Jim Buchanan

Jim Buchanan

The arrival of warmer weather kind of went in steps back in the day. The garden got plowed, speculation about when the ramps would hit began. But perhaps the most anticipated step of all was the opening day of fishing season.

Fishing was, thanks to quirks of topography, a very different sport back in the coves than is generally associated with in the popular imagination.

Think fishing and the images that come to mind are those of kicking back in a boat on a serene lake, or the majesty of casting a fly in a graceful arc to a target the size of a quarter.

None of that applied in the smaller streams found in these mountains. No, fishing involved bushwhacking your way to a local body of water, rod or cane pole pointed ahead of you and used to helpfully part the brush.

Upon arriving at a stream, one would poke around until finding an opening wide enough to drop a line. If it was warm enough, you’d enter the stream and use the pole to poke overhanding limbs to clear them of water snakes.

The shrub was usually so dense you wouldn’t actually see a water snake drop, but you’d hear that distinctive *plop* of a serpent contacting water. One time I heard seven plops.

I would insert a joke there about walking on water, but don’t want to be sacrilegious. And to be honest, more straight-up running was involved than walking.

Anyway, if you were lucky, you’d hit something.

If you were real lucky, it might even be a fish.

I love just about everything that can be found in water, from scallops to catfish, but I never did develop a taste for trout. Deep in the recesses of fuzzy memory I think that may have had something to do with choking on the small bones even a well-filleted trout might have hidden in its recesses.

Like many people, I like lobster, and like many people, can’t afford it. I’ve read various sources that state lobster was so plentiful in the early days of this republic that it could pile up on beaches, be used as fertilizer and only be fed to prisoners and servants, who sometimes rebelled at the frequency at which it turned up on the menu.

I was clearly born in the wrong century.

At any rate, I could catch trout and gut and clean trout, but the trout-savoring gene skipped my generation.

I fished anyway. Peer pressure. All the cool kids were doing it.

Not a skilled fisherman, luck ruled the roost, and I was generally pretty lucky. On opening day I’d generally yank in a 16-inch beauty, causing jealousy amongst the truly skilled.

Things went along like that until a relative tried to teach me how to fish.

See, what I was doing wrong, I was told, was setting the hook too slow. “Gotta snap yer wrist, yank hard.”

OK, sure.

Somewhere on Pumpkintown the lesson was applied, with my trusty instructor stationed a few yards behind me.

A nibble.

I yanked and set the hook. And kept-a-yanking, just like I’d been told.

There from the shallow waters at the end of the line was something big, surely a legendary trout.

Turns out it was instead the mother of all water snakes. Also turns out I’d kind of overyanked on my first try, to the point the snake was launching from the creek like it was shot from a catapult. It sailed over my head, and I let loose abruptly enough that the line and pole joined it on its parabola toward my eager instructor.

In the end, turns out the hook hadn’t set after all and the snake was soon free-range again. The relative, after a week or so, went ahead and got a buzz cut because it was clear his hair was going to keep standing on end and all the Brylcreem on the planet was not going to change that.

I haven’t fished in some years now.

As I live near a good fish shop, I do still enjoy the bounty of the seas. Perhaps I can find a way to make that work with my mountain roots.

Lobster ’n ramps, perhaps?

Buchanan is editor of the Sylva Herald.