Why do I fish?
Because there are different fish. Thats the short answer.
The long answer is this. I am obsessed. I am an adventurer. I am a dreamer.
When I was very young my dad read me the Dr. Suess book “McElligot's Pool” A wonderful story about being allowed to dream as a child is fishing a pool wondering and imagining what swims below the waters. This book was followed by a few more books as I grew older. I fished a lot as a child. I spent most of my days knee deep in mud under the bridge near my house in DeNevue Creek in Fond du Lac Wisconsin. My family not only tolerated me bringing buckets of fish home to play with and learn about, they encouraged me. They fed the obsession. But one event in my life shaped it and formed it into the obsession it is today.
It was 1988 I was 12 years old. Each day that summer I rode my bike to lakeside park on the shore of Lake Winnebago. In this park were channels full of fish. And along those channels was George. George was a wonderful old man who tolerated my pestering. I fished with George every day that summer. I would fly up on my bike practically wiping out when I found him. We had a meeting spot typically. South channel around lunch time. Sometimes he had a sandwich for me and he always shared his bait. He showed the ins and outs of fishing for panfish. Not the typical throw a bobber out and wait style of fishing. This was hunting. We used ultralight rigs. Walked the shoreline twitching a tiny hook with a waxworm under a small cork float. We walked until we found them. We talked and walked and fished. He would explain why the fish were where they were and why they were doing what they were doing. One day we found a school of Golden Shiners. Nice ones too!
Suddenly George got a very orange one that stood out. I asked what it was and George said “its a red shiner” They said they get em out there with the shiners.
I wanted to show my dad so I asked if I could have it. “Sure” George said. I quickly ate my sandwich to clear up a bag to store the orange fish in. I stuffed it in my backpack and fished a little longer. Then said my goodbyes and rushed home.
I showed my dad and he was not totally sure what we had. Looked like a golden shiner but had red fins and an orange body.
We took a photo and then put the fish in the freezer. I started going through every book I had. Suddenly I found a drawing in a book. A strange fish called a Rudd followed by a write up on how to fish for them and where they are found.
“weedy lakes and ponds” “Maggots and bread” THAT HAD to be it. It looked like it and it was caught in a weedy channel and it bit a waxworm. The book was a gift from my aunt. I failed to realize that the book was published and written in England. I grabbed some paper and a pencil and drew my Rudd. I talked to my dad later that day convinced I found it and it was a Rudd. I remember dad looking it all over saying It looks the same, but those live in Europe, but sometimes weird fish show up. Well of course they do I thought. With memories of McElligot's Pool always in my mind anything is possible.
Dad did some legwork and set up an appointment to meet up with a biologist in madison. I was SO excited! I still remember the car ride down to madison. I could see the capital building and I am meeting with a scientist this was AMAZING!!!
We met with the Biologist and I told him my story. Showed him my drawing and the book and then the fish. A washed out orange fish in a frosty bag of ice. He explained to us kindly that the fish is likely a golden shiner. I insisted “It cant be! Its a Rudd!!” He smiled and said. We will thaw it out and we will look at it and let you know ok. He assured me he would look it over. On the ride home it was a mix of excitement and nervousness. I remember asking Dad “Will he look at it really?”
“I'm sure he will” he said. Dad went on to explain how keys work in biology and how they will look at a big list looking over each part, counting each scale to find out for sure.
Every morning that summer I peddled out to the park to catch my own, but it never happened.
One day the following spring the phone rang and Dad was talking to someone and he seemed excited. Then I heard him say “Ill get him” Then he called my name. “Its the biologist in madison. He wants to talk to you”
I answered excited “Hello, this is Josh” I said. “Josh this is the Biologist in Madison. I wanted to congratulate you on your good eye. Its a Rudd” I don't remember anything of that call after that.
This is why I fish.
McElligot's Pool taught me anything can be. George taught me how to look for fish and kindness, Dad taught me how to find the answers and seek the truth. And the Rudd taught me to love fishing.
Every time I fish a waxworm in a weedy lake I wonder... maybe my white whale is there.
Two days ago I was on the shore of a small lake nearly 30 years after that day in lakeside park. Again I was on the shore of a man made pond. This time with the guidance of friends and a brother by my side. I cast into the pool and caught my white whale. This Rudd is why I fish.