Posts Tagged ‘worms’

Don’t Look a Gift Worm in the Mouth

“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.

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To Every Thing, There Is a Higher Purpose

The last days of August were a flurry of activity as we prepared to leave Maine.  We would be returning to our home town for the month of Jewish holidays:  Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.

I realized it was a week of “last chances” – – places to fish and swim; because upon our return in October it would be too cold to take a dip in the lake and fishing season would be over until ice fishing season began on January 1st (something I haven’t yet attempted).

I knew I wouldn’t have much luck fishing at Horseshoe Pond, but my rod and reel anyhow served only as an excuse to paddle my kayak around this beautiful place.  As its name indicates, it is shaped like the letter “U;” I paddled from one end to the other and back again.  I was the only one on the lake, alone in my thoughts on a warm and glorious day.

Horseshoe Pond

Horseshoe Pond (click to enlarge)  My house (not visible)  is just behind the middle hill in background.

I went for a walk with my dog near my house.  The foliage in the woods was so thick; yet despite the warm temperatures the air felt different, truly like the end of summer.  I noticed the sugar maples were just starting to turn, a few giving coy previews of the glories soon to come.

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Soon we passed the old West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse.  It was established in 1860 during Stoneham’s heyday, when the land was settled by farmers and loggers.  Shortly thereafter the population dwindled, victims of poor soil for farming; industrialization in the cities that offered better paying jobs; and the Spanish flu, which decimated entire families in this region.  Even though it was always small – – in 1880 the population was 475 souls – –  it’s hard to imagine our town as once bustling (the 2010 census indicated there are 237 residents, with a density of 7 residents per square mile). Yet in the late 1800s there were five such one-room schoolhouses spread throughout Stoneham.  Today the West Stoneham schoolhouse has been modernized somewhat and is used as someone’s summer cottage.

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The (former) West Stoneham one-room schoolhouse, ca. 1860

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Click to enlarge and see a closeup of W. Stoneham schoolhouse’s commemorative sign

On Friday morning, I decided to go fishing one last time at Virginia Lake.

While I was threading the worm onto the hook, I thought about how we humans tend to think of worms and bugs as the earth’s lowliest creatures.  Yet where would fish and birds (ergo us humans) be without them?  Although they may be an annoyance to humans, worms and insects clearly have a crucial purpose in life as part of the food chain and we would be lost without them.

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(It did not take long before the fish began biting. I caught seven: one was a yellow perch which is not a good eating fish; 2 were too small to keep; but four white perch were just the right size for our upcoming Shabbat dinner and lunch.)

While swatting mosquitoes back at home, the “bugs are beneficial” concept was further driven home by the arrival of the Bee Man.  He was there to harvest this year’s honey crop.  As noted in this article in the Portland Press Herald, this year’s honey crop was one of Maine’s all-time worst.  The Bee Man told me that he averages 1400 lbs of honey per year from his dozens of hives in bee yards spread over a 20 mile radius.  Last year he harvested 1700 lbs.  But this year, he will be lucky to get a meager 500 lbs.  The reason was mostly weather related:  bees prefer hot, sunny days, and 25 days out of 30 in June were rainy, with July and August not faring much better.  The bees were “thin,” he said, and not only could he not harvest whatever little amount of honey they had produced, he would have to add sugar cakes to the hives to feed them supplementally, lest they starve over the winter.

As I stood talking to Bee Man, I was busy swatting the bugs, and I pointed out that his bee suit was covered with gnats and mosquitoes.  “It’s about time!” he said with a smile.  “I’m telling you . . . something is going on.  Yours is the first place I’ve been to today that’s even had bugs!”  I frowned but Bee Man smiled.

“Usually when I empty the hives, I see a lot of ants.  This year I didn’t see any!  And if there aren’t ants, then there are earwigs.  But no earwigs this year, either.  Yep, definitely something is going on, and it’s not good.”  Translation:  pesticides have been introduced to some farms in Bee Man’s area.  True, there are fewer bugs, but the hives are in danger of colony collapse.  For Bee Man, bugs are a measuring stick for the health of his bees . . . and ourselves.

The lowly insect  – – something so small and seemingly insignificant (not to mention annoying) – –  is in fact not inconsequential at all.  Everything, and I do mean everything that was created by G-d has purpose and meaning and is part of a Greater Plan, even if our small minds cannot grasp it.

Seen in this light, even a gnat can inspire us with awe.

It is said there is no such thing as an atheist farmer, because despite his best efforts, he is at the mercy of the forces of Nature, and he recognizes that ultimately his success is up to G-d.  May the New Year reignite our sense of awe and wonder and appreciation of all the good that has been bestowed upon us, and instill us with clarity to recognize Truth.

Striking It Rich

We returned to Maine on Sunday night, and the next day, after the rain cleared and the sun shone, I decided to go hiking.  Ten days before, I had gone walking in the woods in Evans Notch, on an easy, underused 5-mile-long trail that meanders along the Cold River.  It was my “farewell hike,” as we would be traveling the next day to our hometown for the holiday of Shavuot, along with the yahrzeit of my mother-in-law.  We would be in our hometown for only a week, but it was wonderful to see our kids and grandchildren again and reconnect with friends.

The water was flowing nicely, when I reached an area of quiet, deep water.  The water was crystal clear, and lo and behold, I saw two groups of thirty brown trout, all 18″ – 21″ long!  Sadly, I didn’t have a fishing pole with me, but I promised myself to return.

Brook trout in Cold River

Brook trout in Cold River

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(too bad this was taken with my cell phone, instead of my camera and polarizing lens . . . )

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I walked back to my car and drove a couple of miles further to The Basin, where I parked my car and ate a picnic lunch.  There I met a retired gentleman who was fishing at Basin Pond.  He and his wife were staying at the campground there.  Within 15 minutes he had caught his limit of 5 brook trout.  When I told him about the brown trout I had seen in Cold River, his eyes lit up.  He told me that New Hampshire Fish & Game sometimes stocks their “old” breeders there, which makes sense, since several nearby lakes have been stocked recently (Kewaydin Lake, near me, was stocked a week ago by Fish & Game with 400 trout).

This guy caught 5 trout in 15 minutes

This guy caught 5 trout in 15 minutes

One of the brook trout he caught

One of the brook trout he caught

The Basin in Evans Notch, site of my picnic lunch

The Basin in Evans Notch, site of my picnic lunch

Another view of The Basin

Another view of The Basin

Now back in Maine, I was eager to revisit this “secret” fishing hole and I encouraged my husband to come along after work, so at 5:15 p.m. we drove to Evans Notch, parked, and walked the 20 minutes to the site I remembered.  Alas, even though we spotted the fish, they were not biting.  Disappointed, we made our way back to the car and began the 6-mile drive home.  We turned down the dirt road at Deer Hill and halfway to our house at the 3-mile mark, my husband spotted a cow moose (female) at Deer Hill bog, grazing in the water.  Our first actual moose sighting of the season!

Cow Moose at Deer Hill Bog

Cow Moose at Deer Hill Bog

The itch to fish was not over, however.  It was now 7:30 p.m.  and there wouldn’t be much daylight left, but I dropped my husband off at home and set out alone for Kewaydin Lake.  Within a mile of our house, along the road, I saw a cow moose walking along the road.   I couldn’t believe my luck – – two moose sightings in one day!

The sunset on Kewaydin Lake was beautiful, and best of all, the fish were definitely biting!  I caught a smallmouth bass almost immediately and called it a day. . . or so I thought.  As I neared my house in the near-darkness, I suddenly sensed a shadow – and as I slowed my car I saw a bull moose, his antlers in velvet, running alongside my car.   I stopped and watched it run off into the woods, and then continued home.  About 100′ feet before reaching my driveway, I saw a moose calf walking along the road.  That’s four moose in one day spotted in my neck of the woods . . . a new personal record.  I only felt bad my husband had missed the excitement.

Two years ago, my husband and I made a deal.  I had bought him a fishing license, but he was just too grossed out impaling a worm on a hook to continue fishing!  Since non-resident fishing licenses are not cheap ($64 a year), I told him that unless he could get over his phobia, I would be putting the fishing license in my name the following year.  And so, I have been the family fisherman ever since.  He told me if I would catch the fish, he would clean it.  I guess he thought that he wouldn’t have to make good on this promise, since I am a newbie and don’t really know what I’m doing.  And I was beginning to wonder if the only fish we’d ever eat would come out of a can:  I caught plenty of fish, but they were either not good eating fish (yellow perch) or too small to meet Fish & Game regulation size.  I always had to throw them back.

Well, now it was payback time.  The fish was still alive and swimming in a water-filled ice chest, surviving the bumpy ride home.  I left my husband the gruesome task of killing and cleaning the fish.  It seemed cruel to let it die by slowly suffocating out of water.  In a fit of manliness my husband got the idea to behead it quickly with an axe and proceeded to clean it at the kitchen sink.  Now, why killing and gutting a flopping fish is less gross than threading a worm on a hook I don’t understand, but I’m not complaining.

I dipped the fish in a beaten egg white, dusted it with flour seasoned with pepper and parsley, sprayed some oil on an iron skillet, and moments later the fish was sizzling in the pan on the fire.  I was careful not to over cook.  It was truly the sweetest, most tender and delicious fish I have ever eaten – and certainly the freshest!  (Not to mention expensive – I called it “my $64 fish” – since this was the only fish caught so far on the new fishing license.)

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For me it was a kind of test.  I wanted to know if I was capable of “hunting” and eating my “prey,”  albeit in a kosher manner.  Or would I be too sentimental?

I guess I’m too cold-hearted (or perhaps I was too hungry!) but I confess I was not particularly emotional about the entire experience.  Yes, I felt bad about the poor fish to some extent, but it also gave me an appreciation for the workings of nature in HaShem’s world, and the idea that He has created things for our sustenance – –  that is a chesed (kindness).  The fact that we have to work so hard for our food makes it impossible to take life and death casually or for granted.  I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the convenience of going to the supermarket for my food!  But by shopping for our food we have lost that hunter-gatherer connection, and the many important life lessons that go along with that.  Fishing does serve to reconnect us to those primal and spiritual roots.

What a great Maine day!