The Most Important Thing I Ever Learned About Fishing

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I thought all I was going to do that warm Friday afternoon was try out a few things I’d learned about freshwater fishing by reading a half-inch-thick book I took out of the base library.

Oh boy, was I wrong!

I’d never done much freshwater fishing as a boy. There really wasn’t any in Connecticut, you see. The fine folk who settled there sailed across the Atlantic in search of something more than religious freedom. They also had their digestive tracts warmed up and ready for anything that swims in a lake or stream.

Is there seafood to be had in the Nutmeg State? Yes. In abundance. Fish, crabs, lobsters, every kind of clam you can think of, and the most succulent scallops on the planet.

But freshwater fish? Forget it! At least when I was a boy.

As a result, my freshwater fishing experience was limited to a couple of months spent in upstate New York. And that was at age 11 with a branch, a string, and a worm on a hook.

So I read that little book, which turned out to be the best book on fishing I ever read. I wish I could remember its name so I could recommend it to you, but I can’t. Too long ago. Forty years.

All I can tell you is to buy and read any thin little book on fishing in which the author, in his introduction, says, “If you go fishing tonight and you don’t catch anything, it won’t be because of something you don’t know, it’ll be because of all the things you do know that just ain’t so.”

He wasn’t just whistlin’ “Dixie” either. He put on scuba gear and spent some ungodly number of hours lying on the bottom of lakes and streams watching what fish actually do.

As long as we’re on the subject, I noticed an article in the paper recently where someone was complaining that some minnow or other, and some minnow-eating snake, were not on the endangered species list. It seemed to me as I read it that they really had to take their choice which one they wanted to save, wouldn’t you think? But that’s a different subject ...

Anyway-y-y. Back to me and Lolly, my beloved wife, together with David, 8, and Francis, 5, and a Friday spent at a small lake right there on the base in Missouri where I was stationed.

Talk about great! Lots of pan fish. No license needed. And no crowds. Lolly packed a lunch, I had rods for all of us, and the day was magnificent — warm and sunny, with a slight breeze rippling the otherwise still waters of the lake.

We fished off the bank. We talked. We laughed. We ate fried chicken, potato salad, and other good stuff. We drank something cool and refreshing — non-alcoholic, of course — and we had as much fun as a family can have. It was June and we didn’t make the mile-long drive home until the sun was cooling itself by dipping its bottom in the shimmering surface of the cool lake water.

When we got home I cleaned the fish — an even dozen palm-sized crappies — and put them in the refrigerator while Lolly got herself and the kids cleaned up and ready for a quiet evening. Then, done with a happy chore, I hopped in the shower.

It was just about that time that my education began to expand into an area I could have done without.

I felt itchy as the hot water splashed over my body. And as I looked around I could see dime-sized red blotches on my skin. Some were on my ankles, right where the tops of my socks touched. More were around the creases of my legs where the edges of my shorts touched, and around the waistband of the shorts, too. Some were located where the cuffs of my sleeves, or the sleeve of my T-shirt touched, and around my neck, too.

I didn’t count the spots, but there were about 50 or 60 of them, and as I watched they grew to quarter size.

By now you probably know what my problem was, and how much worse it was going to get. But poor little old innocent me, I had no idea. As the hot water ran over my body, matters began to get a bit — shall we say — desperate?

Itch? Oh yeah!

Those crazy splotches just kept growing. As I dried off and dressed they reached half-dollar size. And the itching was by then nothing less than incredible.

I showed Lolly. She said three words: “Emergency sick call.”

So off I went to the base hospital, where the medic on duty, a Missouri boy, grinned and said, “Chiggers. You’ve got as bad a case as I’ve ever seen. You’re allergic to ’em.”

He sent me home with some calamine lotion, a little bottle of some chigger killer, a question, and some advice.

His question was, “You off this weekend?”

“Yes.”

“Good thing. You’re not going to get much sleep tonight or tomorrow night.”

And I didn’t. My God the itching!

A chigger, I discovered, is a tiny little bug that drills into your skin and lays a passel of eggs. Left untouched the eggs hatch and even tinier little bugs emerge. They go through some stage or other, spread all over the place, go through another stage, and bore back in.

Some king of France got a case of the things and ended up so riddled and rotten that he not only died, they had to sew him up in a skin so that he wouldn’t fall apart while they were trying to get him respectfully underground.

I didn’t have that kind of problem. The bottle of stuff the medic gave me sealed them in and suffocated them. Nail polish will do the same thing.

But the itching? The less said the better.

And so I learned something that weekend. Spray some kind of bug repellent on your shoes, pants and sleeves if you’re going to walk through tall grass near water. And don’t laugh. It’s the most important thing I ever learned about freshwater fishing.

These days I spray myself if I even think about fishing.

Safety first!

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