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    A Different Sort of Night

    By FishRecycler | July 29, 2008

    One Blue Worm at a Time

    One Blue Worm By Finn Horvath

    I’m sitting here with a pack of tube jigs, 4” smoke color, and two Rapala Countdown minnowbaits, CD-7’s, one in Trout and the other in Perch. Everything is quiet. I’m drinking a Diet Coke.

    It’s been a typically long week at work, so after my Saturday errands and chores, even though I’m exhausted, I decide to go fishing this evening. I pack way too much gear into my car (’94 Toyota Corolla, black and rust) in hopes of catching a few bass or channel catfish. The evening is too beautiful to not at least put out a line and sit quietly, absorbing the humid summer breeze and the brilliant red/orange/pink sunset. I’m exhausted inside and out, and the only thing that seems right is to fish. Without delving into the spiritual, most of us know that we fish for other reasons than catching fish.

    I’ve landed at a little man-made lake that was originally supposed to be a pit mine until someone at the end of the work day dug too close to an underwater spring. Local legend goes that the next day the pit was filled up with water and that some of the tractors and equipment are still down there (there’s a joke in here somewhere about sinking your money into your equipment, but I’m at a loss to find it.)

    The city decided to turn lemons into lemonade and built a golf course and little park around the lake that was born prematurely, replete with a fleet of paddleboats for people to float around on. They also stocked the lake with catfish, bass, crappie, pike, tiger musky, and bluegill. Carp, bullheads and a mix of minnows have since found their way in, too.

    I park my overstuffed car near the opposite end of where I normally fish, get out, and begin walking the water’s edge to check out water, weeds and structure there. The sun was beginning to get sleepy and the park is only open until 10:00 pm, so I have to decide quickly if the area looks promising or not.

    I’m usually a bit too excited to fish to walk and survey the shoreline. Of course that’s what is always recommended by more seasoned anglers, but I usually want to get a line out right away, somehow sure that a fish has been hanging around most of the day waiting for me to show up. Hastily, I walk the bank and the first thing I notice is that beneath clear water, this end of the lake has the same green, gauzy filamentous algae carpet as the rest of the lake. I suspect urban runoff to be the culprit.

    Shoreline TrashThe steady breeze is blowing into my face as I look across the lake, coming into the shore I’m standing on, which points in favor of this spot. But as I begin to consider setting up here, I’m taken by incoming flotsam and jetsam. Cast by the breeze blowing my way, a flotilla of weed and leaves, sticks and bird feathers…and loads of litter…pushes up against the shore in front of me. A lot of litter. A floating garbage dump. In the stew of flora and feathers I see straws, cans, water bottles, plastic wrappers of all varieties and plastic baggies. For some reason it looks unreal that there’s so much floating trash.

    I don’t know what happens to me. I become dumbfounded, entranced by all this garbage I didn’t expect to find here. And it looks overwhelming somehow. Picnickers from nearby pavilions must have lost a lot of this. To the wind? How much of this was neglect, or disregard, how much flagrant littering? How much of it just happened, innocently enough? I don’t know. And I sort of don’t really care.

    We call my brother-in-law Michael “Pike.” He got me into fishing, and picking up any garbage we find when we go out on the water was just part of the deal. For whatever reason, in an almost dreamlike state, I just bend over the warm water and start on one end. I pick out the straws, four Styrofoam bowls, a paper plate (the expensive kind), aluminum cans, plastic bottles, plastic caps, and so on and so on. I get a stick and pull out a cafeteria tray, which actually helps because there is so much stuff, I dully begin to wonder how I am going to get all of this crap to my car. As I make my way along the shoreline, I look up and see an entire family watching me, wide-eyed and mouths agape. Parents, kids, and grandparents, staring. At first the kids were running all around, but when I look up, they all apparently have become transfixed by this strange man who is quietly picking garbage out of the water. Besides me just looking strange, I think they and other passersby are taken aback in a slow shock at how much garbage there is piling up on my cafeteria tray. A young fisherman walks by and says something genuinely complimentary to me, like “that’s so cool that you’re doing that”. I’m not really sure. I just keep on picking up garbage, like I’m on autopilot or something, like a dazed obsession.

    Trash on bankOne item jumps out at me amidst all the floating trash. Maybe this is why I start trying to pick all of it up: one blue soft plastic ribbontail worm. For some reason, this one blue worm rose to the top of the buoyant heap. I think at that moment, I went into this trance and started picking up the litter. I saw evidence that, in some part, we as anglers are part of the problem. Maybe I feel obligated to try to undo some part of it. I really don’t know why I feel compelled to try and rid an entire shoreline of litter on one little urban lake in the Midwest on a beautiful, breezy evening in July. I don’t know. I came to find bass and catfish and solace, not trash. My plan wasn’t to be the patron saint of fish in a pit-mine gone awry. And I’m not. I’m just some guy. A fisherman. A steward maybe, but certainly not a saint.

    I mention the two balsa minnowbaits and soft plastic tubes for a reason. I am not a saint, I’m not perfect. Over time, the minnowbaits, being made of wood in this case, will eventually degrade. The tubes? Not really. Or not ever. And fishing with them, I know there’s the chance that like that blue ribbontail worm, they might end up in some fish’s stomach or floating in some future flotsam flotilla. As anglers, we aren’t perfect. None of us. Certainly not me. But we can improve as we go along. We can progressively bite off small changes, until we look back years later and see the place from which we’ve come, and smile. And as anglers, we can definitely make a difference.

    That isn’t wishful thinking or some saccharine fantasy. As anglers, we can be the stewards that our lakes, streams and seas need. We alone have the passion and the position to influence this piece of our future, one blue worm at a time.

    Finn Horvath is the Director of S.A.F.E. Angling for S.A.F.E. Angling. He lives in Palatine, Illinois.

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