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  • Writer's pictureTodd Stevens

The birthday trip

When I was a kid the only thing I ever wanted to do for my birthday was go fishing. We went out all the time when I was young, but birthday trips were usually more of a special trip.

I must have been turning ten or eleven one year and dad told me we were going to go fishing at a little lake called Hall reservoir for my birthday, and we would be camping overnight. That little lake had beautiful trout in those days so I was excited.

We got there the night before and unloaded dad’s little aluminum boat and set up camp. We were the only people on the lake that evening. Dad built a big crackling fire and we sat on blocks of wood and roasted hotdogs that were skewered on the end of sharpened willows and waited for a can of baked beans to heat that dad had placed right near the coals. Something about food that’s prepared and eaten around a campfire makes it infinitely more delicious and your appreciation for it much greater.

After we ate we sat around the fire and talked. The mesmerizing quality of a fire is incredible. Watching the wood go from hot yellow flames to blue and then down to glowing orange coals. It’s an amazing process. We talked about all the fish we were going to catch the next day, how big did they get in that lake? What would work on them? Should we use flies? Bait? Lures? The possibilities were endless, especially in the mind of an eleven year old boy.

After the fire died down to embers we laid our sleeping bags out and crawled in. We hadn’t even settled in when we heard the most hair-raising scream I had ever heard come from a dark and timbered hillside 150 yards away. It sounded like a demonic woman shrieking. Dad sat up and I followed his lead. “I’m not sure, but I think that was a mountain lion.” He had a pistol, but he still had me scoot my bag over near him so I was pinched between the fire and his side. “We'll be okay, let’s just try and get some sleep.” I believed him, but all I could see in my minds eye was a big muscular lion with glowing yellow eyes silently approaching, slunk low to the ground, grabbing me and dragging me off into the pitch black night. For the next 30 minutes I stared at the stars sharply twinkling in the dark sky, every sense heightened. It was so completely still that if a mouse had winked 100 yards away, I’d have heard it. And then, like magic, it was the early morning and I’d lived to see it. Dad was prepping a fire and the sun was nowhere near rising yet. I sat up in the bag and watched him. “Better get up and get something in your stomach. You're going to need it to reel in all those fish!” Then he told me that he’d have gotten up earlier, but when he first woke he felt something move against his side and he was convinced it was a rattler that was sharing his body heat. Luckily, it wasn’t.

After breakfast we walked down and decided to fish off the shore for a while before taking the boat out. After 30 minutes of nothing dad started getting the boat ready to go. We heard voices and turned to see two lladies in their late 70s walking down the shore towards us. They greeted us, and one of the women all but twisted dad’s arm to take her out in the boat, and he finally agreed. “Do you mind Todd?” I told him I didn’t. So off they motored and I was with the other old lady. She told me that she fished the lake all time. She told me to string a night crawler on with some corn, and showed me exactly where to cast and how long to leave it, and so I listened to her. I had two lines out in the lake. Dad wasn’t even halfway across the lake when I caught my first fish, a bright silvery rainbow with a pink/red side and cheek. I put him on the stringer. For the next hour I didn’t go more than five minutes without reeling in a fish. These fish were not particularly long, but they were probably the fattest rainbows I have ever seen. 13 to 15 inches long and some of them had to weigh almost 3 pounds. They had tiny heads and massive bodies. I found out later that the little lake was teeming with freshwater shrimp, and that’s why they were so fat. Within 20 minutes I had my limit, and then I just started catching fish and throwing them back. After about an hour and a half I could see Dad coming back across the lake… slowly, very, very, slowly. He'd gotten to the far side of the lake and the motor stalled and he didn't have an oar. He had to tear a floorboard out of the boat and use it as a paddle to row back across the lake. When they finally got back and onto the shore he came over and inspected my stringer. “Damn, I should’ve just stayed here.” They hadn’t caught a thing. I’ll never forget that night and day.

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