This is the fish I caught on my recent trip to Dogtown Lake near Williams, AZ. I camped, alone for 3 nights and it was fantastic. It was my first time to go fishing and I was determined to “Do it alone”. I guess you could say I was stubborn or controlling but I really don’t see it that way. It isn’t that I’m not a good pupil, but I wanted to have some experience to know how to ask better questions. I found out very quickly how little I knew, but with the help of others in the campground I was able to get some great experience. One of the park hosts stopped by my camp and showed me how to cast. I practiced three times in the road while she was there. She showed me how to hold my finger on the line prior to the cast, flipping the bail and performing a side cast. So that’s all I know about casting now. Oh wait, I do know how to get the line REALLY tangled too. The first morning I went fishing I learned about that mess.
It was a quiet, peaceful morning and I really enjoyed the environment. I was up at 4 AM and down to the lake by 4:45. No one was there! Hey! I thought that’s how fishermen operated. Up at the crack of dawn and down to the water’s edge early. Oh, well. I was glad no one was there to see me practice for the first time. It didn’t take me long to get so much line tangled around my reel I had to cover it with my jacket to take the “walk of shame” back to my campsite. I saw lots of wildlife while I was down there, though. Even a deer came up over a rise and stood looking at me while I attempted to untangle the line. “Do you know how to fish?” I ask the deer. “‘Cause if you do, I could really use your help!” The deer looked shocked at the question, turned and bounded off. I didn’t take it as an antisocial behavior, but more a creature that was headed down to the water for a drink. Sorry to interrupt your routine, deer. I saw lots of birds: a fat robin, woodpeckers, ducks and geese. There were some kind of soaring birds with a black and white wing pattern: maybe osprey or hawks.
Anyway, I made coffee and had breakfast back at my camp. My neighbors were so kind and ask me how I did fishing. A retired engineer ( a big, kind man named, Brian) patiently untangled my reel by taking it apart and restringing the pole. OH! So that’s how that thing works. Perhaps I should have started with that lesson. He gave me some hooks with short pieces of line attached and a loop tied on the other end. The hooks and line were stuck in and wrapped around a 4 X 4 piece of cardboard with slits cut in it. I was so grateful for what he taught me, as it proved vital the next time I went out and managed to get the line all tangled up again.
My son had told me what to use for bait: Rainbow Power Bait and corn. The two stores in Williams were out of that particular kind of power bait, but that didn’t mean I didn’t get any. Another neighbor, a young man who set up his tent trailer near my camp in anticipation of his wife and lots of other relatives coming, stopped by for a chat. He was a very kind young man in his twenties and he spoke with a calm enthusiasm toward fishing and wishing me luck for my first catch. I mentioned to him about the Rainbow Power Bait and he replied, “Oh yeah, that’s the best stuff.” I said I couldn’t find any and would have to get by with the salmon eggs and corn I brought. He said, “Oh I have extra, I’ll get you some.” I told him I had a small container he could put some in but he said his dad was always sending it to him and he had more than he knew what to do with! He went immediately to his camper and returned with a full container for me. Sweet!
Saturday morning I was up early and tried it again without any success. I practiced the untangle knowledge I learned the day before and got lots of good casting in. I came back to camp feeling good about the experience. Later in the afternoon, I knew it was going to be my last chance. I got things ready at the camp to have my fish dinner: getting out an onion & a lemon and preparing a fire. The fire was out long ago from my morning coffee, but the ashes were still warm. I laid two oak logs in the firepit about 10-12 inches apart and filled the space with charcoal. Next I laid two hot logs (treated wood to light easily) cross-ways at the end of the oak. I made a tee-pee of split shakes I had made with my K-Bar knife and added 3 twists of paper from the charcoal bag. I lowered the grill over the whole affair and sat back with a glass of ice water and my book to wait for sundown. I kept getting up to look how low the sun was getting in the sky and hoping the wind was going to die down. I decided I should set up a basin to wash my fish in too and get the Coleman lantern all set to eat by. As I was performing these tasks around the picnic table I heard a woosh behind me. The kindling had caught fire and my campfire was starting to burn… TOO EARLY! “Oh man, I better go catch my fish!” I said to myself and headed down to the lake. I passed several little fishing parties, two or three people at the lake’s edge quietly fishing. I walked nearly half-way around the lake to get to the spot I had practiced that morning. I had seen a heron standing at this spot, surely he knows a thing or two about fishing! The sun was almost going down as I began casting. I changed bait, sinkers and bobber several times trying different ideas. I was feeling like a fisherman. The wind died to a slight breeze and I noticed little bugs flying around. Great! Now bugs are going to eat me! Whoa, wait.. bugs… that’s a good thing. And sure enough, I saw little breaks in the water as fish came up to feed. I cast way out and slowly reeled in. So! That’s what it feels like when a fish gets on the line! I was sure I got caught up on some underwater branches or something as it seemed I couldn’t reel the line in at all. Then it suddenly let loose. He ate the bait right off the hook! “Oh, so we’re playing that way, are we?” I formed another ball of power bait and closed it over my hook. Casting way out I reeled in again. This time was different. I caught one! I could feel it! I slowly reeled it in and then there it was, a fish on my line! I got my camera and took pictures even though that was difficult because it kept wiggling so much! I put the fish in a large zip-lock bag and got out my small pliers. I held the fish down and easily got the hook out with the pliers. I had caught my first fish and now I wanted more! I started to seal the fish into the bag and thought I better add some lake water. I had the fear he would swim right out of the bag as I leaned over to add water, but he didn’t. Hurry! I have to catch more! I cast over and over as my surroundings grew dim in the twilight. Yikes! I didn’t bring a flashlight. I packed my things and headed back. As I walked past a family of four who were fishing I noticed the dad on the path standing right by a pine tree. Only thinking of hurrying back I walked right past him as I realized he was peeing! Surprised, he said, “Oh I’m sorry!” and continued to apologize as I kept walking, stifling a giggle. How funny, I thought… HE was embarrassed! I heard him telling his wife just that. I made my way back to camp as Coleman lanterns illuminated the sites. No one knows I have a fish in my pack, but if someone should ask, “How’d ya do?” I’d have a good answer.
My campfire had burned down to red hot coals, perfect for grilling a fish and now I had one. I just had to clean it. I lit my lantern and set out my tools as if to perform surgery. I heard the fish wiggling in the plastic bag. What? That fish is still alive? I had watched over a dozen YouTube videos before I left on how to clean a fish and one showed a young boy stabbing a fish in the head to kill it. Ok, I’ll try that. I held the fish in a washcloth and covering it’s eyes (don’t look at me while I do this!) I stuck my little Buck knife down through the top of it’s head in between the eyes. It’s mouth opened wide and a little blood came out. Ok, good, that’s done. I turned it over to begin the splitting it open and taking out the guts. As I started to stick the knife in at the back end, the fish wiggled. I grabbed him in the washcloth and looked at his head. “I killed you once!” I said to his open mouth. This time I stabbed him into the gills and that did it. The slicing open, gutting and cleaning went smoothly from there. Before long the headless, tailless Crappie was laying on a piece of buttered foil with slices of lemon and onion inside. I sliced a potato onto another piece of buttered foil and seasoned both. I had both packets wrapped and on the grill by 9 PM. I was so excited! I was doing this all myself! I took the victory pictures I share with you here and in about 25 minutes I was enjoying my fish dinner. I had hoped it was going to be a trout, a bigger fish, but I had to start somewhere. There are more fish in the sea, so they say, usually making a dating reference. I do hope I catch a good man someday, but until then, another fish will do.