An Outdoor View: Curiosity

I have an irrepressible urge that goes back to my childhood. Whenever I go past water of any description, I look at it and wonder if fish are in it.

My compulsion may have begun when I caught my first fish, a small trout. It happened at a shallow little creek that meandered through pastureland in Western Washington, where I grew up. I remember something pulling on my line. The feeling was electric. When I pulled back, a shimmering alien being came flying out of its element and into mine. Was that where my curiosity about water began?

A year or two after that event, I fished at Clear Lake, a few miles from home. The nearby town of Clear Lake had once been a booming logging town, and the lake had been full of logs. By the time I was born, the logs were gone. Only a rotting mill and dock remained, and that’s where I fished.

I baited my hook with a worm and lowered it into the dark depths. Something pulled on my line. My heart hammering with excitement, I pulled back. Out came a fish I’d never seen. I took it and a couple of others home, where Dad identified them as yellow perch and showed me how to clean them. Mom rolled them in flour, and we had fried perch for supper.

Early on, I figured out that my father wasn’t as interested in fishing as I was. He liked to take the family cruising on Puget Sound in our small skiff, but he seldom stopped to fish. At the time, I knew we must be passing over hundreds — millions? — of fish, and I yearned to stop and fish for them, but Dad was more interested in taking photos. I ached to fish. It was like being in a candy store with no money.

Having no money was part of my problem. My family had enough money for necessities, but I didn’t have my own fishing outfit until I earned the money to buy it. My first pole was a slightly bent length of Calcutta bamboo. I paid for my first reel with the $5 prize I won for having the “Best Decorated Bike” in a 4th of July parade. But having my own rod and reel didn’t change things much. I had to work to make money to buy tackle. Trouble was, I liked to fish more than I liked to mow lawns and pick berries, so I usually had little or no tackle.

The years dragged by, and suddenly I was 14, old enough to have a paper route. I earned enough money to buy a 3-speed bike. The next thing I knew, I was buying a car and gas, and chasing girls. I guess that took my mind off fishing for a while, because I didn’t do much of it for two or three years. However, whenever I saw water, I always wondered if there were fish in it.

Curiosity, best known for its ability to kill cats, is a powerful force. My curiosity about water has taken me to places and led me to do things I never would’ve done without it. What’s more, learning one thing has led me to learning a lot of other things. It was curiosity that drove me to spend hundreds of hours working on an old boat, so I could explore Prince William Sound and find out what kind of fish were in it. I’ve been curious about the Kenai River from the moment I first saw it, more than 40 years ago.

It’s not for nothing that the name of the robot rover that’s been crawling around Mars for going on four years is “Curiosity.” A large number of people must’ve been curious about what was on the planet nearest to earth.

Me, I’m wondering if there are any fish.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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