October 3, 2002
by Chris Feeney
Sports are obviously competitive. While there is no scoreboard or par for the course, fishing is definitely a sport. I'm pretty competitive but I don't really keep score when I'm fishing. Sure I don't like to get skunked while the other guy is pulling in fish after fish, but I'm not too worried about who catches the most or the biggest, unless that's me of course.
It seems like the rest of the four-man fishing crew that traveled to Michigan last week for the annual salmon excursion has similar competitive values as mine. It's funny how a long face and a quiet mood caused by a lack of bites quickly turn into gabby satisfaction after a fish or two. But even more interesting is how three friends and family members can quickly turn on you simply because you are catching more fish than them.
Okay, maybe saying catching a few more fish than them was an understatement. On the final day of the trip, Saturday, I was smoking, hooking up with fish left and right. One fellow fisherman had all his time monopolized as my netter, assisting me in landing our group's only three fish of the day. No one else was having any luck, and I simply could not resist letting them know that a bit as I gave gloating a bad name.
Well it seems like the final salmon in the net was hooked a little low. It wasn't a tail hook, nor was the fly found in any fin. Instead it was just below the mouth, yet admittedly outside the toothy smile.
As I slowly trudged back to the hole after the 30-minute battle with the fish I saw the group gathered on the back as if ready to pounce on me. As I got within earshot the heckling began. I was being ambushed by verbal jabs from a trio of jealous fisherman who had decided to coin a new nickname for me after my final fish. "Foul-Hook Feeney" was the barb they sent my way with a few laughs.
They were shocked that my smile never stalled for a second. Sure I was extremely happy about the third fish of the day that I had just put in the net. I was still pumped up about the day before when I had an epic battle of more than an hour with the largest salmon I have ever landed, a mammoth that easily exceeded 30 pounds. I was pleased with the near perfect day during which I hooked into fish after fish, including no fewer than four battles of more than 20 minutes each, all of which ended with a sense of fulfillment despite the broken line or thrown fly. But most importantly my grin and bear it appearance was really all I could do to keep from busting out laughing. Did these guys forget that I am a writer? Don't they know, that while they reached an audience of four with their little joke, that I would have nearly a week to use my poetic justice to coin new nicknames for the trio that would go out to hundreds of readers, who will know exactly who I am talking about?
After awhile I think that idea finally hit home as there was some definite brown nosing going on. But for Foul Hook Feeney it was too late for apologies. The wheels had been sent turning immediately after the first jest. To make my revenge even sweeter, I continued to hook up with fish after fish while the others struggled to find a strike.
Finally uncle David did make contact. While he was extremely happy to finally put one in the net I'm sure he would readily have put it back if he had known the results. You see, unlike the fresh, healthy salmon that I had been catching, David hooked into a sickly salmon on its last legs after some obvious hard times on its spawning trip. This fish was covered in white splotches that prevented anyone from even placing a hand on the fish to release it. But the catcher was a little to slow getting rid of the evidence as I slipped in for a photo. The pictorial evidence will go nicely with uncle's new nickname, "Dead-Fish David."
Then there was the brother-in-law. We made the 10-hour trip together and had a great time. I was a bit tentative to include him on the list but his laugh was clearly audible when David coined my new name.
It's hard to tease this guy as he caught just as many fish as I did, if not more, early in the trip. But he was fishing a shallow gravel area while I was fishing a deeper hole. This different style meant he was doing a lot of sight fishing, which sometimes resulted in snagging a fish instead of a true pick-up of the fly by the salmon. While it wasn't anything like the Ernest Hemminway character next to Brent who when started calling the Old Man in The River, Brent did have a few foul hooks. So Back-Fin Brent was debuted. At least he was fishing a fly rod unlike the old guy who had 30-pound test on a spinning real that he literally slung over his shoulder after snagging a fish and then walking the salmon out of the hole toward the shore.
Michael is the least deserving of his penalty as he did give up much of his own time to serve as my personal netter. But I would be remiss if I totally let him off the hook. So my thanks go out to the One Fish Wonder as he hooked and landed a fish on his second cast in the river. Too bad it was his only fish of his three days on the water.
So the moral of the story is never mess with an editor, especially one who is whipping your rear end at fishing and who has total content discretion.