by Frank Ruczynski
There isn't much I enjoy more than fishing. It's fair to say that I like catching a lot more than fishing, but as I grow older, the fishing experience has turned into much more than casting and catching. More times than not, I believe most of us measure our fishing success strictly by the size and number of the fish caught per trip. While catching should never be underestimated, I thought it would be nice to share some of the other unforgettable sights, smells and sounds that add to the fishing experience. A Foggy Fall Morning at Lake Lenape
It wasn't long ago that I measured the value of each fishing trip only by results. My goal was to catch as many fish as I could on each and every trip. I guess I looked at fishing as a game in which winning could only be achieved by topping my personal best. By pushing myself, I learned and accomplished a great deal, but looking back, it was a lot more business than pleasure. If I caught sixty-two striped bass one night, I wanted sixty-three the next. I remember beaching a 36-inch weakfish and instead of enjoying the fish and the moment, I rushed back into the water in hopes of a 37-inch weakfish. I'm sure I could have enjoyed those trips and catches a lot more, but I wonder if I would have learned as much?
I don't want to send the wrong message here - I will never be of the, "If I catch a fish, I catch a fish," ilk, but I'm learning there is much more to fishing than catching fish. Years ago, I remember reading something concerning the "Stages of a Fisherman." It went something like:
Stage 1 – I want to catch a fish!
Stage 2 – I want to catch a lot of fish!
Stage 3 – I want to catch big fish!
Stage 4 – I'm just happy to be fishing.
Stage 5 – I want to share my passion and knowledge of fishing with others.
When I read the article, I thought to myself, "There will never be a time when I'll just be happy to be fishing." Today, when I think of this article, it seems spot on. I am happy just to be fishing and there is little that brings me more joy than sharing the sport of fishing with my family and friends.
Looking back, there is much more to fishing than casting a line and catching fish. The sky, sunrises and sunsets immediately come to mind – the beautiful yellow, orange, red, pink and purple colors are mirrored and twice as stunning on the water. I guess most would think one wouldn't be as likely to experience great views at night in complete darkness, but that's simply not true. If you've never seen a super-sized, orange full moon come up over the horizon, you're missing out! It appears like something out of a Star Wars movie as the moon seems ten-times larger than normal and the reflection off the water magnifies the experience. I can't tell you how many shooting stars and meteor showers I've witnessed over the years – many light up the night as bright, green fireballs streaks across the sky. Sunrise from the North Wildwood Rock Pile
Have you heard of phosphorescence? If not, it is described as a bioluminescence of organisms in the surface layers of the sea – small organisms light up or glow when stimulated by mechanical irritation, such as the movement of water. The glowing organisms create unbelievable nighttime landscapes. Waves, wind, current and fish movement are just a few of the triggers to bioluminescence. Anglers sometimes refer to this as "fire in the water." While catch rates may suffer some during these occurrences, the visuals are nothing short of amazing.
Many of us enjoy viewing wildlife, but when you're out fishing, you not only get to view nature, you interact with it! I've had my share of memorable experiences with wildlife. One night, what I thought was a small dog following me down the beach turned out to be a very friendly and hungry fox - I have a 100 other fox stories. On another trip, a curious skunk followed me onto the bridge and decided to watch me fish for a while. In Stone Harbor, I decided to fish a few backwater docks for weakfish when something popped its head out of the water and barked at me. A few seconds later, another otter approached from the back of the dock and didn't seem happy about my trespassing on "their" dock. The "cute" otters didn't seem so cute when I was corned on the end of the dock at 2 AM. After a few minutes of back and forth, I pushed through and went on to tell the story to my pal that was up fishing on the bridge. When we returned to the dock the two otters were on their backs cuddled up in the middle of the dock and he just laughed at me. I didn't both to argue. I have stories about dolphins, whales, sharks, turtles, deer, birds, insects, snakes and all kinds of other animals that helped make my fishing trips more memorable and enjoyable. This mountain deer greeted us on the way to the pond.
This week's blog topic came to mind after an experience I had with the family while fishing over the weekend. On Saturday, we drove to Avis Mill Pond otherwise known as Camp Crockett. My son, Jake, and I were planning to fish while my wife took a few photographs and relaxed by the water. We never catch much at the pond, but the surrounding wildflowers and wildlife makes the trip worthwhile.
Jake and I decided to start in the small lagoon on the backside of the spillway. I made a cast or two before I noticed what looked like a dead owl in the water. A few seconds later, the owl's head moved and it looked over at me. Of all the animals I've seen and photographed over the years, I've yet to come across a great horned owl – their loud hooting has woken me up on cold winter nights, but viewing them after midnight high in our pine trees is nearly impossible. This was my chance. The circumstances weren't exactly what I hoped for as I could tell something was wrong with this owl.
I spent a few minutes watching the owl before I made the decision that it needed immediate assistance. I wasn't sure if it was tangled in fishing line, exhausted from trying to climb out of the water or ill. I made the decision to help in any way I could. I grabbed a stick and got into the water. Surprisingly, the owl grabbed onto the stick and I got him into shallow water. My next step was to grab the owl and place it onto land. The poor bird was so exhausted it didn't put up much of a fight. I carried it over to the bank that we were fishing from and laid it up against a branch as it was to weak to hold it's head up. My wife and I made a bunch of phone calls to state and county wildlife agencies, but answering machines are far more likely than reaching a real person, especially on a Saturday afternoon. After a bunch of calls and voice messages, we received a call back from the Salem County Animal Control. Ned would be out in an hour and rendezvous with a wildlife rehabilitation center a little later that evening. Great Horned Owl
Waiting for Animal Control seemed like forever as we watched the owl struggle to stay alive. At times, it perked up some and then would sit with its head down. When I carried the owl to the road to wait for help, it looked at me with its big eyes and let out a few faint hoots. It was a moment I'll never forget. A few minutes later, Ned from Animal Control showed up and placed the owl into a carrier for transport. I knew the owl's chance at survival was slim, but we thanked Ned and wished our feathered friend the best. Ned is far more than a dog catcher.
I called the rehabilitation center a couple days later and they told me the owl didn't make it. I was sad at first, but then thought about the people that were willing to go to great lengths to help injured animals. We did all we could do and I guess that's all anyone can hope for.
Our experience with the owl was just one of many we encountered because we were out fishing. When we talk about great times on and near the water, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a memorable catch. Stories of huge fish have been told for centuries and I'm sure we've all heard and told our share of "epic" catches. I think it would be interesting to hear some of the other things that make your fishing experiences great. Please feel free to share any of your own stories in the comments box below.