Knee Deep: Carry the fire

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WON EDITOR MIKE STEVENS with a shot of fire water in hopes it will turn on the trout at Silver Lake.
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BY MIKE STEVENS

We took a little heat a few years ago when a story in our dove preview included a tale of an unsuccessful attempt at at a surface-to-air assault — in this case, shotgun pellets vs. bats — over a remote airfield as one of a variety of ways time was killed prior to a past opener. Illegal? Probably. A good example? Nah. Dumb? Yeah.

If you were to run across that brand of activity during the last dove opener, you might alert local authorities, head on over to teach them a lesson or at the very least, voice your disapproval with a letter to WON.

Now, how does your reaction change knowing this particular attempted bat murder happened over four decades ago? If it doesn’t, it absolutely should.

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What were you doing in the great outdoors 75 percent of your life ago? Is every activity you took part in worthy of being immortalized for posterity in a Norman Rockwell painting?

Let me take a few stabs at some things WON readers likely have on their outdoor resume’ that took place well in the past:

Ever fish where you weren’t supposed to? Golf course, community pond, private property fishing hole, city lake after hours, or a body of water that’s not open to fishing EVER? At any point in your life have you taken part in keeping the neighborhood songbird population in check with a BB gun? Ever haul a bucket of live fish from one body of water to another and create your own honey hole? Ever leave the barbs on in a barbless fishery? Of course you did, and you turned out just fine.

I knew a guy who used to tie flies that looked like fish food pellets so he could fly fish for pre-release white seabass in the raceways at a hatchery while flying solo on the night shift. I knew another who copped to sneaking out to one of the San Diego City Lakes when he was in college and popped a duck in the head with a .22 because he was hungry. I don’t even want to talk about what I’ve seen as far as anti sea-lion shenanigans.

Calm down. No need to get bent at me over guys I once knew.

Think of the stories you tell your fishing or hunting buddies around a campfire, in a dive bar, in the galley at 11 p.m. or on the porch of some blinking-arrow motel prior to hitting the field or water. Forget about the outdoor stuff. What stories about ANYTHING are you busting a gut laughing about over cheap beer or good whiskey?

How many of those does your mom know about? You see what I’m getting at?

If it happened decades ago, you might not be proud of it or have plans on doing it again, but you’re glad it’s out there in your rear-view mirror, and you wouldn’t change a thing. It helped mold you as a person and an outdoorsman. It set the groundwork for who knows how many deep-running traditions in your family, with your friends, or just personally. And you have to admit, a little trespassing and bird carnage could do some good for today’s screen-glued youth.

I think of this newspaper as a campfire. Pieced out and paired with kindling, it even helps make a real one. When it comes down to it, it’s just like-minded people sitting around talking about the stuff we do, every week, because we can’t sit around real campfires as much as we’d like to. Why should it be any different here then in those other settings?

I’ll go ahead and throw myself out there. Where I went to high school, if you fished, you fished the lake in the nearby community despite the letter of the law. I had a 96-bass day there once and caught my personal best that stands to this day. One out of every four or so sessions included fleeing authorities on foot and losing them in the avocado grove.

Bucket biologist? Guilty as charged. Smuggled a cloud of bass fry out of a city lake in a 2-liter 7-Up bottle and played God at a semi-secret pond in the hills where we liked to fish.

The most recent heinous violation that I should never speak or write of occured in the mid ‘90s. While working in a tackle shop (Bob’s Bait and Tackle, to date myself and this story) I had a deckhand buddy who I’d give bulk discounts on fishing line since he had so many reels and had to fill them so often. He was a contractor by trade and helped remodel an overnight boat and grew attached to it in the process, so he decided he wanted to work on it full time. After a couple years of this, he wanted to pay me back by hooking me up with a trip on the boat he worked on, but I never could because I was either in the shop or going to school.

Finally, I had a window to go, so I hopped on with a Mexican fishing license (the only thing I had to pay for), and I had a limit of yellowfin about an hour after fishing began. I told him, and he told me to keep going. I kept telling him when I caught my tenth, and fifteenth, and he told me to keep going. I went home with filets from the 18 yellowfin I caught, fried drags on 3 of the 4 reels I fished with and a $20 Japanese jig (which was high-end at the time) without a shred of paint left on it. The next morning, my right arm was so dead, I couldn’t turn the key in the ignition of my truck and had to reach over and do it lefty.

That absurd overlimit was the most fun I had fishing saltwater. Yelling with every hookup, cracking up, hooking-and-handing to struggling newbies. I recognized how dumb it was, and I never considered breaking a fishing law again.

Not long after that, I went about three months without hearing from that buddy of mine who put me on the boat that day. It wasn’t that out of the ordinary, because in the offseason he’d fish commercial and I wouldn’t hear from him for a while. When I hadn’t heard from him after six months, I contacted the landing since I wasn’t reaching him any other way, and they told me he had taken his own life a month or so back. Apparently he had some demons from way back I had no idea about. That day on the boat he helped build was the last time I saw him.

Just another story from my youth about breaking the law that I shouldn’t bring up around the campfire I guess.

I don’t feel really bad about catching 18 tuna a quarter century ago.

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