The lost art of relaxed shore fishing
With all of the technology that is available today, fishing is for many not the leisurely, relaxing activity it used to be. As a kid, I can member I would ride around Lake Okabeba on the bike my folks bought from the Pedal Pushers store. It was a Vista 10 speed and I thought, at the time, it was a cool as a Harley Davidson.
I would take off in the morning and head down to the lake to meet up with Frank Nesbaum. He pretty much owned the blue dock that was near the corner of Lake Street and Lake Avenue, even if he put it out on city property. We had the art of relaxed shore fishing down to a science. I would collect night crawlers off the street after the rains and trade them to him for minnows he had in a bucket tied to this dock. Trading crawlers for minnows was a good deal for me. I could carry night crawlers on the bike, but carting a minnow bucket around was just a drag. This was a win-win for all involved.
It took almost all summer that first year to actually make friends with Frank. He was sure the stains on my front teeth were from chewing tobacco. I was only 12 at the time and had never chewed snuff, but he was sure that he was right. I wanted to learn how to fish and this dock was a great fishing spot, so I figured if I hung around long enough, I could break down the rough, tough demeanor of this old guy and learn how to fish in the process.
Over the next half decade I spent hundreds of hours fishing with Frank. I always wanted to cast and then retrieve the bait. He would just tell me over and over the bait is harder for a fish to eat when it's moving than when it's still. Being 12 it was really hard to just sit still and even harder to leave the bait still, but over that summer I learned more than the art of bobber fishing for crappies and bottom still fishing for catfish and walleyes.
Frank had sat on this spot and just like a naturalist he became totally aware of everything that happened in this spot on planet earth. You can see the train cross the trestle over south lake street from this dock. He knew that it was exactly 110 train cars from the time you could first see the locomotive until it would sound its horn at the Flower Lane crossing on southwest 1st avenue. I don't remember the number, but he could tell you the average number of rail cars per train that used this track over a given month.
Back in the day Frank had a "keep off" sign on the back of the dock. I don't think this was actually enforceable, but it really did work. One of the other duties I had when I spent time there was to use the broom he provided and sweep the bugs, dead minnows and crawler dirt off the dock and in the lake. I learned from this relationship that proper treatment of other people's property is the cost of fishing access. This lesson serves me well today when you are asking an area landowner for permission to hunt.
The fishing then was better than it is today. Lake Okabena still has good numbers of fish, but the additional fishing pressure it gets today allows very few fish to make it to a very large size. Huge crappies were the norm then and they number about 1-in-500 today. The crappies I caught and ate then would be something to mount and brag about today. The bar on my bike had no paint left on it as the metal stringer my Dad bought me was tied there and over the summers it got scraped off. It was a sign of fishing success.
What I learned most about fishing from Frank was there is often long periods of time that require no action and no conversation other than a little giggle on the rod tip to wake up the minnow. I am not sure I have ever gone as long with no conversation since Frank's passing. He had an old car that on the outside looked like it should have been pulled by a team of horses. He never drove fast. I could keep up with him on my bike most of the time.
Shore fishing is truly a lost art. The new sayings about letting the bait sit still goes like this: if I walk past your desk and ask if you want a 3,000-calorie jelly-filled donut of sweet perfection, you will most likely decline, but if I walk past your desk and set one on the corner and walk away, there is a pretty good chance at some point in the next hour or two you will sample the corner and ultimately eat the whole darn thing even if it's only little bites at a time. When the bait sits still, the fish too have a hard time letting an easy meal go to waste.
So after the opening week rush of loading and unloading the boat, waiting in line while a person tries to back a trailer for the very first time, and the guy whose boat is in the way has to walk back the half-mile from where he had to park, find a good spot under a tree and experience some fishing the Frank Nesbaum way. No pressure, no stress and some uninterrupted time to see what you can uncover in the spot on planet earth you are occupying.
You will most likely uncover some things that you did not know before and if there is a lucky 12-year-old kid in the neighborhood (maybe even on a bike) you might make a new friend and create fishing memories that are some of the very best of your entire life. Just remember that if you let the bait sit still long enough, you will most likely catch quite a few fish at the same time.