Some people say curiosity kills cats, but I’m convinced curiosity enlivens anglers.
At least that’s been my experience after having spent 65 years plying North America’s lakes and streams with everything from 50-cent cane poles to $500 fly rods in my hands.
Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the ways curiosity has enlivened my own angling experiences.
Back in the days of my impressionable youth, fly fishing dominated the pages of outdoor magazines, but central Kansas was notably short on the trout, salmon, tarpon and bonefish the writers described in absolutely glowing terms. What Kansas did have was scads of carp.
If men like A. J. McClane and Ted Trueblood said we were supposed to use fly rods, there was no way my friends and I could turn our backs.
To our great delight, we soon discovered that whenever we could find carp cruising in reasonably clear and reasonably shallow water, they would pounce on a variety of wet flies and streamers with reckless abandon.
After only a few weeks spent perfecting our techniques, we were catching fish that weighed more in pounds than the trout in the magazine articles measured in inches.
Sometimes curiosity, like necessity, can be the mother of invention. For decades, my summer crappie minnow rig has included a movable bobber stop, a bead, a small snap swivel (for attaching a slip float) and a three-eighths-ounce bullet weight all threaded onto a 12-pound monofilament running line and secured by a small barrel swivel.
A home-tied snelled hook fashioned from a foot of 8-pound line attached to the opposite end of the swivel completed the set up.
Nothing could have worked better until a couple of years ago when the so-called low-visibility running line I’d always used rapidly started to become no-visibility line.
Since anglers who can’t see their lines are victimized by an unacceptable number of crafty crappie, this would never do.
The quest that followed this realization proved that, while curiosity always educates, it doesn’t always provide a solution.
Would using a larger diameter line help? Not really. How about spooling a half-dozen reels with the red line that looks so great in the store? The answer was a resounding, to say nothing of time and money wasting, negative.
My curiosity has now led me to a bright yellow 15-pound test monofilament. Although I haven’t tried it at the lake yet, I’m fairly confident I’ve finally solved my problem. Even so, this time I only filled the spools of three reels.
Keeping your bait or lure at the right depth is such a vital part of summer crappie fishing that doing so could scarcely be called merely satisfying curiosity. But be that as it may, while I was working with the yellow line, my ever present urge to experiment led me to a practical way to know how deep I was fishing. I used bright red fingernail polish to mark the running line at six, 12 and 18 feet.
If you insist on being technical, it’s a rare occurrence indeed when an angler who travels more than a half-mile from his or her starting point on a lake or river hasn’t passed by some good places to fish. But so what? Curiosity has always had the power to lure me beyond the far horizon.
Far more often than not, the resulting adventures have been enlivening in a positive way.
Some of the new fishing spots I’ve found truly were worth the ride. Admittedly, most were only different, not better, but at least they increased my options when slabs were hard to come by.
Even the few that might honestly have been called a waste of time and fuel, showed me places I could cross off future lists.
There have been a few times when I wondered if curiosity might kill this particular cat. One of the most memorable of these took place while I was on a week-long fishing trip deep in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northeastern Minnesota.
I’d been told there was a beautiful waterfall about midway between two lakes near where my partner and I were camped.
We decided to take what we assumed to be an hour off from fishing to hike “straight” to it from a point along a portage trail.
Two hours later, we still hadn’t found the falls, but we had found where wolves had killed a moose so recently that what little was left of the carcass was barely cool. It took another hour to find the portage trail that led us back to our canoe.
If I cared to admit it, which I don’t, that was one of a very small number of times I’ve been heart-pounding afraid outdoors.