In search of Walt…
I went fishing on Donner Lake with Tahoe World Editor Eric Henry last weekend, both of us hoping to land a record-breaking trout. After paddling our boat from one end of the lake to the other, the only keepers filling our creel were a few soda cans, stick fish and candy bar wrappers.
I remember telling Henry it really didn’t matter if we caught any trout. At the rate we were going with soda cans, we could go to the recycle bin, cash them in and buy trout at Safeway. We could just tell everyone we caught them on the lake.
The stick fish – Henry’s record-setting six-foot tree branch – proved to be the most interesting “catch” of the day. After more than two hours of floating around the lake, we were getting rather frustrated. Every time our hooks bounced off the lake bottom, we would jump with eyes as big as saucers.
Suddenly, Henry’s rod pulled toward the water and he began frantically reeling in the line. The pole was so close to the water it looked like the U in a bucking horse’s neck. For about 20 minutes the stick fish fought and fought, giving Henry everything it had. But the wily tree branch was no match for this experienced angler; a few seconds later, we had the stick fish in the boat. But being the true sportsman he is, Henry released the branch back into the lake. “That was the biggest ‘plant’ stick I’ve ever seen,” I told him.
As we continued down the lake, it wasn’t long before we hooked the next prize of the day: a broken-back lure, complete with extra fishing line and split shot weights, too. This time, however, it wasn’t Henry’s catch, but mine.
Similar to the stick fish, we both jumped as my pole bent toward the water (actually, the boat almost tipped over). Something told me it was just another snag, but this little fisherman on my shoulder was eggin’ me on, telling me otherwise. With an adrenaline rush like I’ve never experienced before, I began frantically reeling.
Henry kept asking, “Don’t you think it’s just your line hitting the bottom?” No way, I thought. This was the big one. I kept thinking of Walt, the big fish from the movie “On Golden Pond,” and this was the day I would land him.
But, alas, Walt turned out to be a four-inch lure – you know, the kind that looks like a fish with a fat lip covered in hooks. Since we didn’t have any real fish, we decided to keep the lure because at least it looked like a fish.
I did land a real prize-winner before we headed back to shore, though. It wasn’t a fish, a soda can or a lure. It was a sunburn. Henry warned me about wearing shorts on a boat and kept telling me to put my shirt back on, but I wouldn’t listen. I was thinking after the long winter, this was the perfect opportunity to catch some rays. “At least put some sunscreen on,” Henry said. But no, sunscreen is for wimps, I said.
For the last four days, I haven’t slept without waking up shrieking in pain after rolling over. I haven’t had much of an appetite, either. Hell, my knees are so charred, I’m forced to wear sweat pants to work. I’ve even thought about writing the executives at Coppertone and asking if they need a poster child promoting sunscreen. And I don’t even want to get into the condition of my back.
The trip wasn’t a total loss, however. Believe it or not, I really did hook a bona fide Rainbow trout before the day was over. Sunburn and all, I managed to get the 16-inch whopper to the side of the boat. But fate wasn’t on our side: as Henry grabbed my line and tried to pull the trout into the boat, it slipped off the line, free to grab someone else’s Powerbait.
As I like stories with happy endings, this one did end with a trout on my dinner table. Who cares if it was from Safeway, compliments of Coke, Pepsi and Sprite?
Dan Foscalina is a reporter for the Sierra Sun.
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