‘Fish This!’ is Back

Question and Answer Time

By Andrew Cremata

Did somebody say “spring?”
Every time I prepare an article for the paper there is a deadline. Sometimes the article is ready on time, but I’m sure the editor will agree when I admit that often I am late. Here it is the 20th of the month, my deadline, and I am writing my article. No time to proofread or spell check or...
I better start getting to the point. Why am I running late? Well, the fish have been biting for one. And when the fish start to bite, many an hour that could be spent writing about fish ends up designated for the pursuit of fish.
Who would expect any different?
Then there is the whole issue of preparing all of my gear for the upcoming season. When your hands are covered in reel grease, using the keyboard can be a bit messy not to mention dangerous. Just yesterday while sharpening a hook, the phone rang, and while reaching out to grab it the newly honed point found its way in between my finger and the fingernail. I didn’t curse, but I did praise the Canadian barbless hook rules.
I must confess that even now, while I write, that I am thinking about fishing. Why, I could be fishing right NOW! Actually, it is windy right now or I might have found myself even further behind.
What does it all mean?
It means that even though we still may feel the sting of the winter wind and cold for a few more weeks, fishing season is here. I know, because the reports are coming in from all over town that the Dollies are biting and being caught by just about everyone with a rod and a lure. Some have even said that they are jumping out of the water to grab the lure before it even reaches the surface.
Let’s not get carried away.
A nice day on the river with a couple fish to bring home for the family makes for the perfect day. Who can argue that Dolly Varden slow cooked on the grill make for an enticing spring treat?
The truth is we are just getting started.
Over the winter I often think about all those fish out there, under the ice, or out in the ocean, cruising along their particular haunts. While hidden from our senses, they do appear at times in the mind’s eye. For some they are “the one that got away.” For others they are the lunker they have always wanted to tangle with, the 30 lb. lake trout or the 45-inch Pike.
Come June or July our paths may cross that of the fish, the one we can’t get out of our head. Where is he/she right now? What will lead us to the same place in time? How will I entice him to bite? How will I fight and eventually land him? Will I keep him for food, or release him to fight another day?
While these questions may seem a bit philosophical, even for a die-hard angler, they are the questions one must answer now to have success when the big day comes. Simply asking the questions will not guarantee success. Neither will answering them. But this is the nature of the sport, and it is this uncertainty that makes it worth all the effort.
I remember a particular fish back in Florida. He lived at picnic island pier in the south part of town. It was a short pier by Florida standards only extending about 100 feet into Tampa Bay. It was one of my favorite spots but trouble had been brewing.
It seems that many of the regulars were befalling the same series of events, under identical circumstances, and the theories were spinning out of control.
It happened to me many times.
There you were, fishing the structure with your line almost straight down in the water, waiting for a gentle tug on the line when the rod would bend sharply under the pier almost seizing it from your grasp. The line would tear from your screaming reel and in a mere moment the line would snap like a guitar string leaving your limp rod in your hands. Everyone would stop and look in your direction with a tinge of fear in their eyes.
You were a victim of “the fish.”
Some said it was a sneaky Snook, lurking in the shadow of the pier, waiting for an unsuspecting fisherman to crack a beer or start munching on a sandwich to seize its opportunity. Many believed it was a shark, so stealthy that no fin ever broke the surface. A few thought it was a diver, employed by a local tackle shop to increase business by necessitating replacement tackle.
As the months wore on this theory gained in popularity amongst anglers who would set their outfits down against the rail but for a moment only to watch it flip end up and disappear over the rail. One particular cork-handled setup skidded across the surface like an out of control skier before sinking into the distance.
It was starting to seem like the fish had someone on the “inside,” possibly a turncoat angler who had been schooled with fish, and was now helping them by using his knowledge against us.
Or it was time to use something the fish don’t have.
No, not explosives.
It was time to use that big brain, fully equipped with reasoning and problem-solving skills.
It was time to ask the right questions and put to rest what was really behind all the mystery.
When did he bite?
He would always bite when the angler’s attention was diverted. Was the fish psychic? Of course not, but when fishermen get sidetracked they set their rods down against the rail. So this fish could sense your vibrations in the line, probably because there was so little line out.
Why did the line always snap?
Fish don’t carry scissors so this one must have had a safe spot under the pier where he could run to, that was equipped with a natural sharp edge, perfect for cutting line.
If this is all true how can I catch the mystery fish?
This was the plan. Go to the pier at a time when no one else will be there, less noise. Fish with a very large outfit, one more suited to a boat, this will cut down on vibration because the rod is thick. This also facilitates the use of heavier line, which is harder to cut on submerged structure. When the bait reaches the bottom, reel it up a foot or two. When the fish wants to attack it he will have to come up out of HIS environment and a little closer to mine.
This is where the story gets a little anticlimactic. You see, the plan worked. My future wife was there to see it and we were both amazed by what we finally saw.
The fish was a mangrove snapper, a common catch in Tampa Bay. The average fish for this area is about one to one and a half lbs. This one topped out about 5 lbs, certainly no shark or “fish-spy.” What was amazing were the eight individual hooks protruding from its mouth, each in a different state of rust or decay. When the fish opened and shut its mouth you could hear the clanking of the hooks tapping into one another.
I had asked myself the question the day before if when I caught the fish I would keep it. The answer was yes. I had to keep a fish that cost me a small fortune in rigs and tackle. When I looked at this fish, which more resembled a punk rocker than a snapper, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I cut the hooks from its mouth one by one, and dropped the fish right back down into the water from where I had pulled it out.
There are many more mystery fish to be caught this year. We have had six months to ask the right questions. I’m done asking. If you happen to miss my article in a future issue of the paper I’m just out looking for some answers.

John O'Daniel and Steve Parsons paddle the Skagway Alpine Club canoe (left) at the start of the 2002 Yukon River Quest. - JB

Fifth annual Yukon River Quest entry deadline May 31
WHITEHORSE, YUKON – The world’s longest canoe and kayak race, the Yukon River Quest, is seeking entries for its fifth annual running in late June.
The 460-mile paddling marathon is held on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon Territory. The race begins with a Le Mans style start in downtown Whitehorse just after noon on Wednesday, June 25. Teams must reach the Carmacks checkpoint 200 miles down river in 40 hours to stay in the race, and then must make Dawson within 96 hours to officially finish and catch the awards banquet on Sunday afternoon.
The race record is 52 hours, nine minutes, but most teams average between 65 and 80 hours.
The Yukon River Quest grew out of the gold rush centennial Dyea to Dawson races and has increased in popularity each year, from 16 teams in 1999 to last year’s record 36 teams. Organizers hope to reach the 50-team mark this year, and are actively soliciting teams in Alaska and the Yukon, as well as internationally through paddling magazines, canoe and kayak clubs, and the race’s Web site, www.polarcom.com/~riverquest.
As of April 10, a dozen teams had registered, including overseas entries from Germany, England, Scotland, and the Guernsey Channel Islands, and North American entries from the Yukon, Alaska, British Columbia, Manitoba, Texas, Ontario, and Maine.
The “Maine Yahoos to the Yukon” were the first team to sign up for the popular voyageur canoe category. Other categories are tandem canoe, tandem kayak, and solo kayak. Steve Van Vlaenderen, a kayaker from Manitoba, is raising money for the arthritis research under the Arthritis Society’s “Paddle Far” pledge program. Greg Tibbetts and Larry Seethaler of Anchorage return as a canoe team for their fourth and fifth River Quest respectively.
Teams will compete for a total purse of approximately $19,500 Cdn. Entry forms and other information, from race rules to prize breakdowns per category, can be downloaded off the Web site. Deadline for entries is May 31.
The race is being managed this year by the Yukon River Marathon Paddling Association, a group of paddling enthusiasts from the Yukon and Alaska who took over race organization last fall from the Yukon Quest International, organizers of the world-famous dog sled race. It was an amicable split so volunteers could concentrate on the races they know best.
Lifetime individual memberships in the new association are available for $50 Cdn. For more information on the race, e-mail the race organizing committee at riverquest@polarcom.com. Official sponsors include: Acuvue Contact Lenses, Wenonah Canoe (which provided 18-foot Jensen canoes to the race for sale to corporate donors and use by teams - a few are still available), Up North Adventures, Air North, Canadian Tire, Norcan Leasing, Whitehorse Star, and CKRW Radio. The Canadian Rangers will assist the race safety crews.
The Skagway Alpine Club has a canoe available for a local team. If you are interested in racing this year, contact Jeff Brady, YRMPA Alaska rep., 983-2354 or 2515 (eves.) or dotjeff@aptalaska.net.