Islamic militant’s detonated explosives last week, destroying the Prophet Jounis’ eighth century tomb. Jonas’ life story is depicted in the Old Testament as he disobeyed God’s instructions, taking to the sea to avoid his responsibilities, being called out as the cause of a gale and then sent swimming by his shipmates. Jonas was consumed, depending on the translation, by a whale or a large fish, where he spent three days and nights before God released him for a second chance to spread His message. That’s a hard learned lesson and now, some twenty-nine centuries later, this sailors resting place is a rubble-strewn sand pile. Maybe it’s a stretch for a local fishing column but as we drift eels and whip blue needlefish into the sunset, it can make a guy wonder how far we have really evolved, when the aim of one people is to completely erase the footprints of another. We are certainly lucky to be where we are.
Every once in a while, a young fisherman appears on the pond, so full of natural smarts and fishing passion that the spotlight needs to be shifted away from the older crowd. Just 11 years old, South Kingstown’s Knoll French knows how to handle himself as a fisherman and seems to have put the “ish” in all things fishing. When asked if he has a secret spot, he smiled, answering, “Yes, I have secret spot”. That was the end of his answer.
Knoll has come by his passion honestly, with older brothers who fish and surf, a dad who is an avid, successful spear fisherman and a mom who supports the whole operation, creating amazing seafood meals when she is not picking out chewed rubber worm bodies from the laundry. He has seven or eight-ish fishing rods with room for more and would love to have a stand up kayak. “Sometimes, I see the fish and just want to drive right in after them”, he added.
During the summer months, he fishes 3 or 4 times a week, smiling that he would like to fish all 7. Like his brothers, he uses the town’s bike path to access good spots, like Asa Pond and knows what types of fish are in each pond. His favorite fishing is in fresh water, where he can watch the jigging and diving action of soft baits and get a close up view of fish and their habitats. He recognizes the effectiveness of weed-less frogs and how hard it is to set the hook on largemouth bass. “They always seem to be a second ahead of you.”
Knoll fished opening day this year in Hope Valley, with his dad. “Yup, just fishing with my Dad”, he said. His comment made me realize the significant weight of his words, a simple innocent reflection which showed me how special this young man is. More than just an early morning at a strange pond, what he remembered first was that he was there with his father.
Understanding that hatchery-raised trout are accustomed to feeding from the surface, so floating bait would catch more fish, they used marshmallows to suspend meal worms. He caught 7-ish trout that morning, he told me, at this unnamed spot and all he would give up was that it was a public pond he had scoped while playing baseball nearby. He did some research on the computer and knew where the dark pools were, figuring they could hold trout. That’s a wonderful natural desire, to stand on a ball field, staying focused on your game, all the while eyeballing a new place to fish.
Just like a true fisherman, his numbers swelled throughout our talk. Numbers, he explained, can be reduced or increased based on how much you may want someone to fish a pond or a good spot with you. Brilliant. Asked if he ever stretched a fish story, he gave me a quick smile and told me that everybody has. ”It’s one of the hardest questions I ask myself. Even my brain is telling me to say it’s bigger.” Knoll has issues with his hands when talking fish; they seem to move farther apart as conversations progress.
Knoll has no hesitation with his answers; he thinks quickly, with a rare, young understanding of not just lures and techniques, but how and when to use them. Once he landed a striper off the Charlestown beach on a skipjack blue. “In the distance you could see huge bluefish jumping and on the shore-ish part, you could see bait fish and in the middle you could see skipjacks and stripers just attacking the skipjacks.” What’s most amazing about this was his observation that, “It was like the whole life cycle there before your eyes.” And he’s just 11.
His favorite salt water fish is the striper and he’s landed a bunch of them around 5 pounds, quickly adding a there were ten pounders as well. Last week, fishing off of Jim’s Dock, he recycled some old frozen striper to catch a keeper fluke with a fast retrieve on an orange beaded bottom rig. On the fourth of July, he saw a shallow water school of blues on Narragansett beach and caught several from the shore.
In the heat of summer, some must watch as ancient sacred reminders of our collective history are reduced to dust, but we get to stop at a bike path and watch a group of kids ride by, holding fishing poles and balancing tackle boxes on the handle bars. Knoll French made me think about energy and hope. He made me wish for a bit more of the former while reminding me how much there is of the latter. When Knoll gets older, he’s going to be busy and likely live in a house with a garage full of surfboards and fishing rods and there won’t be an inch of wall space without a picture of him, with that still-young smile, holding another fantastic fish. He said he hasn’t read many books about fishing yet and when asked if he read this column, he said, “I’ve never even seen it.” That would have been a great time for Knoll to stretch the truth, even just a little bit-ish.