A couple weeks back, I asked BDN readers to share some fish tales, recognizing that nearly anything can happen on a fishing trip, and hoping others shared my view that you don’t have to actually catch anything to end up with a whopper of a story.
Readers apparently agreed, and I’ve spent this week curating some really cool stories that you’ve passed along. Today I’ve got a few more — two from Bucky Owen, a longtime University of Maine professor as well as the former commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and a couple more of my own.
In keeping with our theme, let me assure you that no actual fish were harmed in the stories you’re about to read. I only wish I could say the same about the fishermen who were involved.
First, Owen’s tales, which took place while fishing for Atlantic salmon in the Penobscot River before the turn of the century.
“One afternoon in the 1900’s, Bill Clark, a local ophthalmologist, my wife Sue and I were fishing off the ledges in the Wringer Pool in my peapod [boat],” Owen said. “A salmon was showing, and we were anchored within easy casting distance using an orange-tipped bomber. Bill was having trouble getting a good float over the fish, so I said, ‘let me show you how.'”
(Editor’s note: That quote sounds familiar. We call those bold pronouncements “famous last words.”)
“I cast out, let the fly float down, and retrieved it, but much to my chagrin, it dipped a little low and the next thing I knew Bill gave a little cry and turned toward me with the bomber stuck on the end of his nose!” Owen said. “Luckily, it didn’t go in as far as the barb and we removed it easily.
“Several weeks later, I was in Bill’s office having my eyes checked. He was sitting about 18 inches in front of me, dialing different lenses for my glasses when he said, ‘You know, it’s amazing how well you can smell with three holes in your nose!”
“Another time Bill and I were again in my peapod fishing the Club Pool right in front of the Veazie Salmon Club. At least two fish were showing below us and we were frantically changing flies when there was a big thump behind me,” Owen said. “I turned and there was an Atlantic salmon lying in the bottom of the boat. I grabbed it by the tail, held it over Bill’s shoulder, and asked if he wanted a salmon. He said no and I dropped it over the side. Several fishermen sitting on the Deacon’s bench at the Club saw the whole thing. I know Claude Westfall once had a salmon that was hooked jump into his boat but I don’t know of one ever coming into a boat all on its own.”
Cool tales, to be sure. But about those fish hooks … sharp, aren’t they? Most of us anglers eventually learn what it feels like to end up on the wrong end of the hook. If we’re lucky, we end up like Bill Clark. If not? Well, read on.
When I first got back into fishing 30 years or so ago, a buddy and I packed our limited tackle into whatever kinds of packs we could find — mine was a nylon fanny pack that was as ugly as it was impractical — and tromped into the woods to find some trout.
Lesson one: Don’t toss a Flatfish lure (with two treble hooks) into a pack and think it won’t end up snarled on something.
Lesson two: When your pal is holding the pack open and you’re yanking on the snarled lure with a set of pliers, trying to free it, don’t ever even think of letting go of those pliers.
That, my buddy will tell you, might end up with someone (him) sporting a new piercing or two. The Flatfish’s hooks (both of ’em, as I recall) embedded themselves in his hand, and neither of us knew what to do. He eventually told me to leave him alone, which I did, and he figured out how to pull the hooks out of his paw.
I remember thinking, “Wow. I hope that never happens to me.”
And of course, years later, it did. Twice, in fact, I’ve ended up with fishing flies embedded in my hand, beyond the hook’s barb.
Neither time was any fun. Blood was shed. Foul words were spoken. And both times, I vowed to pinch down the barbs on all my flies before I end up in a similar predicament.
One of these days, I might even get around to doing just that.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.