Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

January 9, 2014

We plant 'em, you poach 'em--tales of stocking trout and those chasing them

By Dan Graves Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — It’s the perfect time of the year to dream about the coming soft springtime days, flowers blooming, birds singing and enjoying past fishing and other outdoor adventures.

Sure, right now we’re up to our knees in snow, but just remember: Eskimos have to fish around ice floes all year long.

For a number of years, my son and I have traveled to Tennessee to harass the trout in the streams of the Smokey Mountains. These expeditions seldom result in creels full of fish, but we enjoy the scenery, the solitude, keeping an eye peeled for fish-loving black bears, and most of all, each other’s company.

Nothing beats donning waders on a balmy day and plunging into an ice cold stream of water traveling 50 miles per hour while trying to walk on what seem like grease covered boulders. About once every five years we get lucky and arrive just at the time when the little rascals are starting to gorge for the coming winter and enjoy the action of catching and releasing a number of fish.

As usual, we load what seems like five tons of gear and head south with hopes of snagging the “big one.” After a few days of sharing a tent with various species of multi-legged critters and other crawling things, living on fried onions and potatoes and wading in ice water, just like addicts, we’ve had our fix for the year. The trip home is occupied with recounts of the trip with only moderate truth stretching. Since we normally fish within sight of each other for safety’s sake, we’re still far enough apart to stretch a fish that wouldn’t fill a Popsicle stick to 10 or 12 inches without being disputed.

As I always say, “it ain’t the ketchin’ that counts, it’s the tryin’ and lyin’.” Few fishermen would dispute the fact that the Midwest isn’t known for its trout fishing. In fact, for years I considered all trout fishermen to have laced on their collars and be named Chauncy or Fauntleroy.

For those who have waters with trout my motto has always been, “You may have the prettiest fish but we have the ugliest.” As it turns out, they (the lace-collared crowd) also have the smartest fish and it became a challenge to outfox the crafty little buggers.

So, it came as a surprise to learn that, thanks to the DNR and an organization known as Trout Unlimited, stock a number of Indiana streams with rainbow and brown trout. When my son learned that Trout Unlimited was looking for volunteers to stock a local area stream (I’m not telling), we signed up.

Even though we practice catch and release, we still felt guilty about punching holes in fish lips. This seemed a good way to return the favor of trying to outsmart the little eggheads. On the appointed day we showed up along with a half dozen other laced-collar fishermen lugging five gallon buckets and waders. A huge fish hauling tanker truck from Wisconsin, laden with a few thousand trout complete with an aeration system, stood by the stream. Buckets were half-filled with water and a scoop net of fish averaging between eight and 10 inches was added. The bearer then struggled into the water carrying his 40-pound load and released the fish in whatever spot looked right for trout to set up housekeeping.

For four hours we carried bucket after bucket, stumbling over a boulder strewn stream bed, sweat trickling down our necks as we slowly covered a mile of water.

Halfway through our struggles a fellow ambled down to the stream and watched. As Tony and I approached him with full buckets, he smiled and said how happy he was to see us working so hard to stock the stream.

I looked him over carefully. He didn’t have a lace collar. In fact, he wasn’t wearing a shirt to cover his rather extended paunch. He went on to explain how he has a lot of luck catching fish so I labeled him as a bigger liar than me. Then, as we stood holding the 50th 40-pound bucket load he explained his method of success.

“I take a can of whole kernel corn, throw it out there, then put a kernel on a hook and cast it right into where I throw the corn. Get my limit every day.” Suddenly, the world started turning red. I wondered what his limit was compared to that set by the DNR and whether he thinks a trout stamp is something used to mail a letter to his cousin in Alabama.

Leaning over to Tony I whispered, “did you bring a shotgun with you?” Disappointed, he shook his head no and using secret hand signals we agreed to tackle him and hold his head under water until he smartened up to at least the level of the fish. I considered asking him if he had ever considered using explosives instead of corn to procure his trout fillet, but he didn’t seem like the type to change his proven methods of poaching. After that, we thought a lot of work could be avoided by simply giving this guy a few hundred fish and save him the trouble of struggling with a can opener.

After the tanker was empty and we stood sweating and recounting the experience, one of the group dropped another bomb. It seemed that a major retailer of fishing gear waits until the stream is stocked and then sponsors a fishing tournament the following weekend. “You mean we busted our tushes to stock this stream just so a bunch of power fishermen and a fellow who uses Dole fresh whole kernel corn can clean it out in a week?” I shouted. “Forget the shotgun. I know a guy who flies fighter aircraft and I’m going to ask him to break the sound barrier right over this place next weekend and scare every fish within a mile into lake Michigan.”

The next day Tony and I returned and caught five fish. As we released them we kissed each on the nose and wished it Godspeed in its coming troubles. Maybe we’ll try fishing the waters of Montana. There, we only have to worry about grizzly bears.