Of Opening Days & Other Fish Tales

I remember the thrill I had on Christmas Day 1965 when I tore the wrapping paper from a box containing my first fishing reel!  Not one of those King Neptunes or Zebcos, but a Mitchell/Garcia 300!  Kind of like the Red Ryder BB gun of fishing reels.  I couldn’t wait to use it on the opening day of trout season.   The  3 ½ months dragged as though it was 3 ½ decades.  All of that time my buddies and I talked about our first opening day jaunt.  The mother of one of my buds offered to drive to a lake in NW New Jersey that had a reputation for humongous brown trout and plentiful rainbow trout. 

The day before our fishing safari, we rode our bikes over to the sporting goods store to stock up on hooks and sinkers and to buy a small container of red worms, supposedly the trout ate these like I eat clams at the Chatham Fish Pier.  After one of those nearly sleepless nights, we left for this magical place at the earliest blush of dawn.  Arriving at our destination, our jaws dropped when we saw a parking lot full of cars.  The second blow came when we discovered all of the row boats were rented we would have to fish from the shore line.  Thirdly, even though it was the 2nd week in April, almost 95% of the lake was frozen!  The only portion of the lake not frozen was where the boat rental shack was.  The flotilla of row boats in that cove were jammed on top of each other.  The cove resembled the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

The shore was ringed with fishermen, all protecting their personal space fiercely, and that personal space seemed to be a 10 yard circle around each guy.  We did find a place finally, kind of in the woods, we would have to be careful to not snag a tree branch trying to cast out into chilly cove waters.  People were catching lots of fish, one guy in a row boat about 50 yards in front of us whooped every time he hooked a rainbow trout.  And he whooped a lot.  Our cold hands flew to knot our hooks and crimp our sinkers onto the line.  We worked our squirmy red worms over the hook – ewwww – and cast our lines out.  We would wait,  fishing line resting lightly on our fingers so we could sense the slightest of trout bites.  When a few minutes passed with no sensations, we would reel our line in to discover a bare hook.  Re-baiting and casting, we would again wait for that sensation.  Meanwhile, other fishermen began to compete with the war whoop guy by offering any variety of hoots and hollers.  Bait, cast, wait. Bait, cast, wait. Over and over.  After a few of the landlubbers near us caught their 6 fish limit and departed for the day, we slid over to their spots.  That had to be “The Spot”!  Those 3 guys caught 18 fish between them!  We were going to be “In Like Flynn” and on our way back home in no time.  Bait, cast, wait – nothing.  Some kid who had gone to fish in the spot we vacated earlier came walking past with 3 nice trout hanging from his stringer.  We asked what he was using for bait.  After failing to catch anything with worms, he told us he got desperate and stated pulling apart the white bread from his sandwich and used that for bait.  He caught three trout right away.  We had no sandwiches among us, just some apples.  My buddy asked if his sandwich was made with Wonder Bread, as though that mattered.  After a few more casts which yielded nothing, we moved back to our first spot.  I managed to catch a tree branch, it got the better of me and I had to cut my line and go through the whole process of affixing a new hook.  

We were running low on red worms and had yet to even get a bite.  Another group of guys came walking past us, laden with fish.  They said we should go up along the shore a little more and try fishing as close to the ice crust as possible.  Supposedly all the trout were leaving the cove to get away from what had become a noisy cove, with all the hooting and hollering.  They asked what we were using for bait.  When we revealed what we were using, one of the guys snorted and said “nobody uses red worms this early in the season, you should be using salmon eggs”.  First white bread, now salmon eggs.  Did anybody have an egg salad sandwich we could borrow?

Out of bait, the clock approaching noon, we were hungry and fish less.  There was another kid fishing in the 2nd spot we vacated.  He pulled in a trout as we were walking past.  My buddy asked him what he was using for bait.  “Cornmeal!”, he exclaimed proudly.  Next time we just need to haul my Grandmother’s pantry with us.

On the the return trip, all of us fell asleep.  One of my friends woke me when his arms flew up and hit me in the shoulder.  He dreamt he caught a fish and was trying to set his hook.  Walking in the door to my house, there was some good natured ribbing.  What were we going to have for dinner now?  Everyone was counting on that rainbow trout!  Fortunately there was a plan B.  Although all their hearts were set on trout, nobody was disappointed with the offering from Pizza Town that night.  As my success on subsequent opening days would attest, plan B was put it to effect many times.  Thank heavens for Pizza Town or the Joy Yuen Chinese Restaurant.

Ernie Stricsek

Chatham Memoir Group


9 thoughts on “Of Opening Days & Other Fish Tales

  1. Cute story, it will trigger lots of different memories for many people. The Wonder bread comment reminded me of a trip to my grandparents’ farm. Meals there consisted of the most natural ingredients possible as most everything came from their farm. Of course they did purchase food to fill in the gaps. My grandfather was really enamored with Sunbeam bread. I can see him sitting in his overalls as he demonstrated tearing the bread in 2 as it tore perfectly straight. I do remember that was Sunbeam breads’ claim to fame, but even at my young age I knew they had to put something nasty in that bread preparation to make it tear perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story Ernie! I am reminded of my first Mitchell 300! That was 1968 and there were no trout nearby; we had bream and bass and used artificial lures! You are a master storyteller with many great memories to share! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Ernie,
    Another great story! I enjoyed hearing you read it during the Writers Group meeting Friday. And, I thoroughly enjoyed reading here as well. For what it’s worth, I believe that it is well worth publishing to a wider audience! Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The following year at the same lake, my friend’s Mom got stuck in the mud, car sinking to its axles. We spent our fishing time trying extricate the car. One of my friends & I walked to a service station seeking a tow truck. Not fun! Thanks for reading my story.


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