Its something I’ve never done before. Something most men have never done before. For all the lessons I’ve had about fishing -time of day, line test, bait, scent, etc.- this experience came down to patience and lightning fast reflexes. There are cats jealous of me right now. Grizzly bears will see me in the forest and welcome me as one of their own. But none of that will console the fishermen who still can’t believe I caught this 20″ trout with my bare hands.
My family and I were staying in a cabin at Mountain Lakes in Lytle Creek, CA. It was Saturday morning and I was woken up at 5:00am to take the dogs out for a walk. (For those wondering, we have a basset hound and a beagle.) I decided to head toward the lake. Although it was slightly before sunrise, I saw only two people fishing. What?! Clearly this campground was not filled with serious fisher folks. The weather was perfect for catching! As I walked the dogs along the shore, I noticed how right I was. The lake was teeming with trout. They were leaping out of the water, swimming in the deep and shallow waters, and actively begging to be caught. If those fish had a Twitter account, the most recent update would have said, “still auditioning for Food Network. But if these idiots don’t start fishing, we’ll settle for Animal Planet.”
That was when I noticed my finned stalker. A large trout seemed to be swimming along side us. The dogs were far enough away to avoid disturbing the water and this trout was keeping up with us as we walked. I thought to myself, “man, if I had a fishing pole, I’d catch our next three meals.” But alas, no fishing pole and no fishing license. The fish would live to see another day.
But why should someone else have my fish? This one clearly wanted to be caught by me! It swam even closer to shore. Could it be this easy? It was only a few feet from the water’s edge at this point. Just a few steps into the water and I could grab it.
No! I’m not in the cast of Swamp People. I’m not a bear during spawning season. Fish don’t just swim up to be eaten.
Could it really be this easy? How would I get into the water without my dogs ruining my chances? Hold them far away. Yeah, that’s it. Just hold them far away.
Well, that didn’t work. One touch of the water and Charlie Tuna -er, Trout- swam away. Oh well, it was a fun thought. On we walked and the dogs sniffed the sand for any hint of trouble they could dig up.
The fish was back. When opportunity knocks twice, only a fool keeps the door shut. I stepped a little farther away and took off my socks and shoes. Holding the dogs as far away as I could with my right hand, I slowly stepped into the water. This time, he didn’t dart. Ever so slowly, I inched my feet forward, tiny step by tiny step.
He still didn’t swim away.
Finally, I was within two feet of him. “I’ll grab him in one quick move. Just don’t loosen your grip once you’ve got him,” I thought to myself. My right arm didn’t seem long enough and I thought the dogs would somehow ruin my awesomeness. I hovered my left hand over the water, ready to grab.
I went into the water an average suburban man. I emerged a hunter of wild game who did not need technology nor even rudimentary tools. The prowess of my humanity was writhing in my bare hand. If necessary, I could provide for my family after the Mayan Apocalypse as we survived in a Mad Max outerworld bereft of the comforts of civilization. The animal was overcome. The food, provided.
Okay, back to reality.
Live trout in one hand, two dogs in the other, no shoes, and a long walk back. The roads were laced with sharp gravel rocks but the adrenaline pumping through me (and some Buddhist breathing techniques) helped. After a few long minutes, I happened upon some friends of ours (the guy was an avid fisherman), showed him the fish, and asked if it was big enough to keep. Before he could answer, she asked, “did you go fishing”.
“Yeah, that’s big enough.” He continued, “what did you catch it with?”
“My hands,” I replied, smiling. Knowing I was keeping a legally large enough fish, I continued on my way. After a couple steps I heard him say, “I can’t catch a damn fish out there with a god damned pole!”
I felt bad for him but kept walking with a slight laugh.
The next step was my in-laws’ motorhome and, luckily, they were awake. As expected, they were surprised about the fish and liked how I caught it. I told them I wasn’t going to gut it just yet because I wanted my wife and son to see it once they woke up. So my mother-in-law got me a Ziploc bag and in it went, still slightly twitching. Poor fish.
I took the dogs back to the cabin. Family should have been awake soon, so I left the fish in the sink. Amazingly, they didn’t notice right away so I had to point it out. My son liked the fish in the bag. My wife didn’t believe me at first. Eventually she saw I wasn’t kidding, gave me a little laugh, and called me her “caveman”. I replied, “now I go make fire.”
In case you’re wondering, trout tastes delicious. But the taste of victory -the conquering of nature- is even better.