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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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Curing “The Itch”

Spring never seems to come fast enough, particularly if you like to fish and you are a school-aged boy. The chill of winter had not even really left and yet there we were, striding at a brisk pace down an old logging road not far from our homes with fishing rods in our hands.

The calendar said March, but in our minds it should have been April at the least. It did not matter what the calendar said; we were going fishing. The temperatures had flirted with 70 degrees a half dozen times and the sun lingered in the western sky over an hour longer than it did at the end of deer season, so we had to have some relief. There was but one way to get that relief, and we were on the way to get it.

It seemed that we were not the only ones trying to hurry spring along on that fine March day. The toads and frogs had set

up a chorus during the daylight hours, letting the world know that they were alive. Their song invigorated us to walk even faster. The small tackle box in my pack rattled, prodding us along the overgrown road with its rhythmic cadence. As we strode down the last hill eagerly peering toward the water, our minds began inventing fights with the toothy jackfish we were seeking to grace the ends of our lines.

A frog plopped into the water as we approached the water’s edge tempting and succeeding in having us jab our hands into the glass clear water. It was cold but the frogs must have been able to stand it just fine for they were busy leaving eggs masses in the shallows. One could see the little black dot in each egg that would grow into a tadpole and then grow legs and lose its tail before becoming a frog and leaving the water to breath air. A beaver hut had fresh cuttings on it indicating a busy tenant as was evident by the full pool of water in our little piece of paradise that we called our fishing hole.

A shrill cry drew our attention as a pair of wood ducks exploded from the opposite side of the swamp and screamed into the sky and then put down again into the next little pothole of water. The water in front of us was clear, almost too clear, and you could see some fresh vegetation emerging from the bottom.

A slight movement caught my attention.  An aquatic salamander had ventured out from under a clump of new vegetation and hung suspended in the water not far from a log. Before I could point this out to my friend, a flash of olive green boiled the water in a vicious swirl and then disappeared. My jaw dropped but my stupor did not last long. My fingers fumbled for the thin white and red spoon hooked to the bottom eye of my rod and released it from its taut keeper and let it swing down.

A spoon whizzed out past where I had envisioned mine landing and my partner began rapidly cranking his in. The old Zebco reel squealed and creaked despite being oiled before we left the yard. My spoon joined his and within seconds we both had bent rods and were busy stumbling along the beaver stick-strewn bank, trying to get away from each other, yet trying to keep our lines and the fish from entangling themselves around rotted tree stumps, logs and other debris. We succeeded and grinned as only two countryboys would as we held up our prizes to show each other. It was a good day and a smart decision to hike down to the swamp. Our dues were paid and the cabin fever and itch we had was fading fast.

Both of our fish were gorgeous. If you have ever looked a chain pickerel in the eye, particularly the ones caught out of clear, cold water, you know what I am talking about. A fish caught under those circumstances by two boys with a severe case of “The Itch” on an early spring afternoon right after school let out could not be more beautiful. I don’t know that I will ever forget that fish. It was the first one of the year for me. I had pinched my numb fingers around its body just behind the gills causing its alligator snout to open, exposing fine needle-like teeth that certainly would leave you screaming for mercy if you were silly enough to stick your digits in there. Don’t ask me how I know; I just do.

The eyes had just a fine ring of orange-red in them and the chain-like markings of dark olive punctuated the lighter olive color that created a pattern only God could create, of small dots that faded down to the creamy belly of white.

I recall squatting there staring at that fish for a few minutes while it looked back at me. The streamlined body, thin fins and sharply forked tail meant the fish was built for speed. The disappearing act of the aquatic salamander was testament to that.

The plopping of my buddy’s spoon in the water brought me back to my senses. The sun was on its way down and there were more fish to catch. After quickly stringing the fish on our chain stringer to keep the other fish company, I took a deep whiff of my hands.

Ahh, springtime! The fishy smell that said I was alive and that the world was awakening from its winter slumber was pleasant to me while many would figure it to be repulsive. I knew better. Summer was coming and I had an itch to cure in an effort to hasten summer along and buy myself some patience as the freedom of the coming season slowly plodded through the remaining two and a half months on the calendar towards me. 

We kept at it, slinging spoons along structure and quickly added a half dozen more fish each to the stringer before becoming just satiated enough to be willing to give it up and go home for a few days before returning with a fresh case of The Itch. The sun dropped on the backs of two countryboys, grinning as they hiked home swinging a good stringer of bony fish that served as a cure and some much needed relief. The trip not only gave us that but we now had some fresh material to talk about on the bus and at the lunch table at school. We would be the envy of the other boys, and like our literary hero, Tom Sawyer, we would dream of skipping out again to wet a line.

 

Mark Fike


Mark Fike is the Outdoors Editor of The Journal. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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