Hobby Roulette: Fishing

This is the scene of the crime for my first fishing adventure in decades.

For whatever reason I equate relaxation with sitting by a lake fishing, something that is quite odd given that the last time I went fishing I was probably 16 years old. Nevertheless, I knew as I ventured out to discover new hobbies I would have to give fishing a shot. So with the weather starting to cool off I decided to grab my fishing gear and headed out. Only one problem — I didn’t have fishing gear and frankly I have no idea how to fish! To the interwebs!

There is a ridiculous amount of information about fishing on the web; in fact, it can be overwhelming. I figured the best thing to do was to buy cheap gear and try some local lake fishing to get my feet wet. Step one was to decide what type of rod and reel to buy, but even this was complicated. Most everything I read said the best way to start was to buy a simple combo spinning rod and reel, and after a few research trips to the store I settled on a Shakespeare Complete Fishing Kit for about $18 at Wal-Mart. It included the rod and reel, plus enough tackle to get me started. No point in spending a lot of money on a hobby that I may hate. Plus, everything I read said this kit was a solid starter set.

Next I had to decide where to fish. I live in a planned community called Lakewood which includes a couple of nice community lakes. I have seen people fishing in the lakes before, but I had no idea if they ever caught anything nor if there were any fish in the lakes. I sent an email to the community manager and found out the lakes were actually stocked each spring with bass, catfish, white amur and tilapia, and that the rules allowed for residents to catch and release anything they caught, which was fine with me because I had no interest in eating anything I pulled out of these lakes plus I have no idea how to clean and prepare a fish to cook anyway. A little more research on the web suggested I could catch tilapia with corn or bread as bait using a small hook about 18 inches below a bobber. I had my rod…I had my bait…and I had my rig. Next stop, the lake.

I woke up at 8 this morning, had a cup of coffee and then walked over to the lake. I carefully tied a hook to the line, placed a bobber about a foot up from the hook, and placed a piece of corn on the hook. Now I should mention here that I had never cast a spinning reel, so I had looked that up on the web as well. Thanks to YouTube there are plenty of tutorials available and, well, it looked pretty darn simple. The only fishing I’d ever done was with one of those rods that have a push button on the reel, which is really made just for kids. But the spinner reel is even more basic so I figured after watching the video I’d just wing it.

Casting turned out to be a breeze — you just hold the line with your finger against the rod, flip up the “bail” and send the line flying into the lake. Once the line lands you flip the bail back down and it locks into place. I cast a few times and reeled the line back in to get the hang of it. On the third or fourth cast I felt something tug on my line, and when I reeled it back in the corn was gone. Either this was going to be easy or these fish were way too smart for me and my corn on a hook. I baited the hook with a fresh piece of corn and cast again into the same general vicinity and a few seconds later my bobber went under and I knew I had a bite. I slowly reeled in and pulled out a fish! Holy shit, now what?

I had hooked a small tilapia, about 5-6 inches long. I pulled him up onto the grass and grabbed him, and that’s when I realized I’d forgotten to bring my needle nose pliers to get the hook out. I also quickly found out that tilapia have sharp barbs along their backs and they hurt when you touched them and I didn’t have a towel or cloth or anything to help me get my grip. Add to that this stupid fish pretty much swallowed the hook and even though I tried to stick my fingers in his mouth to get the hook out I couldn’t reach it. Now I had a dilemma. Either I let the fish die on the grass or toss him back into the lake with a hook in his mouth. I chose the latter and felt like a horrible person.

Rather than let this mistake taint my experience, I put a new hook on my line and cast out another piece of corn. Instantly I saw my bobber go under and knew I had hooked another fish. As I started to reel him in I could tell this was a bigger fish, and sure enough a few moments later I was pulling a foot-long bass out of the lake. He must have been about two pounds and I was giggling with excitement at my fishing fortunes — beginners luck for sure. This time the hook was sitting near the front of the fishes mouth and I easily yanked it out and tossed the fish back into the lake.

It was starting to get hot but I was on a roll so I cast another piece of corn into the lake. A few minutes later I hooked another small tilapia, yanked the hook out of his mouth and tossed him back. I was out at the lake for about 45 minutes and I’d caught three fish. I was thrilled and decided to call it a day and head home. I cleaned up my gear and walked home, laughing at myself for my luck and feeling like the king of the lake.

I have to admit I enjoyed fishing (despite my issues with the first fish) and I am excited to try again soon. I purchased some trout bait at Wal-Mart in case I decided to head over to a nearby stocked lake, so perhaps I’ll give that a try soon. I have done some internet research on trout and think I know how to set up the rig so that the bait floats a foot or so off the bottom of the lake so we’ll see if I can bring in some trout next time out. Trout is by far my favorite fish to eat to I’m going to look for a place I can keep the fish I catch — and of course I’ll have to do some research on how to clean them in case I do manage to catch anything. Tempe Town Lake and Kiwanis Lake are both close by and stocked with trout so I’ll probably try one of those. Hopefully it’ll be cooler out over the next few weeks as well.