Stylized line drawing of mark playing the flute

The young fisherman

I was never very good at fishing. I didn’t catch much and I didn’t know a lot about my equipment. In retrospect, I think I just liked sitting quietly next to a body of water.

My dad and I camped all the time and I would bring my little fishing pole on most of our trips.

Once, at Medicine Lake, I almost caught a duck. I was sitting on a rock at the edge of the lake casting with a bright gold lure that wobbled back and forth as I reeled in. On one cast, I noticed something big swimming after my lure.

I was ecstatic! A giant fish was about to be mine. But then it got closer and I realized it was a duck swimming underwater trying to eat my lure.

I didn’t want to hurt a duck so I stopped reeling and hauled my pole backwards out of the water. The lure flew out just before the duck chomped on it and my line went flying back into the trees behind me.

It got so tangled, I had to just cut the line and call it a day.

We usually stayed in Forest Service campgrounds but once, on a trip through the Southwest, we stayed in a commercial campground. A KOA or something like that. We were one of only a few tents. Most of the people staying there were in RVs.

It was a strange little campground with a culvert about 3ft across running through it. The culvert only had 4 or 5 inches of water but I decided that was enough to try fishing in. Somehow, I didn’t catch anything.

That campground had showers. Cold water was free but you could put in 25 cents to get 30 seconds of hot water. My dad stood outside the shower feeding in quarters when it was my turn, then took an icy shower for himself.

Fishing was a big activity at Camp Latieze. I loved fishing there as a kid and taking kids fishing as a counselor. It was a lovely creek running through the woods downhill from the camp. The Fish & Wildlife Department stocked it with rainbow and brown trout so there were always plenty of fish to catch.

There were rules to fishing at camp.

Any fish you kept, you had to clean yourself.

You either had to eat your catch or find someone to eat it for you.

There was a giant walk-in outside the cafeteria where we stored all of the fish. You would wrap the fish in foil and write your name on it with a sharpie. Then you could pick the day you wanted to have your fish for dinner.

My favorite camp fishing story was the time I lead three older boys (10–11ish) and two younger girls (5–6). The boys were full of swagger, eager to show off their fishing expertise. The girls, bubbling over with excitement. Neither had been to camp or been fishing before.

I took them all down to my favorite spot, a deep pool a short walk off the main path to the creek. There was a big rock overlooking the pool and a small sandy patch to one side. The trees were thick here and the light filtering down into the pool was soft and magical.

The boys set up on the rock and I followed the girls to the sand.

In the end those boys, so full of bravado, caught one fish between the lot of them. They refused to clean it (Gross!) themselves so back into the creek it went.

The girls each caught a giant fish with only minimal instruction. They sat on the edge of the bank, bouncing with excitement as they cast their lines into the dark far edge of the pool.

They took turns with my pocketknife to clean their catch. I showed them the point to insert the knife, how far back to cut. Then how to tear out the insides in a single pull. Neither one balked.

They set about their work, then washed their bloody hands in the creek. We looked over the guts for a minute, identifying as many parts as we could.

They loaded their fish onto sticks and marched proudly back to came. Each girl ate their fish for dinner that night and I could see their giant smiles from across the room.