By David Anderson
Now that’s impressive.
It wasn’t the size, though they were big, many measuring over 14” which meant only two could be kept. And it wasn’t the amount, though many hundreds of the penned 6,500 Rainbow trout were caught upon their release having been fattened up all winter at Bill’s Boathouse.
The fishermen were sure excited though.
Nor was it the crowd on the dock or the multitude of boats clustered just casting-distance from where shoulder-to-shoulder fishermen competed for space in anticipation of the exactly-as-announced opening of the net pen at 11 a.m. At least one yawning youngster upon arrival with his father five hours earlier to claim their spot was sound asleep during the big event missing the entire thing.
That too though was awesome – to witness the largest amphibious armada gathered for an assault I can remember since I was a kid.
Back then, long before American Lake went annual, there was an actual, long-awaited and anticipated opening day.
Very anticipated opening day.
It wasn’t until us kids were all grown and had kids of our own that mom allowed dad to realize his dream of buying the boathouse. Mom was from Texas where the state is so big that basically some have never seen water – or at least knows what to do when they came near it – and she was afraid, when we were little if dad got his way, we’d all drown.
Only because of dad’s repeated “oh they’ll be fine” remonstrating with mom could my brother and I – as we got older and could handle our own rowboat – be allowed to race one-another to see who over the summer could tally the first 100 trout. Our sister wasn’t much of a fisher-woman but she shouldered her load in the back-country where our family spent countless hours adventuring about in the Cascades and Olympics.
As much as growing up we never missed church, neither did we ever miss opening day, even though back then, to my recollection, both happened the same morning.
My dad, brother and I always had one of the rowboats at the boathouse because we could walk living as we did nearby. In the pitch blackness of early Sunday morning the headlights of bumper-to-bumper traffic down behind our house lit the way.
Later, when dad and mom owned the boathouse and American Lake became open year round for fishing, for dad it was just un-American not to have opening day memories on American Lake. So he created his own, raising fish every winter for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and releasing them a week before the state-set opening day, this year April 28, 2012. .
When the memorial service was held for dad it was perhaps the largest crowd ever to gather at Tillicum Baptist Church. A standing-room only audience shared story after story of learning how to fish from my father and, in turn, those dads sharing those lessons learned from my dad with their own children.
Men in the military, stationed here from who knows where, would show up with a fishing pole as thick as your thumb, more like a broom stick actually, an insult to the highly intelligent fish in our part of the world. I heard my dad more than once say “What are you going to do? Beat ‘em to death?’
We still tell that story because these “back-where-I-come-from” military guys still come fishing at Bill’s Boathouse, broomsticks and all, where nobody’s named Bill but the name stays the same because nothing changes around here.
That’s because we are who we’ve always been. And always will be. The boathouse continues as do the memories – and the tradition – of opening day.
What was impressive at this year’s fish release was the tangle of fishing line from a single reel as a youngster – realizing the mess he’d created and the time that was to be wasted was preventing him from experiencing the thrill of friends left-and-right shouting “Dad! Hurry! Get the net!” – frantically appealed for help of his own.
Like a pent-up, spring-loaded, explosion of confetti, yards and yards of four-pound test line was suddenly set free becoming a silver-snarl of sadness to the boy who watched, horrified, as the spinning reel spun, every revolution increasingly complicating the immediate future of his young life.
What is it about casting that intrigues a boy as if more trout or bigger are farther away when a mere few feet from where he stands the fish were just seconds ago set free?
There were others on this particular morning and early afternoon watching the shouting, laughing, net-sharing, picture-taking, father- and in some cases mother-child bonding, line-and-life untangling and memory-making.
One was a gentleman representing the American Lake Improvement Club. As Bill’s Boathouse is a family-run hobby (my five-year-old grandson can escort you to your rowboat with oars, cushions and life-jackets although he’ll drop one or more items along the way) this fellow, and long-time lake dweller, approached members of our family after we’d had a chance to take a breather.
He wanted us to know that there were others wanting to know how to expand this program. The club to which he belonged he said had raised significant money to help purchase whatever was necessary to make happen – on a bigger scale (sorry for the pun) – what he knew he would see when he came opening day.
Now that’s impressive.