FROM THE VALLEY: Artificial bait and phony fishermen

Tom Valley

“The only time a fisherman tells the truth is when he tells you he is a liar.”

I’ve used that line in this space before. Beyond the humor is the unmentioned aspect: that when you retell a fib, it’s hard to remember what you said in the first place — or so I’m told. That can be a revealing flaw in one’s credibility. And conversely, a true story stands tall, unaffected by the deteriorating effects of fabrication and can be retold with confidence … over and over again.

With that said, today’s fishing story is one I told years ago. And because of a similar situation that occurred recently, it bears repeating. It’s true, thus I have no concerns that I may contradict myself from how I originally told it. (That’s not to disqualify myself as a fisherman, who has been in harm’s way when my pants suddenly burst into a three-alarm inferno. Disclosure, complete.)

I fish a lot in the St. Lawrence River, where my family’s modest camp is located, just east of Ogdensburg. I have a small aluminum boat that’s tiller-operated (no steering wheel). There’s nothing fancy about it, it simply does its job. When I fish, I like to anchor, sit and relax. There are times when I drift-fish, but my style is basically the same: if the fish are in the area, I’ll let them come to me. I’m not going to desperately throw lures all over the place trying to find them. Too much work.

To me, 90% of the joy of fishing is just being on the river; the other 10% is catching something I can pan fry for supper. It’s simply a bonus to come home with a full stringer.

Over the years, like most river rats, I have found my own fishing holes and use them as go-to spots. I’ve been fortunate inasmuch as I can relax and still catch fish on most occasions.

There was an incident, as I mentioned, a couple of years ago when my dog, Maggie, and I were anchored in one such place. We were about 20 yards downside of a small island in the middle of the river. We were having a pleasant afternoon enjoying the warmth and splendor of a summer day. We’d been there for a couple of hours when a fancy-looking, large bass boat pulled up close to the side of the island, not far from where we were. The boat had enough bells and whistles to make even the most materialistic middle-aged man feel complete. (Which, for all intent and purpose, as you may or may not know, is an impossibility.)

Two guys dressed in impeccably clean and starched khaki-colored, buttoned-down fishing shirts — with pants to match — started immediately casting lures toward the island. They worked at a feverish pitch in search of the rush that comes from seeing a bass strike your bait. But it wasn’t happening. Nada.

There were no professional tournaments in the area, at the time, and I could tell by their inability to properly control their electric trolling motor that these guys were a couple of wannabes. They figured if they bought the same equipment and dressed like hot-shot pros they could catch oodles of big fish, too.

Their Walter Mitty fantasies played out in front of me and I could hear every word they said because water carries sound. You can easily hear a conversation a half-mile away as though it was happening right beside you. These jamokes had no clue about that.

The conversation went something like this:

“I’m gonna try this chartreuse three quarter, weedless, flip-spoon, neo nugget. It dipsy-doodles five times per retrieve. I got it at Bass Pro Shop.”

“Cool,” said his partner. “I’m using a mini-glob, deep-diving, orange-colored feckle bob. I got it at the Fish Factory.”

Then, still not realizing I could hear them, one added: “Look at that old buzzard with the mangy dog, over there in that boat.” They both chuckled. “He’s probably been sitting there forever. He’s hardly moved. I wonder if they’re statues.” More laughter. I just kept my head down and continued to fish.

Their banter continued for quite awhile as they worked the island. Still no fish, but more ridicule directed my way.

Finally, I had enough. I got up, pulled anchor and, making enough noise to make sure they’d watch, I pulled up my stringer full of lunker bass out of the water.

It got their attention: “Hey mister,” one shouted. “Nice catch! Whatcha using for bait?”

“Burnt-sienna, live-action squiggley NCs,” I shot back.

“Really!? Where’d you get them?”

“From the ground. They’re nightcrawlers. And if you really like these fish, come on over and I’ll let you kiss my bass.”


That’s the way it looks from the Valley.

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