Catch and release

Why Zach is a good-bad fisherman

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

We fish in my family. Sure, I can remember times when my dad, brother and I packed shotguns on our many trips into the mountains to gather firewood — keeping an eye out for grouse — but we usually ended up blasting the soda cans we’d emptied in the truck on the way there. 

I am not a hunter, though in the spirit of self-sufficiency and amid a spate of early-coronavirus lockdown antsy-ness I got it in my head that I should go turkey hunting this past spring. I don’t own a .12 gauge, but I do have a bolt-action Mossberg .20 gauge that my wife’s grandpa purchased with Marlboro money sometime in the mid-1950s.

With idle dreams of springtime turkey shoots in mind, I pulled down the old Mossberg and took it apart — I hadn’t fired it in a long time, and then it had been for trap shooting. (One of the perks of attending a small liberal arts college is that they offer weird classes like trap shooting, which I took for two back-to-back semesters, so I’m a pretty dab hand at blasting clays.)

The more I looked at the gun, the less I trusted it in the field; and, having just received my portion of the “Trump stimulus,” I decided that it was time for me to buy a brand-new gun. 

After much research, I settled on a Remington 870 Express pump-action and, since I’ve come to appreciate the versatility of a .20 gauge, that’s what I ended up buying.

License, turkey tag and shotgun in hand, the only thing I shot all season was — you guessed it — a couple of aluminum cans at a trailhead out near Mineral Point.

I am not a hunter. I’m not much of an angler, either, despite the fact that the men in my family not only are, but are excellent fishers of fish. When my dad and brother were happily trolling Lake Pend Oreille back in the ’80s and early-’90s, I was the kid sitting in the bow of the boat scribbling in a sketchbook. 

From 1995 to 2019, I don’t think I went fishing in earnest more than a dozen times, and the only fish of note that I caught were on a charter at Kootenay Lake, British Columbia, with my dad and brother. (One of the funnest dad-sons trips we’ve ever taken.)

Yet, as I have crept ever-closer to 40 — only two months to go! — my long-dormant fishing bug has awakened and started buzzing. With kids of my own to bring into the tradition, I’ve finally come to love it — the ritual of tying on a lure; of reading the current and water conditions; the salutary, meditative, even prayerful motion of casting. I suppose I had to grow into it.

Despite my new-found/rediscovered love of fishing, I remain a pretty crap fisherman. I catch them, but I can’t seem to kill them. 

For one thing, the fish I catch are almost all from a dock, so they’re never that big. I’ll pull one up — ever careful to wet my hands before touching it — and feel the same preternatural terror holding its body as I did when my kids were infants. I cringe as I prise the hook from its gasping mouth and, even if it’s an eater, I can never seem to bring myself to bash it over the head with the little club I always bring along.  

Maybe I’d feel different if the fish I caught were big old bastards that have been eating other fish and lounging in the depths for years. But the fish I catch just end up reminding me of hapless kids, like I was. I see them zip around in the sunny nearshore, all lean muscle and mindless energy, and when they start going for my Mepp spinner at the end of the dock, most times I’ll reel up as fast as possible so they won’t bite it. “Plenty of time to get caught, but not by me,” I say to them in my mind.

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