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The Streamside Guide - Planning the Trip

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"Imagine being spooled by a whale, a couple hundred yards of line flying off the reel and then, "BINK"!"

Peter Cammann shares his thoughts on what fishing he'd like to be doing and recounts a past whale tale.

by Peter Cammann

There's a conversation I seem to hear and eventually find myself drawn into each year at about this time. One fishing friend or another will turn to me and start to describe all of the new places he's going to fish this season. These can be sometimes be pretty understandable goals, like trying to hit the Lamoille River for rainbows in May, or the Clyde River in October for brown trout and landlocked salmon. Plenty of folks I know are well past the planning stage for weeklong fishing excursions to Cape Cod for striped bass or to Florida to get into the tarpon. But the trips I like to plan are a bit more…exotic.

I want to book a weekend on the Amazon River, fly fishing for piranha. I know these heavy jawed panfish have a reputation, mostly from that famous scene in the James Bond movie, Thunderball where it was shown that they can strip a leg of lamb to the bone almost as quickly as they can eviscerate an errant criminal henchman…or woman. It turns out that this isn't necessarily so, but I still like the idea of tossing a streamer to a fish with as bad a reputation as the piranha enjoys.

I want to go to Africa and fish for Nile Perch in Lake Victoria. What's fun about this species (aside from the fact that they can grow to weigh more than 500 pounds) is that they're neither originally from the Nile River, nor are they technically a member of the perch family. It's thought that the Nile Perch was originally introduced in Lake Victoria sometime during the 1950's and was intended to act as a natural predator to unwanted fish species that had overrun the lake. Fifty-odd years later and the Nile Perch own Lake Victoria, to the detriment of virtually every other fish species. Aggressive commercial fishing by Ugandan, Tanzanian and Kenyan companies has done little to put a dent in their numbers. I just figure this has got fun and games written all over it. I'll bring a big cooler for the fillets.

I want to go pike hunting on Lake Champlain. That's right, I want to head to the mouth of the Mississquoi River with a rifle and shoot at northern pike as they cruise the shallows before the spawn. It so thrilling when true adventure can be found so close to home! Vermont is the only state in the US that allows this and I just figure it's one of those things I've got to do before they carry me out, feet first. The open season for pike shooting starts at the end of March and runs through most of May, so this is a limited time offer on a unique fishing opportunity. The excitement that comes from facing down a big fish through a scope is accentuated by the knowledge that there are other people out there doing the same thing and that once a bullet ricochets off the surface of water, it's anyone's guess as to what it will hit next.

I want to go to the Okie Noodling Championships. This bare-knuckled fishing derby takes place in late June in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, which is just to the south of Oklahoma City. The rules are simple. All you have to do is swim around in a river, feeling about for a sunken hollow log. Once you locate one, stick your hand into the hole and hope there's a 20-pound catfish living there. If it clamps its jaws down on you, grab on tight and pull. The goal is to get that big fish out of the log and onto the shore without losing a finger or two. This trip is almost at the very top of my list. Not only does this appeal to my almost completely latent sense of machismo, it also speaks to my frugal nature. I won't need to pack any gear when I go there!

But most of all, I want to go surfcasting for whales. Believe it or not, this wouldn't be a first-time thing for me either. Back in the summer that I turned 17, I used to walk up and down the beach all day on my days off, searching for birds, which were usually a sign that bluefish were breaking near the shore. I had a friend named Alicia who was as into surfcasting as I and together, we'd trek along the edge of the ocean, hoping to find blitzes of fish to cast to.

One day, we walked particularly far from where we'd parked and found ourselves alone on a beautiful stretch of sand. We sat down and began to talk that lazy babble that anglers engage in when there's nothing going on. A good chunk of time passed and I was considering asking Alicia if she wanted to head back when she quite suddenly stood up and began staring fiercely at something off to our east. Several hundred yards from where we were, a huge flock of gulls was spiraling about what appeared to be a mountain of frothing water beyond the breakers. She was a good half dozens steps gone by the time I got up to follow.

When we got to where the birds were working, we could see masses of bluefish thrashing in the surf; some were actually being swept up onto the shore. Alicia was already making her first cast when I got there. I got ready to do the same when I got a glimpse of the largest dorsal fin I'd ever seen. Out beyond the breaking surf, just at the outer edge of where I might reasonably be expected to land a cast was a young right whale, its presence causing the school of bluefish between it and the shore to scurry in panic. The right whale is a species of underwater mammal that has absolutely no interest in eating bluefish. But the blues didn't know this and they were doing everything they could to get away from the monster.

But, not me! I threw my lure out as far as I could, into the path of that big dorsal fin and worked it like a jig as it passed close to the whale. The whale kept moving, taking its time on a westerly course that rapidly took it away from the mass of bluefish. I trotted after it, making another cast on the fly.

"Where are you going?" Alicia called to me as she tried to figure just what in the hell I thought I was doing. She shouted something about having the car keys and leaving me to rot on the beach alone.

But I was already too far gone. I chased the whale and kept making casts at it. I only needed to gink it in the side and then the mother of all fishing stories would be on! Imagine being spooled by a whale, a couple hundred yards of line flying off the reel and then, "BINK"! The line would break, of course, but it'd be a yarn I could tell forever. But the whale would have none of it. Eventually it moved out to deeper water and a few minutes later, I couldn't see it anymore.

I'm sure there are dozens of state and federal laws against what I did that day and perhaps there's even an international treaty that surfcasting for a whale violates, but I still want one more shot. I even promise to practice catch and release, after I've taken a picture of course.

Copyright 2009 by Peter Cammann

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