Gene Chague: Some fond memories of fishing in early April



Early April always brings back fond and humorous memories of the old days.

As mentioned in several previous columns, my fishing buddy Jerry Zink and I did a lot of fishing, beginning as far back as second grade in school. I guess you could call us fishing fanatics, never getting enough of fishing. It was always a sad day when February 28 rolled around each year, for that meant the end of all forms of freshwater fishing until the third week of April. (Nowadays in Massachusetts, we can fish year round.)

Those six or seven weeks until fishing season reopened were brutal for the sportsman, for there was nothing to do on Saturday mornings. At least the fly fishermen could tie flies during that period, but we weren't fly fishermen back then. Depression and boredom settled in.

Some guys hung around Dick Moon's Sporting Goods Store or the department stores like the Big N, K-Mart or Zayres, waiting for the new fishing stuff to come in and be displayed. To cut the boredom, some guys traded in their cars for newer models, bought expensive record players, etc. Some even took the opportunity to swap in their girlfriends for new ones.

Jerry and I were bored, too. Finally around 1970, when we were in our late 20s, we decided to do something about it. We bought New York fishing licenses and fished over there. Their season opened on April 1, and that gave us an early start on fishing before the Mass. season opened. We had to fish the rivers, because the ponds there were frequently still frozen over.

We were bait fishermen back then. Sometimes we fished with live shiners, but usually with worms or night crawlers. The only problem was we couldn't dig any earthworms or catch any night crawlers because it was too cold at that time of year. Heck, many times the ground was still frozen. Jerry solved that problem. He ordered a supply of bee moths (grubs) from Minnesota. He found out about them through advertisements in Field & Stream magazine. The grubs came in containers stuffed with wood shavings and were relatively inexpensive. And boy, did the trout love them.

We usually fished the Kinderhook Creek right across the border in nearby Lebanon and Canaan, N.Y. More than once, we slid down frozen, icy banks to get to the river's edge. The fishing was usually slow, but we managed to catch a few, even though sometimes it was bitterly cold.

One cold day, we fished the Green River in N.Y., near Hillsdale. We could spot the fish, but they were logy and very difficult to catch. Back then, if we didn't catch our limit and we knew there were still a few fish around, we persevered until we did catch them. Well, on this particular day, the fish were playing hard to get. They were just giving us the fin.

Brook trout fishing requires stealth and little movement, otherwise you will spook them. We had to stand still in hip boots with our hands constantly exposed and wet. We couldn't fish properly wearing gloves because we just couldn't feel the delicate nibbles. Finally, after three or four hours, we had to leave them for it was just too cold.

We couldn't wait to hop into my car and start the heater. But when we got to the cart, my hands were so cold I had no strength to unlock the door. Then I tried unlocking it with both hands. No luck. I asked Jerry to unlock it and his hands were just as cold as mine and he couldn't unlock it either. Then we tried unlocking it with four hands, mine with Jerry's on top of mine. (That must have been a sight.) No luck.

Our hands were so cold and weak that we couldn't figure out if it was us or the lock had frozen up. Probably a little bit of both. We couldn't even flick the Zippo lighters to melt the locks. We were standing there on a country road next to the car trying to figure what to do next, when a car approached us and Jerry flagged him down. The driver lowered his window a little and asked if he could help us.

Now, here I have to paint the picture. Here we were, two young strong men, weighing over 200 pounds each, in our late 20s, approaching his car in our hip boots. At that time, Jerry sported long hair, a full beard and a mustache. When he bent down to talk through the car window, a look of sheer panic crossed the driver's face. Charles Manson was in the news those days, and perhaps the man thought Jerry looked liked him and he would be slain right then and there on the spot.

When Jerry asked him if he could unlock our car for us, he floored the gas pedal and spun out, kicking up rocks and gravel. We watched him race down the country road kicking up a cloud of dust that lingered for some time afterward. You had to be there.

Eventually we got the car door open and laughed all the way home.

Nearly 45 years have passed since that event, but about this time each year, the subject comes up and Jerry and I still laugh like heck. In retrospect, Jerry wondered what the driver's reaction would have been if we had just asked him to sit there for five minutes with the engine running so we could sit on the ground and hold our hands by his tailpipe. Guaranteed, 10 minutes after he left, the men in white coats would have arrived to take us to a warm place.

To reach Gene Chague:,
or (413) 637-1818.


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