Northwest Connecticut Fish: 14, Mark: 1

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Mark avoids a shutout. Submitted photos

At least I avoided the shutout. Barely.

I blame it on the quarantine. Normally, I would know better than to challenge our area fish to a contest of wills in early spring. If you spend any time reading about fishing (and I do), you’ll find lots of articles that claim you can catch fish regularly in the first few months of the year. Let me summarize these articles for you, with a small injection of reality. All you need to do is: 1) spend lots of money on gear; 2) freeze your butt off; and 3) be extremely lucky—like finding a $100 bill in the parking lot lucky.

So yeah, I know better. It’s rare that I fish much between ice out and the middle of May. But I figured, why not? I’d already mowed my yard three times, even though the grass isn’t growing yet. I’d filled the potholes in the driveway, spread mulch and planted seeds for all of the garden plants that need to start indoors.

When I caught myself peeling the cellophane off of the Complete Collection of the Andy Griffith Show, I decided it was time to throw down the gauntlet. In order to fulfill another springtime yearning, we would conduct the challenge like a baseball game. I would fish nine times, each outing constituting an inning. I would score a run for every fish caught. The fish would score whenever I completed an hour with no fish landed.

I never had a chance. It was like a real-life game between the Dodgers and my beloved Baltimore Orioles. I was overmatched from the first pitch. Here are some highlights:

First Inning

I was optimistic I could get on the board quickly. I was fishing an area of the Farmington River where I have caught lots of fish during the summer months, everything from trout to smallmouth bass. But the fish came out throwing fireballs. The water was running high and fast, and the wind was brutal. I quickly fell behind 1-0, then 2-0, without so much as a foul tip. Not wanting to get blown out in the first inning, I quit and headed home.

Second Inning

I dug into the batter’s box, confident. I was fishing a private club pond that had been recently stocked with trout. I planned to jump on the fish right out of the gate, swinging aggressively at the first pitch. I baited up with a juicy night crawler and went to work. It’s a small pond, and I was able to methodically fish every portion of it in an hour. Result: I’m down 3-0 and the crowd is getting a little restless.

Third and Fourth Innings

More of the same. I fish two different ponds; one I know well and one I’ve never fished before. I unleash an impressive arsenal, trying everything from worms to jigs to spinner baits. In the third, I hook a nice bass, but watch helplessly as he shakes his head and spits out the hook. I give up three more runs.

Fifth Inning

Look out, fish. I might erase your entire six-run lead in a single inning. Christensen’s Pond and the nearby brook have been stocked with hundreds of trout in just the last few days. You can see them stacked up in several areas of the brook. As I approach the bank, I watch a young man named Dan Litin reel in a beautiful brown trout. Dan is a senior at Granby Memorial High School. He’s an excellent football player, and helped lead the Bears last fall to their second playoff appearance in school history. He also appears to be an experienced fisherman. As I watch, he catches another trout.

Dan Litin with a brown trout

“Wow, Dan.” “What’s your secret?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he says though a huge grin. “I’ve never fished before.”

I smile myself, rub my hands together greedily and head for the opposite bank. There’s plenty of room for us to fish the same hole. On my third cast, I get my first hit of the game. A solid line drive into the gap. The fish is actually taking line.

“This is a nice one. I’m on the board.”

As I say these things, I carelessly let the tip of my rod drop towards the water. The line slackens just a bit, and then he’s gone. I can hear the announcer in my head, “That was boneheaded. There was no reason to try to stretch that into a double in this situation, down six runs and nobody out.”

I fish for two hours, and get a couple of more bites, but don’t land a single fish. Dan, meanwhile, catches about ten. I’ve shown my first life since the game began, but there are no moral victories. I’m down 8-0.

Sixth Inning

It’s a beautiful day: sunny, 62 degrees and no wind. I’m fishing with my son Gage. We try three different streams, and see fish in all three. He is fly fishing; I am casting a myriad of different lures and baits. In two hours, we don’t get a single bite. It’s 10-0 and most of the fans are headed home.

Seventh Inning

The fish are getting cocky. I’m floating in my kayak at West Hill Pond. Trout are breaking all around me, slurping in everything that lands on the surface. Everything, that is, except what I am casting. Being the well-read fisherman that I am, I have brought lots of lures that float on the surface or suspend just below it. I try them all, including several that are reasonable imitations of what the trout are eating. Two more hours, no bites. As I load up to head home, I mark the seventh inning stretch by singing God Bless America. I’m probably the only one that hears it.

Eighth Inning

I get the following text from my friend Dave: “Receiving reports that fishing is hot at Howell’s Pond. Meet me up there at 3.”

I’m suspicious as I pull into the parking lot. Where does Dave get his reports? There isn’t a soul out fishing. It’s overcast and cold, and there is a distinct feeling of “fishlessness” in the air. But, I’m here, so I launch my kayak and get to work. If you figure I can make three casts per minute, I made something like 360 attempts in the two hours we were there. The fish were wrapping up their pummeling of me. It was 14-0.

Ninth Inning

I have brought a ringer. Although I have no real hope of overcoming a 14-run deficit in my last at bats, I need to do everything I can to avoid the shutout. So, I asked my daughter Ellie to join me. Ellie is skilled. She is a former Connecticut Youth Angler of the Year and she shares the state record for largest caught and released Pumpkinseed. But more importantly, she has a laid-back attitude that I figure will be my ace in the hole—she doesn’t really care whether she catches anything. If the fish aren’t biting, she has no problem laying down her rod and “working on her tan”, or, as she told me she might do today, “just sit and let the stream’s current swirl around me.”

Ellie, the Ringer

And it works. Even though I am fishing a part of the Salmon Brook I have never fished before, and even though I swear this section doesn’t hold fish, I hook and land a feisty brown trout. Making the final box score look like this:

      1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R   H E
Fish 2 1 2 1 2 2 2 2 0 14 31 0
Mark 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 5 4