I really don't like fences. Really. The problem is, there are more and more of them all the time, and it seems that every year more and more of them are sprouting posted signs. Of course, I had a posted sign on the fence around my old yard, but that's different. Even though people would like very much to have fished in the front yard (and sometimes do in spite of the signs), it is still different. After all, it is just a house on a city lot that happens to be on the water. Once upon a time it was pretty good water, too, according to the prior owners, but time, people, and an ever larger sewer facility upstream have not helped it a bit.
But the fences I am talking about are the ones out in the country, usually in an area where I have been fishing, or would like to fish. Usually in very pretty country, too. Often there is not a house in sight. Of course, even if there is no water in sight, and I am not even sure there is any hidden water, I still want to try it. Why else would anyone post normal looking land if it were not to hide some wonderful fishing from the rest of the world?
No matter how good the public water is on a particular river, stream, or lake, the part that's posted looks better, often much better, even if you can't see it. Probably even better yet if you can't see it. Now that I am no longer a kid (ha), I just sigh, and drive on. Usually. But that is now, and, as my dad used to say, ‘twasn’t always thus.
I don't know when it started. Memory fails me. I'm sure it was when I was aged in single digits, though. At that age, people thought it was cute that I liked to fish, and looked the other way. I got away with a lot, I think. And, or course, there weren't many fences then, and even fewer posted signs.
I guess the first place where I fished that I instinctively knew I shouldn't was the Teft's lily pond. I recently had the opportunity to look at it, and, from 50 plus distant years. TINY is the operative word. However, Minuscule might be better. It was a small man-made cove, with two entrances to the main lake. Only a canoe (we did not know what kayaks were back then) could make it through the openings. Even without a posted sign, I somehow I knew that they didn't want me in there. Probably it was because they were the only people in the immediate area with a fence. So I had to go. Bob, my summer companion at the time, and I decided there had to be some big pike in there, or why would they want to keep us out. So we got up at 4:00 am, at the first hint of light, when no sane adult on summer vacation would be awake to see us, got in the canoe (quiet, right?) and snuck in there.
No, we did not get caught, any of the many times we did it. Nor did we ever catch anything, either. Did that cure me? Not a chance.
I once lived on Long Island, outside of New York City. We were about two miles from the salt water, well within bike ride range for fish happy kids. Where we liked to fish was really a very picturesque place. In the 1600s, a tidal pond had been created to drive a mill. What they milled is probably lost in antiquity, and it had long since fallen into disrepair and then some. But, after 300 years, the tidal gate on the pond actually still worked. At high tide, the gate would swing inward, letting the salt water into the pond. As the tide went out, the gate would swing shut, containing the water, which would then be used to drive a long gone water wheel. Since there was no longer any water being drawn off to run the wheel, the gate only opened on spring tides, but it none the less kept the pond brackish.
This pond had several things going for it. First and foremost, it was surrounded by a chain link fence, with barbed wire on the top, and "NO TRESPASSING" signs everywhere. Secondly, it contained a wonderful population of large (for us) White Perch, Eels, and Blue Crabs.
Fishing this place was a challenge. To get in, we hid our bikes in the bushes and walked to the area above the tidal gate, which was a very busy two lane road. Sometimes we fished for Bluefish (snappers we called them), about 5 inches long) on the other, salt water, side of the road. Access on the salt water side was so difficult that we fished with only one hand, the other hanging onto the railing between the road and the drop-off to the water while standing on a four inch ledge. Cars were constantly rushing by on the other side of the railing. I remember we had to carry the live minnow bait, very small, in our mouths because of the lack of space and the need for both hands to be otherwise occupied. On the brackish (pond) side of the road, between the road and the pond, the bottom of the chain link fence had several strands of barbed wire, reaching down to within about a foot of three four inch conduits, carrying telephone lines, or power, or something. If we slipped down onto these pipes on our backs, we could then slide under the barbed wire while holding it up with our hands. The second person would slip the tackle, bait, etc. to the first one in, and then get in himself. The endpoint was a wooden bridge/dock from which we fished. Here we had some fine days, particularly when the spring tide opened the gate, and the white perch swarmed to the incoming current to catch the surprised silversides and killifish that got swept in with the current. At other times, when there was no spring tide, we could get a gunny sack full of blue crabs using the old chicken neck on a string trick, or we could get half a gunny sack of nice eels using very strong hand lines.
Occasionally the local constabulary would find us, and yell, from their cruisers on the road, for us to get out, which we would do, for a couple of days.
One day we obediently left as requested. When I started to go home, however, I discovered I had left something inside. So I went back in, as luck would have it, just as the officer returned to check us out. He stopped in the middle of a blind corner of this busy little road, and told me to get out and come with him. As I started back out under the fence, I, accidentally of course, got my clothing stuck in the barbed wire. As the cars piled up behind him, complete with screeching brakes and angry honking, he became more and more frustrated, until he finally said "I'll let you go this last time, but get out as fast as you can and stay out" and he drove off. I unhooked myself, and we were outta there in a matter of seconds.
That, I believe, is as close as I have come to actually getting caught poaching! But it, also, was not a cure.
When I was a teenager, I discovered, quite by accident, the best wild Brook Trout fishing I have ever had, before or since. Posted, of course! I also realized that I no longer could be classed as “cute”, and therefore I had to be a bit more sophisticated (cunning?) in my approach.
About a mile or so from my home there was a city reservoir. It was not very big, but was very pretty, and very wild. Essentially, there was no access. Perfect. Not that I expected to catch much, but there was this big fence, with these big posted signs, and that was sufficient to get the juices flowing. This was obviously another hide-the-bike-in-the-bushes-and-walk-in spot.
I guess people were more trusting then, because I found that the fence was very visible along the paved road, all 300 feet of it, but disappeared into the woods and ended a short way up the dirt portion. Why? I think because the access was really terrible. There was a thick woods to beat through, followed by a very steep bank extending right down to the water and the ever present alders. This was an unusual reservoir, because it never changed levels. All year, even during the driest of summers, it remained full. Later I found that they had a series of reservoirs further up the hill that fed this one, and they fluctuated. But not this one, so the edge of the water was solid undergrowth. It was obviously unfishable with fly, and, at best, marginally fishable with spinning gear.
Perfect! It should be loaded with fish. It wasn't. I never had the first sign of fish in the main reservoir.
During several attempts, I managed to fish the entire south side, right up to where the little brook fed in. I mean little. I call brooks this size "step-across creeks". But there were very small (1 inch) trout darting about. It was as I approached this section, and actually found some relatively shallow and weedy water, that I caught a few Pickerel. Chain Pickerel were not common in this area, the big brother Northern Pike being the more common species, but these were actually Pickerel. I had been catching small Pickerel out of a couple of tiny stagnant ponds in the city park, on fly, and they were fun, so I enjoyed the possibility of having a second locale for doing this.
The next trip I brought the fly rod to have a try in this shallower water, where I could maybe get a few casts off, and I did get a few smallish Pickerel.
As I was walking to another spot through a small gully with a trickle of water in it, I heard a sound, and stopped. It sounded like feeding Trout, coming from up the gully a ways. Investigating, I found a beaver dam, behind which the water was dimpled with rising trout, some actually leaping out of the water. It looked wonderful, and I even had a couple of dry flies with me, who knows why or what type.
Knowing the skittishness of beaver dam Brook Trout, I crawled up to the base of the dam, and dropped a cast of maybe 10 feet into the water. I couldn't see the fly, but I heard a loud splash, set the hook, and got a nice 10 inch Brookie. You know the type. They look almost black from never seeing the sun, but the colors are all there. The heads are huge because of the lack of food, but they are still very pretty fish. Of course, I spooked all the other fish with the commotion of the fight. But after a few minutes, they stared rising once more. Then I discovered the problem with this spot. About 15 feet from the dam, and paralleling it across the entire gully (I can't call it a valley!) was a wall of impenetrable alders. On the other side, it was wide open, and full of fish. But there was no way to cast there. It was getting late, so I trudged home to think it over.
A few days later I went back. It was a late April evening, and one of those late cold fronts had swept over the Adirondacks. It was cold. But the trout were at it again. This time I got two before they left the area close to the dam and retreated behind the alders. Were they smart? Sure seemed it. I had thought about it a while, and had a brilliant idea, or so it seemed at the time. I removed my clothing, took out my pocket knife, and waded buck naked into the water. When I heard the skim ice on the edges of the pond tinkle from my wake, I should have quit right then and there. But I was young (17 or so) and knew I was tough. I had to go in chest deep to get to the alders, and then reached down as far as I could and cut them off about 3 feet below the surface. It took much too long, I had no towel, and the air temperature was about 30. You get the picture. I got dressed, shivering a lot, and jogged as best I could through the woods back to the bike, and pedaled as fast as I could home to the hot shower.
But, two days later, the entire pool was accessible, and I had many evenings of fine dry fly fishing that year. The next year, someone or something had removed the dam, and it was all over. But for a while I had my own private Trout pond, owned, of course, by the city. And, of course, it was posted.
The brightest part of this was that I discovered a second pair of beaver dams in the same area, and these were fairly shallow, out in the open, full of weeds, and apparently containing lots of food. These dams held Brook Trout in the 14-15 inch range, and they were well fed and sassy. But I had a very hard time catching them at first. I finally got one, took it home to Dad for his breakfast, and found out when cleaning it that it had been eating very small bugs of some kind. I knew nothing of fishing entomology at that time, but thinking back on it I believe they were probably some sort of Scud. All that mattered was that I tied up some flies that looked a bit like them, and the Trout loved them.
There is a sort or moral to this story, unrelated to the posting of the water. My Dad loved to eat Trout, and I made a it a point to try to bring him home a single nice sized Trout every trip, releasing the rest. I fished these dams regularly all spring, keeping just one fish each trip. By the end of the school year, there were no more Trout in the dams. I had apparently caught them all, keeping just one at a time. This was a lesson I learned well, and am now a died-in-the-wool catch and release fisherman. If fishermen in general do not fish catch and release just about everywhere, there will be no fish. And I wiped this population out single handedly.
I have recently, 60 years or so later, gone back to the same spot. I really wanted to go see if the fish had repopulated these spots. Unfortunately, the fence now extends all around the area, and the posted signs are bigger, meaner, and more numerous. And I am no longer cute.
Now, you would think that if someone wanted people to stay out of somewhere, he, or she, would let it be known somehow. A fence would be nice, or a sign, or something. Maybe the thought is that if you don't put up a fence or signs, people might ignore the place. Who knows? Here's what happened. Is it really poaching? And, no, I couldn't have dreamed it up, it really happened to me.
I think I was still in high school, but I could drive, so it must have been late high school or home from college for a few days. I was exploring after dinner on a nice spring evening, on a brook that ran right through the city, and then on into the country. Not much of a brook, but it was close, I did not have much time, it was a beautiful evening, and I needed some woods time. I came to one of the rare spots where the alders had not made it completely impossible to fish, and there was access through a wall of trees to a convenient parking spot off the dirt road in the undisturbed corner of a farmer's recently plowed field. It even looked as if it had been used for a parking many times before.
I walked across the road to the meadow where the stream flowed, and worked it a ways. I did nothing, but it was a nice evening, and exploring is always fun. As I moved along, I did hear the sound of a tractor working in the area where I parked, but I thought the farmer was finishing the work in his field, and didn't give it a thought.
At dusk, I returned to the car to find that the farmer had erected two very large diameter poles (sort of like telephone pole segments) on either side of the access to his field, and had strung a heavy chain, with a large lock, between the poles, completely blocking my egress from the field back to the road. I could not help but laugh a little, even though it was now dark, and I did not feel that I would enjoy walking to the nearby farmer's house and asking for help.
I thought about it for a while, and then smiled. I quietly started the car, without lights. It had dawned on me that the poles had been set within the hour, and they could not be particularly well stuck in their holes. I gently bumped one of the poles with the car, and it moved quite a bit. I backed up, got out, and was able, with some difficulty, to gently lift the pole out of the hole. I set it down, drove over the chain, and, with a large grin, gently set the pole back in the hole. When I was finished, it looked exactly as it had before. I even erased the footsteps and car tracks. I drove off down the dirt road a bit, until I was out of sight of the house before turning on the car lights. I chuckle to this day thinking of the farmer when he finally investigated as to why I had not shown up to ask for help.
There is one other story that somewhat proves that I was doing nothing wrong by fishing posted spots. One day I climbed over a chain link fence gate to fish a posted pond, and when I jumped off onto the inside, I was standing right on top of a $20 bill. In the 1940s, that was a lot of money for a kid. I figured someone was looking out for me and did not care if I poached or not.
On a sadder note, this past summer I returned to my old home stamping grounds to try to fish some of my favorite childhood spots once again. I did not plan to fish the old posted areas (except maybe one), but to fish the public and un-posted spots. I expected things to be changed after 50+ years, but not really the way I thought. I believe there were as many, if not more, fish then there had been when I was a kid. Maybe I fish better now, or maybe there is really a lot of catch and release going on. I don’t know, but checking my records from then, I did catch more now. Also, the encroachment of civilization was no where near as great as I had thought it would be, living as I do here in Florida. Upstate New York is severely depressed, and not growing. The streams are still there, unimpeded by houses or dams. But I could not believe the extent of the posted signs. On some of the back country uninhabited dirt roads there was a posted sign every 100 feet for mile after mile, with no open access to some of the prettiest water you could ask for. The state has tried to get access in some areas, but it is a trifling portion of the total stream mileage. I wonder if this a result of our national propensity so sue at the drop of a hat? At one point I found a public fishing access (so labeled) with a parking lot big enough for 8 cars, but with only 200 yards of open water to fish between the continuation of the posted signs in both directions. I am thankful for all the national parks and national forests where I can fish unimpeded.
Commercial trolling for king mackerel became a passion and part time
occupation of his, although through all of his life, he was a light
tackle and fly fishing enthusiast.