Funny how some fishermen will strike up a conversation when you walk up to a dock or boat ramp while others will look away. Just two minutes of chat, kicking small stones and staring out at rippled waters from a sandy shoreline can prepare you for your next few hours or give you the heads up that there’s nothing happening for miles. With fall in full and waters holding their temperature before first frosts, we may just learn a lot even when we don’t ask for a lesson.
Fly fishermen have a universal reputation for being providers of information, for sharing what the right fly is for that moment’s conditions and very often, for offering a fly to a stranger. Years ago, while fishing for landlocked salmon in an icy Grand Lake Stream, a one Mike O’Brian quickly assessed my lack of skill for anything shy of standing in ice water up to my chattering teeth, glided over and recommended one of his hand-tied wooley buggers in gold and black. With the exception of a brief meet-and-greet at a lodge where my focus was a keg of homebrewed strong ale, he didn’t know me from Adam, although he likely speculated Adam certainly would have been a better fishermen if not for the whole apple issue, and probably a fly fisherman a that but that’s the way fly guys are. They recognize more of a passion for catching fish than a competitive compunction to find and conceal a good spot.
Sliding in our canoe over at Barber Pond, my young son and I met Bill Beaudry and his friend Phil, who had set up alongside
looking for newly stocked trout. RIDEM has just refilled several ponds and lakes in the state in advance of winter, making this a fine time to catch some brookies and rainbows for the dinner plate or fight one of a few bigger breeders. Right away there was conversation. When fishermen talk of past catches or great spots, there can be a peacock affect, with sentences pushed out faster and faster, words overlapping, sentences strung along at high pitch. We are a competitive lot. Often we hear, “I remember when…” starters, “You’re probably too young to remember…” and “Before everyone had that damned interweb thing, I was the only guy at (x and such spot) and could dig 5 bushels full of…” and so on.
But see, there also are two distinct ilks of talking fishermen, excepting those who false-cast just long enough for a look and then turn away to avoid contact. There’s nothing wrong with being a member of that club; given our natural sense of suspicion and world-weariness, there are lots of us who go fishing just to get away. Then there are braggers and tellers. The first really just want you to know what they want you to know and lots of their sentences start with “I”. Usually the intel is limited, muddied with references to personal skills and light on details. Halfway through a story the listeners mind drifts off thinking about tools a neighbor borrowed or how oysters from the the salt pond all taste the same.
Now the tellers, they tend to talk just as fast but with a pleasing mix of facts, fiction, some unintentional bragging and a wealth of genuine instruction. These two had all the goods on stripers, tautog, sea bass and trout and were happy to share. Anyone can string a yarn but it’s different when you pull up to an early morning boat ramp, you get greeted by two guys with cold fingers and they start right in to giving you good advice.
Hatchery fish take a few days off from feeding to acclimate post-stocking so the splashes and swirls within casting distance were cruel teases for sure. Those moments between elicited stories, stories about how a few days prior Bill landed a nice trout on his seventh spinner cast but today all the fish had lockjaw, that’s the backbone if fishing. We heard about all the common and secret striper spots from the old Rocky Point dock to the Southeast Light, where the twenty pounders could be caught by the dozen and where wily 50’s held in single numbers. Somehow they progressed to scup, a fine and very underappreciated fish (you really should read John Lee’s piece about scup in Edible Rhody), with a few words about Gould Island and fishing shadows for big three-pounders.
Interesting was a tip of the camo hat to DEM’s stocking program, “I give the DEM a lot of respect”, Bill offered. They shared a mutual disgust at the amount of fish being taken over the last few years, the 40 and 50 pound class breeders; the fertile females.
We are paying a collective debt for the greed and excesses of our fishing fathers and grandfathers but mixed in back then was some hint of a logical understanding that too much of everything is too much.
Sipping cold coffee with no trout in the cooler, it occurred to us that more time was spent talking with two guys we didn’t know than fishing from the canoe. Time well spent.
The darkening days of fall also means more hunting. Pheasant season opens tomorrow, runs through the last day of February and requires you to purchase a game bird permit for $15.50. That’s in addition to your hunting license, which apparently does not allow you to hunt pheasants. Or ducks. Or deer. The pheasant season on Block Island has been whittled down to just three days, which is a damned shame considering how islanders used to enjoy months of good wing shooting almost right into spring. For those with white decoys, Canada goose season opens again on the 21 for a week, then we get a regular season again on December 5 with sea duck season open, with a few exceptions, until the end of January. For this you will need a 2015 waterfowl stamp, a really wonderful image of a drake green-winged teal from young artist, Hope Anderson. That’s in addition to a state stamp. And a file cabinet to carry all the stamps around.
There is no reason to talk of ice fishing just yet, with maples just starting to shed, trout being restocked, birds in the bush, ducks flying over the rivers and marshlands that we hunters pay to protect and all fingers crossed for a strong striped bass migration.