get $20 worth of merchandise free, I took the bait, as it were. Nothing like getting a free reel!
Now I was truly excited. I bought a Maine fishing license online and printed it out, putting it in a ziplock bag so it would be waterproof. Fishing 2015, here I come!
With a stretch of amazing weather in the 80s F, and the bugs still not so bad, I bought two packages of live worms in anticipation of a week of great fishing.
Alas. Every time I tried to cast with my new, improved rod and reel, the line tangled miserably. I didn’t know if it was the rod, the reel, or the new braided line. There was only one thing to do: ask Gus. So the next time I took my garbage to the dump, I showed him my new rig and asked if he could figure out why I was having trouble.
“Simple,” he said. “You have too much line on your reel. Unwind it and cut the excess line so it’s only 3/4 full on the reel, and you’ll be fine.”
Sure enough, many reduced feet of fishing line later, I was casting like the best of them. And within 20 minutes I had caught two beautiful brook trout.
This past weekend, a female friend “from away” (the terms used by Mainers to describe anyone not from Maine) was looking forward to coming for a visit. She expressed a desire to go fishing, her very first attempt at doing so. I felt her chances of catching a fish were pretty good, since I had caught the two trout only 3 days before at Kewaydin Lake (recently stocked by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife). I had also seen 21″ bass in the same area of the lake, but at the time they weren’t biting.
(Guests who come for a visit are in for a surprise when they forage in my fridge. Just when they think they’ve found the package of cream cheese, when they open the similar-looking container they are surprised by a dozen squirming, slimy worms. This has resulted in many hilarious moments.)
Just before my friend and I got to the lake, I realized I had forgotten my two packages of worms! I didn’t really want to go all the way back home, since we were right near a convenience store that sold a dozen worms for four dollars. (My city friend noted that the worms were sold in the refrigerated section, sitting right next to the milk. She chuckled when I could not find anything unusual about this.)
When we got to the lake there were two locals fishing for trout and bass. They managed to catch a small trout – – too small to keep, and they returned it to the water unharmed. Watching their adept casting skills was a bit intimidating, but they were more than helpful in answering our questions and suggesting ways we could improve our luck. Alas, my friend did not experience the thrill of catching her first fish, despite our best efforts.
That’s fishing, of course. They either bite, or they don’t. Some days are great, other days not. It’s something you just can’t control. But you can’t beat the views or the fresh air. And while you’re waiting for a bite, you have plenty of time to think about solving the world’s problems – – or not thinking at all and enjoying the quiet and peace of mind, which can be a blessed relief.
The next few days the weather turned much colder, and the winds were howling. The water was very rough and the current strong. Kewaydin was churned up enough that I could not see any fish in the usually pristine, clear lake, and despite a few tries it was clear that fishing would be better another time. Due to the change of weather and high winds, what was supposed to be a week of marathon fishing was instead replaced by chores and errands.
This coming weekend I’m returning to my hometown for an entire month, so dreams of fishing will have to wait until my return to Maine mid-June. But what to do with those three containers of worms? The worms’ lifespan is two to three weeks if kept in the refrigerator.
I could have dumped them in my garden, of course. But the fellow who runs the garbage dump has been my fishing mentor and I thought he might want the worms.
“Hey, Gus, I have something for you,” I said, handing him the packages of worms when I next visited the dump. “I’m going to be gone for the next month so I won’t be able to use these.” His entire face lit up. “Thanks for the worms!” Gus said with heartfelt enthusiasm. Clearly I had made his day.
That’s when I thought about how much my life has changed, and what a different person I’ve become. Nor could I think of a single friend from my home town and previous life that would be happy to receive a gift of three containers of worms.