Early every spring morning, barring Sundays, I wander down to our boathouse and throw my cast-net into the water near the bulkhead. Early on in the season, I most often get nothing or catch two or three shad—the small fish that anchor the catfish and bass food chain.
I keep two shad, bait my two catfish rods and sit around watching the sunrise over the lake. It is a peaceful occupation, seldom interrupted by the need to deal with any fish but the bait. After an hour or so of solitude, I retrieve my lines, discard the remains of the shad, and having fed the lake turtles once again, head back up to the house to start the day’s work.
Then the weather changes. Seemingly overnight the damp, cloudy, cold weather turns soft and warm. As dawn blushes the sky, I cast my net and retrieve it full of glittering silvery shad. Now I keep more than just two—sometimes as many as six—and return the others to the lake. I get my lines in the water and wait… but not for long. Hungry, healthy blue catfish strike with regularity, and I am happily engaged, reeling them in, removing hooks, taking photos of the cats on the dock planks (an easy way to estimate size at six inches per plank), and then gently releasing them back into the lake. Generally I will stay out about an hour and a half, catching around four eighteen inch fish and running out of bait before I come in.
Some days bring surprises. Two days ago, I cast out my net and in addition to shad caught a beautiful, healthy carp. Some fishermen don’t like carp, but they are a prized game fish in Europe, and make good eating, with firm white flesh and a very mild taste. (You do need to know how to fillet these or you will find them bony.) When you hook one on light tackle, you are in for a fun fight. Netting one is not so much fun.
In the first place, a twelve to fifteen pound carp adds considerable load to an already weighted cast-net. (Yes, I’m a wimp.) I braced myself, grunted a bit, and hauled net and fish onto the dock. Then I took a quick picture, knowing I would not want to delay returning the fish to the water once the net was removed.
It took some time to gently disentangle the carp from my cast-net. Sadly many of the shad netted with him expired during the procedure. Feeling sorry I could not have been quicker, I released all the survivors then took only a moment to admire the carp. He was a beauty, with scales as big as a large man’s thumbnail, each with a subtle rainbow of iridescence in the sunlight. I returned him gently to the water and he swam off. Already satisfied with the day’s catch, I didn’t even put my lines in the water. Instead I sat and watched the sunrise uninterrupted, then, full of gratitude and contentment, left the dock to begin my work.