A father and son set out to catch 100 fish in 30 days
Fishing has become a part of my life’s fabric. It wasn’t always—in fact, it’s only been since last spring, when COVID-19 made our family full-time residents of Blue Mountain Lake. (Blue is a place deeply entrenched in our hearts, but had always been a weekend and holiday getaway.) I fished some growing up, and I tried my hand at fly-fishing in college with limited success. More recently, it hadn’t gone beyond reeling in the occasional rock bass while throwing spinners from whatever rod happened to be lying on a friend’s dock. Fishing had simply never been high enough on the priority list, but in our new circumstances, the challenge became how to get outside, stay active and find some sense of normalcy.
Soon after the ice went out, my son Billy, a recently turned 10-year-old, suggested we go fishing. I could not in my wildest dreams imagine the adventure that those first casts below the Lake Durant dam would lead us on.
Initially the mission was to catch a fish—literally, any fish. We eked out time on the water between the many snowy days of April and May, throwing a line in any lake or stream we came across when the weather was halfway decent. Absolutely no takers. Spinners, crankbaits, worms, you name it. Nothing.
By late May, our enthusiasm was waning due to lack of tight lines and bent rods. Right when we were about to turn to a different activity, our luck changed. Out on Eagle Lake on the morning of May 24th, Billy landed a good-sized rock bass on a Mepps spinner. No trophy, but a taste of the surprise you get when the lure pulls back from the depths. Shortly after, I hooked into a nice bass that started stripping out my line. Once boat-side, we were not completely sure which member of the bass family it was, but it was not a rocky and the mouth was pretty big, so we went with largemouth. We were corrected after showing the picture of our prize to some more experienced fishermen—it was a smallmouth.
In the waning days of May, the visits to our favorite rocky reefs in Eagle Lake would typically yield a handful of rock bass and maybe a smallmouth or two. On the cruise home after a particularly fruitful day, nearing double-digit fish, Billy wondered out loud if catching and releasing 100 fish in a month was possible. Speaking over the skeptical voice in my head and knowing we had many months ahead in which to try, I replied, “Why not, let’s do it! And for good measure, how about bonus points if we catch a largemouth, a lake trout and a river trout?” In my mind, 100 fish seemed like a more realistic summer-long goal, but our fishing now had a purpose.
At first, we stuck to what we knew, picking up a couple of rockies each trip, with the occasional smallmouth sprinkled in. On June 4th, we decided to try the Indian River again, a place where we’d had no luck earlier in the season. I tied on a small bead-head nymph and started casting into the riffles below the dam. It took a while, but I eventually landed a small rainbow trout. While happy to have the “river trout” bonus out of the way and another fish added to the tally, Billy was not as impressed as I was.
The following day, we were invited by a friend to go trolling for lake trout on Blue in the morning. The bite was slow, but it was fun to learn a new technique and to catch up with an old friend. On our final pass, I felt a tug on my rod that was unlike previous bottom snags. A few minutes later, Billy and I boated our first lake trout! I promptly set out to acquire a lead-core trolling setup, the first of many additions to our arsenal.
With our newfound interest in trout, we returned to the Indian River the next morning. Neither Billy nor I was having any luck in our textbook riffle run. Billy said he was going to go downstream to the bigger rapids. Knowing what “proper” trout water was and was not, I stubbornly stayed put. A few minutes later, Billy came sprinting back up the path. “Dad, I caught a rainbow! It was way bigger than yours!” I followed Billy down the trail that skirts the Otter Slide rapids. Fishing where the fish were, we quickly netted three additional rainbows using small Panther Martin spinners. Billy also landed the first brown trout that either of us had ever caught. I knew it was time for me to throw my “rules of fishing” out the window.
June 7th was our first double-digit day, 10 fish in total. The caddis were hatching when we showed up at the river, which meant there was not much interest in our spinners, but I did manage to coax a rainbow and a brown trout to sip my dry fly off the surface. I’m sure that, to an observer, it would not have been perceived as artful fly-fishing, but I had forgotten how much fun it was. We finished off our first week with 26 fish. Right on target.
We continued our river/lake split into the following week. The hatch was over and the trout were content with our Panther Martins once again. On the 10th, Billy landed a monster brown trout that to this day is the largest river trout we’ve ever seen in person.
June 12th was our biggest catch of the campaign. Twenty-one fish in total, including two brook trout caught in Blue Mountain Lake, a fish we did not even know was there. June 14th was another productive day, with 18 fish between the Indian River and Blue, Eagle and Lake Durant. The total fish count at the end of the second week was 88.
We tallied our 100th fish on June 17th. Billy caught his third Blue Mountain brook trout, but the highlight from that day was when he sighted a largemouth tucked into a fallen tree. After a frenzied survey and deliberation of our tackle, we decided on a fake worm on a jig head. We presented the worm, and the fish played along. It was a great fight that provided the capstone of our 100 fish adventure.
The final tally was 45 rock bass, 27 smallmouth, one largemouth, six pumpkinseed, eight brown trout, 16 rainbow trout, three brook trout, and one lake trout, for a total of 107.
Once we’d hit our goal, our focus shifted from volume to experimenting with techniques and exploring the amazing diversity of waterways and fish species near our home. Each outing had a deliberate objective, such as catching a tiger muskie on Lake Durant, or investigating every cove on South Pond.
These adventures involved many early mornings and frequently yielded no fish, but we enjoyed the beautiful sunrises and time spent together. We also learned from each trip, making observations about habitat, what the fish might be eating or assessing a new approach. Our plan of attack was constantly evolving and, as with most things in life, persistence was rewarded. By the end of the summer, we were catching and releasing multiple lake trout on a typical outing. We became similarly proficient at catching tiger muskies, although it took us a while to get comfortable handling them with anything resembling confidence or grace. Those teeth!
I have not laughed so much, learned so much and explored so much at any other point in my life. Watching Billy’s personal growth over the course of the summer was truly rewarding. I will never forget it.
Our fishing addiction has since transcended the Blue Line and followed us back to our new home in the Capital Region. The fish and waters are different, but the reward is the same. The shot of adrenaline and the flurry of emotion when something picks up your offering and takes off. The ongoing puzzle of how to catch the next species or figure out a new piece of water. The perfect reason to get outside and explore.