Bluegill - Big Bluegill

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Thinking About Thinking About Fishing

As I write this morning, the official low temperature in Omaha was 15 below zero just an hour ago. Our area lakes have been covered in ice for more than a month now. From my perspective -- that of a fly fisherman -- ice constitutes an ugly, intolerable, and impenetrable scab on what otherwise are perfectly good bodies of water.

My inability to fish reduces me to thinking about fishing, or to be more precise today, thinking about how I think about fishing. It’s been an evolutionary process. As the child of children of the Depression, I was raised to catch as many fish as I could, clean everything I caught, and make sure nothing ever went to waste. The concept of “catch & release” wasn’t just foreign to my late mother, it may have been extraterrestrial. Why would anyone in his right mind throw away perfectly good food? Essential elements of my parents’ fishing equipment for their annual salmon fishing trip to the Northwest were a Coleman stove, canner, jars and lids.

I shared her point of view into my early adult years, basically keeping every fish big enough to clean, unless the catch turned out to be too few for a meal, or, I’ll confess, unless I was “too tired to clean only a couple.” Still, I appreciated the concept of “wanton waste,” at least to the point of feeling guilty about not eating something I’d caught.

“Catch & Release” didn’t become a common practice at our house until our children became proficient at fishing. I’d had enough evenings cleaning 50 crappie at a time and had no wish to repeat the feat. Conservation, I learned, is sometimes served by laziness. And I considered myself a conservationist and “good sportsman.” I faithfully bought a license each year, never (well, rarely) intentionally broke any regulations, and raised my kids to do the same.

One of the tragic ironies of fatherhood is that you have more time to devote to fishing once the children are grown and gone. No little league games, no after-school and weekend jobs, no high school clubs and activities. But no kid to take fishing. She went off to college, he went off to the Army.

I continued to fish on a semi-regular basis, but it was a solitary pursuit. None of my friends or co-workers fished much. Other than one-day deep sea fishing excursions on vacation, my wife showed no interest. Then seven years ago, on a 4th of July trip visiting friends in Steamboat Springs, the son of my wife’s best friend introduced me to fly fishing. It was a revelation, an epiphany, a life-changing experience. I caught my first fish on a fly rod! It could be done! After 50 years cranking spinning reels, I felt like a grade schooler learning to fish for the first time. Fly fishing was a whole new world for me – Terra Incognito -- and I didn’t have a guidebook or a map.

So I set out to learn, and the process of learning has changed the way I think about fishing. I began to buy books about fly fishing and picked up glossy fly fishing magazines off the news counter. Most, thankfully, included a strong conservation message that advocated catch & release.

The biggest change in my thinking, however, came with the discovery of a community of like-minded Nebraska anglers. For several years, our state’s fish and wildlife agency, the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, had sponsored a series of online forums for anglers and hunters. When the state cancelled this service, a group of lay volunteers created its successor, the Nebraska Fish & Game Association (www.nefga.org). Like its predecessor, the NEFGA site emphasizes a mix of practical fishing experience and science-backed facts about fishing. Nearly all of the participants endorse and practice a “selective harvest” philosophy in their fishing, which in practical terms means returning 10-inch bluegills and their superior genes to the lake to breed and to be caught again while harvesting 8-inchers for the skillet.

I’m now a CPR (catch, photograph, and release) fisherman, and I’ve come to appreciate the importance of swift, non-traumatic release. TV bass fishermen who bounce their catch off the expensive carpets of their boats infuriate me, and elevate my already high blood pressure.

Because of friends met through the website, and our shared common interests and outlooks, fishing is no longer a solitary activity for me. In 2003, I fished alone at least 90 times. Last year, probably 75 of my 120 fishing outings were with friends made through the online community, including such people as Bruce Condello, the originator of this website, and Teeg Stouffer, the national director of Recycled Fish. I think every angler, young or old, needs to read and affirm Recycled Fish’s “Stewardship Pledge” (http://recycledfish.org/home/wp-login.php?action=register) before wetting a line.

Becoming part of the NEFGA online community also led to volunteer activities, including active participation in Nebraska’s certified youth fishing instructor program (http://www.ngpc.state.ne.us/fishing/programs/aquaticed/#youth). I have no grandkids of my own (there's still hope!), but there’s no reason I can’t share the vicarious thrill of helping someone else’s grandchild catch her first fish. Especially when I was the one who showed her how to bait the hook.

Instead of a solitary activity for a lonely senior citizen, fishing has become a central element of my social life. And my wife always seems pleased to see me leave the house...

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Comment by OldBaldGuy on March 15, 2009 at 6:22pm
The first thing you'll need is a directory to tell you which lake is where, and luckily the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission has published one. It's called something like "Fishing Across Nebraska." I'm sure they'll send you one, at no charge, by contacting them at http://www.ngpc.state.ne.us Be sure to ask for the 2009 "Fishing Outlook," too. It shows the results of 2008 sampling at selected lakes across Nebraska, including several of the I-80 lakes. The third thing you'll need is the 2009 Nebraska Fishing Guide. It lists all public waters in the state, including all of the I-80 lakes with public access, shows what species have been stocked in each lake, and which to ignore because of recent renovations.
Comment by Bruce Condello on March 15, 2009 at 5:04am
How 'bout if I just meet you sometime at one of them?
Comment by chris garton on March 14, 2009 at 9:52pm
i too spend a lot of time on i76 i80 between my property in iowa, and my home/business on denver. i saw several groups of fisherman this winter fishing those holes from lincoln to kearney,
how bout some of you n.e guys spilln the beans on these ponds?
Comment by Dean on January 24, 2009 at 11:11am
Thanks for a wonderful read OBG. Sounds like you've done some great things for fellow fishermen - and got some good friends to boot. Collin's comment really struck home. For many a year I've pictured myself standing on the bank of every stretch of water we pass. There's no such thing as a bad fishing hole when you're driving by. Have you ever just "known" there were fish in the drainage ditches you've passed after a rain.
Comment by Frosch on January 16, 2009 at 8:26pm
OBG thanks for reminding me why I love to fish with you. Collin is that all you think about is fishing? Just joking! I'm the same way. Some people see a branch stinking out of the water. I see a fish hanging around some structure.
Comment by Bruce Condello on January 16, 2009 at 3:42pm
Collin, I think that maybe, the three people on this planet who may know the most about the Nebraska I-80 corridor borrow pits reside on this site. :-)
Comment by Collin Emerson on January 16, 2009 at 1:37pm
It was 15 below zero here in Temperance, Michigan this morning also and I too was thinking about fishing. I was reading Gray's Sporting Journal last night or did I see it in the In-Fisherman. At any rate, the web site "Bigbluegills" was written on my yellow legal pad, not that I'm a lawyer, to check out when I next read my e-mail. I somehow came across your entry and couldn't stop reading. I am a retired teacher and came to serious fly fishing when I was in my thirties. The best years of my life were spent teaching my two sons to bait a hook, use a spinning rod, play a Red Fish or Snook on 8lb. mono, and be responsible citizens of the planet.
My oldest son lives in Colorado now and my wife and I have made the drive on I-80 from Temperance to Boulder so many times we have lost count. Each time we cross Nebraska I marvel at the fact that I never see anyone fishing on the small lakes or barrow pits along the road. For that stretch of the highway my mind is always want to wander. An 8 foot, 3 wt. rod with a yellow spider might be just the ticket. Mile after mile no one ever fishing. I would tell my son, "right there where that tree is shading the water and the reeds jute out would be a perfect place to start." "Dad," he would say "is that all you ever think about is fishing?" My wife would answer "yes" and we would all laugh and then someone would say "how far is it to 76?" The question still remains about those little ponds or lakes along the side of I-80 and OldBaldguy I know you have an answer. Could you satiate my curiosity over all these years and provide me with a little information on these bodies of water that no one seems to fish.
Comment by UKcat on January 16, 2009 at 11:27am
As always, nice read, OBG. You have a unique way of stating your thoughts, that allows the reader to share the experience with you. I always enjoy your posts, but the longer reads are especially pleasurable.
Comment by Sandbilly on January 15, 2009 at 9:17pm
Always enjoy reading your ramblings Rog. Gift of few, you have .

This one is so nicely done I'm not even picking on the "scab" you so diligently described.

Don Cox
Mullen Ne
Comment by Kiana Fitzpatrick on January 15, 2009 at 5:04pm
Very good read, I'm sure you are a great teacher!!

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