Salmon eggs and day-old donuts
Memories of childhood fishing trips last a lifetime
Matt McKell is the Northern Region cutthroat biologist for the Division of Wildlife Resources. He enjoys the outdoors, spending time with his family and combining the two as often as possible.
LAST SPRING, my mom called to suggest that I take my dad fishing for his birthday. I have seven siblings, but Mom asked me to arrange the trip, probably because I work with fish every day.
Even though I’m a fisheries biologist, I’ll admit to not automatically catching fish, at least not with a rod and reel. I do enjoy fishing, though — and spending time with my family — so I agreed to Mom’s request. Planning the trip immediately brought back childhood memories.
When we were little, Dad took us fishing a few times every summer. The fun began the night before we left. Dad usually got all of the poles and the tackle box ready, leaning them beside the front door. Those nights were almost as exciting as Christmas Eve, but I still managed to fall asleep!
At about 5 a.m., Dad would gently nudge awake those of us who wanted to go. Those early-morning outings always included a stop at the donut shop down the street. We’d pick up a dozen day-old donuts. I remember them tasting as good as the fresh donuts, but they were half the cost — only a dollar per dozen. They were a great treat as we made the drive up the small canyon to the pond. It was only about 45 minutes from our northern California home.
After we reached the pond, Dad would tie on a treble hook and let us put a red salmon egg on each of the hooks. You may remember those eggs: they came in a small jar with a green lid. I can still remember the smell as we opened the jar and the oily residue the eggs left on my fingers.
Standing on the concrete slab on the dam, we’d drop our baited hooks into the water. Within seconds, a horde of anxious trout would surround the ball of eggs and begin darting in for a nibble. It was always a thrill to see those red eggs and the hook disappear into a trout’s mouth. We’d spend a few hours reeling in rainbows before heading home.
The fish we took home were usually ones the kids caught. Dad, like all fathers of young anglers, spent most of his time untangling line, fixing reels and helping us keep our lines in the water.
On one trip, my younger sister got a hook stuck in her finger, so we left the pond and went straight to the emergency room. I took her picture later that day, pleased with herself and her spoils: a bandaged finger, an inflated latex glove, and even the barbless/pointless remains of the hook the doctor removed from her finger.
As we prepared for Dad’s birthday trip, it was fun to reminisce with my brothers about salmon eggs, day-old donuts, and getting up early to visit that pond. Mom kept me up to date on Dad, saying that he’d prepared his gear and was getting more excited every day.
We finally took our trip together, fishing a small stream in the Uinta Mountains. We caught beautiful brook trout, and Dad was thrilled. I was, too. Even though this trip didn’t have all the familiar elements of my childhood memories, it had the most important ones: my dad, my brothers and some really fun fishing.