Women love shoes. Over the years, there have been countless jokes about this topic, and I’ve seen large closets designed specifically for stylish shoes and filled with them my whole life. One can’t help but wonder how many of these shoes have been worn more than once.
Now, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon here and impress the fairer sex about it, but that wouldn’t be wise. As you can see, I have collected a lot of fishing rods myself.
There’s a giant tangle of rods in the attic, my rod rack is overflowing, and in various corners there’s one or two posts. Of course there are always two or three rods in the trunk of my car at all times. One has to be prepared. Unfortunately, like many shoes found in women’s closets, the vast majority of these fishing poles are rarely used. It’s a shame really.
This never-ending pursuit of rod perfection began as a direct result of a disastrous contact with the fearsome muskellunge, the bane of fishing’s early days. In my youth, my father and I floated the Allegheny River several times. The river was stocked with smallmouth bass, walleye, and pike along with a healthy population of muskies, some of which were huge. Now, my father never skimps on spending time with me. He was exceptionally generous in this regard. To balance it out, he never spent a dime to provide me with decent fishing gear. And it wasn’t just him. Everyone knew of my passion for fishing, and it was a family joke that I would sit by the bathtub holding a rod, line, and safety pin in case a fish magically appeared in there. However, none of them bought me a decent rod and reel. What I received was a bunch of old stuff that never worked. Madness, simply madness.
When I saw that my support network had abandoned me, there was no choice but to buy my support network. I was only 10 years old, but people used to litter as much as they do now. Bottles were worth two cents, and a quart bottle was worth a nickel. Clearing the sides of the road was productive, especially when the steep banks bordered the road. People felt enough guilt about littering to throw their bottles out of sight, but not enough guilt to carry the trash home. There is something revealing about human nature there.
When you’re 12 years old, with a bag full of heavy bottles and a hill to climb, you quickly realize that nothing is free. However, it takes 50 small bottles or 20 quarts to equal $1. The closer to the $5.00 it takes to buy a rod and reel, the farther from home I have to go. It was brutal, but in the end the Zebco 202 rod and reel were mine.
My hard-earned clothing, which was crude by today’s standards, enabled me to catch bass, walleye, trout and several pike up to 26 inches long. It was a wonderful summer and to me old Zebko was magical. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time until I contacted Muskie.
It was mid-May. It had rained, and the river had a particularly green color, which usually meant the fishing would be good. My dad and I were floating from Larrabee to Eldred and in the first mile we came upon a school of walleye and I caught four and my dad had two, but one of them was 26 inches long. I had never caught a grey, about 18 inches long, before and was thrilled and couldn’t wait to get home and show them off.
Later, I was thrown into the vortex created by a fallen tree and took a hit. The small rod bent deeply, and there was no doubt that it was a big fish. Dad dropped the anchor and the battle continued. After 10 minutes we wondered what was attracting us so strongly. The fish stayed deep, which is why we felt it was a large walleye. It took another 10 minutes to round up the fish and my eyes bulged out when a muskie over three feet long appeared alongside the boat and stared at me with its yellow cat eyes. Suddenly, it turned, slammed hard and stripped of its traction, nearly knocking the pole out of my hand. She rolled onto her back, trembling like a leaf, opened her mouth just inches from the outstretched net, spat out the spinner, slowly drifted back into the current, and with a rude flick of her tail was gone.
Now, you may doubt this, but it’s true. The shock of losing a fish beyond my wildest dreams was so traumatic for me that inch-long red hives appeared all over my body and my head began to pound violently. I couldn’t fish the rest of the trip. It wasn’t until my twenties that hives stopped breaking out everywhere when I had a breakout or passed out.
My grandfather, an experienced muskie fisherman, told me that my fishing tackle was completely unsuitable for large, strong-jawed fish like muskellunge. Sadly, my Zebco has been outdone, which is a major milestone in my life. Muskie demanded a stiffer, stronger rod, heavier braided line, wire leaders, and a casting reel.
And there you have it. One encounter with a tiger-striped muskie set me off on a lifelong rod and gear hunt. Well, at least the hives stopped.