One Fish, Two Fish, Shy Fish, Bold Fish

Fishing season sneaks up on a disheveled writer and his deadlines

Photo by Pete Aleshire. |

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So I’m standing in the driveway getting ready to go back to work and cover yet another night meeting when something strange and wondrous insinuates itself into the weary corner of my eye down on the East Verde River, ponded up behind the crossing.

I turn away from my ramshackle Jeep and study the ripples spreading across the still surface of the large pond.

Then it happens: A fish jumps.

I know it’s a fish and not some kid throwing rocks, since I glimpse the gleam.

Moreover, I’m reasonably certain it’s a trout — not one of the cute little bluegills that splish-splash about all year long.

How can that be? I called the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery in March and the recorded phone message said they weren’t going to start stocking until the week of April 15.

Plop. Another fish jumps.

Glub. Glub. Two more feeding trout nose the surface, the ripples spreading like a juicy rumor at the Buffalo.

Holy smokers. It’s fishing season — and I’m standing like a fool in the driveway with appointments all lined up.

I stand, trembling, athwart a moral crisis like a shy trout looking up at a caddis fly from the underside.

Bet you think I’m taking liberties with the term “shy trout” — anthromorphizing like some careless journalist.

But researchers from Concordia University published a study in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology that documented memory differences between “shy” trout and “bold” trout. Turns out, shy trout have an excellent memory for things like the smell of predator fish. They can remember the smell — and associate it with a location — for at least eight days. Bold trout, on the other hand, forget quickly.

Moreover, Swedish researcher Bart Adrianenssens at the University of Gothenburg also documented personality differences between “shy” trout and “bold” trout. Turns out, bold trout investigate the strange and unexpected, looking to expand their menu options. But shy trout cringe in the shadows, loathe to take even tasty chances. Bart discovered that, bold trout do best in an open stream environment with few threats, rushing out to grab a mouthful of whatever. Meanwhile, the shy trout in that setting get less to eat, floating around wishing more improperly disposed of human anxiety meds had made their way into the stream.

On the other hand, the shy trout do better in complex stream environments with more potential predators, since they survive while the bold trout charge past them like the jerk in the Porsche blasting past you at 95 and setting off all the highway speed traps.

So I’m standing in my driveway completely unprepared, but thinking I ought to conduct my own science experiment as to whether they’re stocking bold trout this year. Last year, I have to tell you — I had a terrible run of shy trout, I mean like, obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive shy trout. Granted, I was so diligent in attending night meetings that I hardly fished at all — but when I did I was mostly decorating low-hanging limbs with $2 caddis flies.

But here I stand at the moment of truth — fish plopping faintly, duty calling plaintively. But I’m like, totally unprepared, not having dug out my fishing gear, stocked the pockets of my fishing vest or prepared my strategy.

I look down into the disheveled back of the Jeep. I tally a pair of hiking shoes, two $1 novels, the damp crumple of my fishing vest, the high lift jack, a turquoise water shirt, three back issues of the Roundup, two tow ropes, one loose jack handle, two partially crushed Big Gulp cups — and one fishing pole in two pieces with a tangle of fishing line.

Well, that’s a message. Right? Would God have left the fishing pole in the back of my Jeep all winter long if He wanted me to cover a night meeting?

Next thing I know, I’m clutching the fishing vest and the fishing pole and shambling down to the pond, where fish are feeding so continuously it looks like a World War I bombardment of the trenches.

Creekside, I’m going through my fishing vest frantically, looking for something to tie onto my spin caster. Got a lovely selection of nymphs for the fly rod I ain’t got. For the spin caster, I have nothing but orange power bait and some white, plastic grubs with curly cue tails I associate with my many happy hours of not catching bass. Too big for trout. So I settle on the Power Bait — except I have no bobbers to tell me when the little buggers bite on the dangling Power Bait. So I tie on a stick to double as a bobber and cast my Power Bait on the waters.

Nothing. The bold fish are laughing at me jumping back and forth over the bobbing stick. I think they’re mostly just thinking about spawning and impressing the anxiously watching shy fish, which in their turn are just shaking their heads and muttering doleful remarks concerning the foolishness of bold fish.

So I reel it all back in and in desperation tie on the white plastic grub, pinching on a weight for distance.

I cast. BAM. He gets off.

I cast. Nibble. Nibble. BAM.

BAM.

BAM.

BAM.

I mean, I’m a God. I could sell Ponzi Schemes to Eskimos. I could swindle Bernie Madoff. These fish are begging me to catch them — one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish — shy ones, bold ones — it don’t matter. I can’t miss. Bites. Nibbles. Dinner. I’m golden — or rainbowed, as it were. Where were you punk peces last year when I was having my crisis of confidence, with my vest loaded down with flies and lures?

Point being, it’s started. They’re stocking. They must have put that April 15 thing on the answering machine so they wouldn’t have tremulous fishermen hollowed out from the winter break following the stocking truck around from pool to pool.

So from now on into September, the fish truck will set out every day from the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery to stock Rim Country streams and lakes.

Rim Country’s got the best stream fishing in the state, with weekly stockings of the East Verde River, Tonto, Haigler, Canyon and Christopher Creek. If that’s not enough, the truck also dumps fish every week in Woods Canyon Lake — and every other week in Willow Springs Lake.

Only two other streams in the whole state get weekly stockings — Oak Creek in Sedona and the Black River in the White Mountains — although stocking won’t start in earnest in the White Mountains until next month.

I had only 10 minutes to stay, but only darkness drove me away.

Night meetings — they come and they go. Mayors talk. Councils vote. But hey: I’ve also got the fishing beat. And the editor said I should get to the bottom of this shy fish, bold fish thing.

Bottom line: They both taste great. Try a nice mango sauce.

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