Tuesday, August 5, 2014


The idea of fishing encompasses many techniques.  Most involve a pole with a string and a hook, but there are other techniques.  Spear fishing is one of those approaches most people have heard of, and so is netting.  However, there are other ways to catch fish.  Noodling works for some people, and so do fish traps.  Electro-stunning is quite frowned upon, and even dynamite is used on occasion.  One of the least publicized is the trotline.

A trotline is simply a rope strung between two points and a number of short strings with baited hooks attached at intervals.  This is lowered into the water and left alone for a day.  With some luck, there will be fish on those hooks when one returns.  I consider this a lazy way to catch fish, but once when I had a few days in town I decided to give it a try.

My great-uncle Sam was adamantly against using a trotline, but he agreed with me that I should try it at least once in order to know what it was about.  He showed me how to build it and gave me a few pointers about setting the hook depth.  He even suggested a few places where I might wish to set it up.  If he didn’t use a trotline, how did he know so much about it?

I had listened to Sam for about a year as he taught me about fishing, and he was always right.  There was no exception, and that’s no exaggeration.  He was always right.  That man knew how to fish, and when he said to do this or try that, I did it.  And he was always right.

I loaded the trotline parts into my canoe and paddled over to a large inlet where a stream was emptying into the lake.  It was a wide inlet and about 7 or 8 feet deep at the center, but I had never seen anyone use the stream for anything, so I set up my trotline across the mouth.

I strung the rope from one stump sticking up out of the water to a stick in the water on the other side.  There were any number of stumps and sticks available, but I chose according to convenience.  I probed the depths to determine how deep to set the hooks and tied them onto the strings accordingly as I spaced them along the rope.  And I baited with a variety of items from bacon rind to chunks of fish from previous outings.  Then I paddled back to our dock and drove home.

The next afternoon I arrived back at the trotline and was disappointed to find my hooks still baited.  I checked each one, replaced a couple that needed replacing, and paddled back to the dock.  I walked over to Sam’s house and told him what I had found.

He scratched his whiskery chin and stared at the floor for a few minutes, and then he decided to take a look for himself.  We could take the canoe, but I had to do all the work.  Fine with me.  Within an hour were back at the trotline where he spent about 2 minutes looking over how I had it set up.

“You attached the rope to the wrong stick.  Move it over to that one next to it.”

I looked at the stick just 6 inches away and wondered why 6 inches could make a difference, but I didn’t say anything, I just moved the rope.  That was all.  We, uh, I paddled back to the dock.  Sam got out of the canoe then told me to go back and collect my fish.  By now I was getting tired.  The sun was getting low, but I still had about 2 hours of light left, so I paddled back.

The first thing I noticed was the rope moving around and the stick was bending back and forth.  I had a fish on one of the hooks, but which one?  I started along the line pulling up the strings one at a time.  By the time I pulled up the last string, I had 8 catfish from 15 to 20 inches long.  The rest were a bit smaller, although I kept them anyway.  I re-baited my hooks and paddled home.

I cleaned the fish and packed them away before putting away my canoe.  Then I sat down with Sam and asked how moving the rope just 6 inches could make so much difference.  His response was that the rope needed to line up with the noon sun on June 21st.  Huh??  I never did get an answer that made sense, but the next morning the trotline was full again.

Just to test his theory, I moved the rope back to the original stick, and that evening I went fishless.  I moved the line back, and the next morning, my trotline was full again.  I was convinced Sam knew something he wasn’t sharing with me, but he stayed with his story.

I never had the opportunity to run the trotline again, so I’ve never tested the theory at a different location, but at the same time I keep remembering Sam was never wrong on anything else about fishing.

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