Remembering that first catch 18 years ago

I’m getting anxious…antsy anxious…cabin fever kind of anxious for the first weekend in February to get here. My son Justin and I are planning to head to Bennett Spring, Mo., for our first trout fishing jaunt of 2012. I’m so anxious, I went out and bought a new fishing pole and reel and that makes me overly anxious to get to Bennett and put a line in the water.

As I was feeding the line on my new reel the other day, I looked over and saw the reel and pole that I have used the past 18 years. It was January 1994 when Terri and the kids bought that pole and reel for my birthday. Just like today, back then I could hardly wait to try it out. But it would be nine months before that would happen.

I don’t consider myself an “angler” now and I certainly wasn’t when we began going to Bennett. In fact, the first trout I ever caught was one I saw floating down the stream belly up. I grabbed my net, turned and faced it just like a baseball player getting ready to field a ground ball. As I stood in the middle of the stream, I could see the trout bouncing up and down and drifting left, then right with the current. And I shifted back and forth in the water to make sure it came straight towards me.

With my heart beating faster and faster, I watched that fish float directly into my net. At last! A trout to put on my stringer so I didn’t feel like a complete failure.

I kept telling Terri that I wasn’t catching trout because of the pole and reel I was using. When I received a new outfit for my birthday, I have to admit I was a bit nervous because what excuse would I have when I came home with an empty stringer? Maybe that’s why it took nine months to get to Bennett. But I remember it as if it were yesterday…

“I don’t know why you want to put yourself through all this frustration,” Terri said in the car on the way to Bennett. “You never catch anything.”

Bennett, for me, is a wonderfully soothing, serene place. The trout-filled spring water of Bennett winds its way through the park and empties into the Nianqua River. And whether you’re the world’s most experienced angler or a person who seldom knows the joy of landing a flipping, splashing, fighting trout, it’s still a great place.

My quest for trout began at 7:30 a.m. As the signal horn sounded, I cast my line into the water.

“What’s wrong?” Terri asked as she sat and watched from the bank.

“My line’s snagged,” I said.

“On your new reel? I don’t believe it,” she said and then shaking her head added, “Why are we here?”

Fifteen minutes later, my line was back in the water. I waited, worked my bait, and waited some more.It started to rain. Next to me an older lady caught three trout within five minutes using the same bait that was on my hook.

More than two hours later after losing three hooks, a spinner bait and not even getting a bite, we left and ate breakfast then went back to fish. The hours ticked by and nothing. Not even a nibble. About 6 p.m. a guy next to me hooked a trout.

“You want this?” he asked and explained he wasn’t going to be able to fix it that night for dinner.

“Sure!” I said.

He gave me two others he had caught earlier.

I stood there, line in water, for another 45 minutes when…

The line suddenly went tight. It jerked. It vibrated. It was moving back and forth in the water.

“Oh my god,” I said.

“What’s wrong now?” Terri asked.

And then the trout shot straight up out of the water flipping back and forth.

“Oh my god,” Terri said. “Is that on YOUR line?”

“Get the net!” I yelled.

The trout went deep into the water and swam one way and then the other, pulling and tugging as I held the line tight and reeled it towards me.

“Look kids, your dad caught a fish,” Terri said.

“Get the net!” I yelled again.

“Look how your pole is bending. You better not break that brand new fishing pole I just bought you…”

“WILL YOU GET THE NET!”

By then I had the fish on the bank. I was trying to grab it. It was flopping around trying to get back into the water. Terri tried to get it into the net.

Finally I just slapped the net on top of the fish, gained control of the situation and slipped the mighty warrior onto my stringer. It weighed close to 2 pounds.

Terri was busy taking pictures and then I noticed the other fishermen around me staring and laughing. A couple of them gave me a thumbs-up sign.

Obviously they were frustrated trout anglers, too.

I took that prized trout to the park’s restaurant and had them fix it with all the trimmings. It was the best fish I had ever tasted. Terri even took my picture as i began to eat it (proof for the people back home).

I fished the next morning without getting even a nibble. But that was OK because I had broken the ice, so-to-speak, and had caught my first trout with the pictures to prove it.

My son and I have learned a lot about trout fishing in the past 18 years. Not that we are experts. Far from that, but we have never failed to come home without trout the past few years to eat as well to give to family and friends. And although it’s likely not going to be as exciting as that catch 18 years ago, I’m looking forward to next weekend and catching that first trout with my new pole and reel.

Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to take pictures!

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