September 02, 2008

One morning at the water pipe

One night in Nebraska, I camped on the downstream side of the Kingsley dam. It holds back the massive McConaughy reservoir, and that feeds the much smaller Lake Ogalalla on this side. My tent was only feet from the little lake. So I fell asleep to the sound of the wind lapping at the water, reminding myself to go, tomorrow morning, to where the water is released through the dam. I had seen the white fountain of water from a distance earlier, and someone at the nearby bar urged me to get close and take a look.

Morning came, and I made my way over there. I had assumed I'd see the white fountain again. But of course that's not the case, because they open the gates enough to produce that only once a day, and that, I learn, is in the afternoon. For now, there's a steady stream of water, small but still forceful, flowing out of a large pipe.

And on the bank, behind the railing overlooking this scene, a fisherman -- blue shirt, lined face under a baseball cap. I park and walk to the railing to look over at the water outlet. (I think, I've driven all this way just to look at water exiting from a pipe?). He greets me, seems eager to talk. His name is Earl, he's retired, and he is fishing here, he tells me in a quiet monotone I have to strain to catch, for catfish. "Right now, they ain't bitin'", he says. "Caught one, but they really start bitin' only when they open up the gates and let the water out."

Why then?

"I have no idea," says Earl. "I jes' know that the fishin's better when they have that big ol' jet of water flowin'". And that won't happen till the afternoon. But Earl keeps at it.

His wife is Jo. She's over at their truck getting something, and when she's done, she climbs over the railing (!) and sits in a chair some distance away. "Her real name was Audrey, but she didn't like that one, said it was a man's name. So I gave her the name Jo." Earl smiles in recollection. "Jo" could be "Joe", more of a man's name than "Audrey" it seems to me, but I leave it at that. She sees us but doesn't seem interested in coming over to join in our conversation. Perhaps there's a reason.

"We come down here from Sidney" -- a town a couple of hours west. "Sit here and fish all day. Throw the fish back once we've got 'em."

What's it all for, I wonder. Why come all the way to Lake Ogalalla to fish?

"Well, the fishin's good here. And it sure beats watching TV all day. There's only crap on TV anyhow, these days."

I look over at Audrey/Jo. She looks grumpy.

2 comments:

Gaurav said...

In my limited travels in PA, I have noticed that spots with "catch and release" rules are somehow more crowded (relatively) than spots where you can take the fish with you. Always wondered why that is. There's a place close to here called Fisherman's Paradise.... looks pretty enough to justify that name... but has a catch and release rule. Makes me chuckle to think that a fisherman's conception of paradise is a place where you have to release whatever fish you catch.

Unknown said...

They obviously hadn't heard of Audrey Hepburn.

:D