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.

Hobby Roulette: Wine 101

This week we finally kicked off our exploration of hobbies after a short vacation and one false start. We tried to do some drinking and painting at a local place called Brush Party, but it got cancelled while we were on our way to the studio (we will reschedule). But on Wednesday evening we had our first wine tasting class at a new restaurant in Gilbert called MWC Bistro. It’s a lovely little place in a mostly empty strip mall on the corner of McQueen and Warner in the spot that used to be Down Under Wines & Bistro. It is owned by the same folks who own My Wine Cellar in Ahwatukee, which is a great place we’ve been going to for years across several ownership changes.

We found MWC via Living Social. We paid $35 per person for four, 90 minute wine tasting classes over four consecutive Wednesdays in July. The deal came with four wines per tasting, plus small food pairing samples. The regular price for the class series is $80 per person so the Living Social deal was a steal. Leslie and I are really novices when it comes to wine so we figured this would be both fun and a learning experience.

We arrived at MWC Bistro a few minutes before 6 p.m. and were led to a large table in the back that was set for 14. There was one other guest there when we arrived — a woman named Jean who was in a wheelchair and whom we later learned was a stroke survivor who took a cab and the light rail on her own all the way from midtown Phoenix just for the class. Soon the table filled up with a wide range of people from a couple of older ladies to a pair of hipsters and their “dates” who may or may not have been beards. We ordered some food because it was dinner time including an order of french fries that were delicious. We both ordered salads for dinner — mine was with shrimp and Leslie’s had chicken and they were great. After a while a woman named Samantha introduced herself as our instructor (er, sommelier) and quickly poured each of us a glass of bubbly and offered a toast.

Samantha turned out to be a wonderful teacher with a great sense of humor and tons of knowledge about wine making, wine tasting and even wine purchasing. Over the course of 90 minutes we learned about how wines are made, the differences in taste due to harvest times, the different kids of yeasts used to ferment grapes, and the types of aging containers. Of course, we also learned the proper way to taste wine, beginning with a visual inspection to look for legs, brightness and color as well as sniffing for fruitiness, intensity, earthiness and more. If I’m being honest I had a hard time smelling all the things she said she smelled, whether it was pears or cherries or oak or stone. The hipster across from us dug his nose into his glass deeply with each tasting and remarked about various smells he sensed, but frankly I think he was full of shit. Most of the wines pretty much smelled like wine to me, but hey I’m new at this so perhaps my nose will mature with time!

After the visual and smell tests we were ready to taste, which began by swirling the wine all around our mouth and over our tongue before swallowing. We discussed things like sweetness, body, acid, tannin, complexity and finish. I’m pretty sure I can figure out dryness and sweetness, but mostly I just knew whether I liked the damn wine or not. For this first class we tasted a sparkling wine, a Chardonnay, a Merlot and a Zinfandel. Samantha hid the labels until after we discussed the wines to keep us from making assumptions, which was really great because it allowed me to taste the wine for what it was without preconceived notions.

Leslie and I are pretty basic when it comes to wine. She only likes dessert wines — VERY sweet wines like Muscat and late harvest Riesling. Although lately she has been obsessed with Sangria. I like sweet wine in moderation, but lately have been trying to open up my palate to explore reds like Merlot and Pinot Noir, partly because I know red wines are good for the heart. So the first four we tasted were not typical of what we’d drink, which I guess was the point of this. I thought the sparkling wine was good (a touch dry for me but not bad), but the Chardonnay was not my cup of tea. I enjoyed the Merlot but wouldn’t order it, and then came the Zinfandel. I gave it the sniff test and figured it’d be too dry for my liking, but the moment it went down my gullet I was pleasantly surprised. I really liked it, and it kept getting better with each sip. I had never tried a Zin, so I was very excited to add a new varietal to my repertoire. I forgot the name of the Zin, but it was from Amador County in Northern California (I’ll get the name next week at class number two).

We have three more classes over the next three weeks and I’m looking forward to it. I’d say wine tasting is a definite yes in terms of hobbies! I am excited to try more varietals and open my mind. I’m not so sure Leslie is going to get as much out of this class as me, but even just trying new things is a step in the right direction. And hey, she likes what she likes so who am I to argue — that’s why they make so many different kinds of wines!

As for MWC Bistro, I’d highly recommend it for dinner and drinks. The food was great, the french fries were amazing and the wine and beer selection was above average.