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Max Blue

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Pink Cards and Piscators
By Max Blue
Monday, August 04, 2003

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Liddy and Loo try out their new boat on Little Buffalo Lake, and encounter an unexpected obstacle.

By Max Blue

The day begins perfect and gets better.
It is one of those days the weatherman likes to call "In the top ten." You could look until your eyes crossed, but you wouldnít find even a hint of pollution. It is a day that pulls you like gravity out of the house, and into the sunshine and fresh air; it is a good feeling just to be out. Liddy feels so good she lifts our 50-pound marine battery and puts it into the boat. She does this while I park the Rabbit after depositing the boat and fishing gear next to the launch site at Little Buffalo State Park Lake. I am shocked that she would do this. I am even more shocked that she could do this.
The boy standing on the sagging wooden dock says we should pay no attention to the sign that reads BOAT LAUNCHING PERMITS REQUIRED. He seems to know what he is talking about so we push off into the sparkling water with thoughts only for the hungry fish we know are out there waiting to be tempted by our turgid night crawlers and bewitching artificial lures.
It is just past noon and the park pullulates with activity. Happy shouts are heard drifting up from the picnic and swimming pool areas opposite the boat launch, half a mile up the lake. People are enjoying themselves; they are having fun, they are at peace. Boats dot the lake. Rowboats, sailboats, canoes, paddle boats, fishing boats with electric motors. The sign at the dock also reads ELECTRIC MOTORS ONLY, and this directive is heeded.
We decide first to tempt the fish near the dam at the south end of the lake. Liddy uses worms, as usual. I use a Mepps Black Fury with a 45-degree spinner blade. The product information sheet tells me "Whether you fish this black and yellow spinner in clear water/bright days or dark water/overcast days, it is a consistent producer." I feel I am taking unfair advantage of the fish.
We drift across the lake. The opposite shore is guarded by platoons of hemlock, spruce, and maple; they rise in ranks above the lake, obliterating the horizon, shading the lake in ever lengthening shadows as the afternoon unfolds. We pass a moored boat occupied by a pair of fiercely concentrating fishermen. They tense over their lines as if they mean to bring fish aboard by sheer willpower. They do not smile. They do not wave, nor do they nod.
"They look fishy to me," I say. Liddy throws a worm at me.
We reach the opposite shore, and tie up to the dead limb of a fallen tree that extends 30 feet into the lake; now for some serious fishing. Liddy begins losing her bait as fast as she can get it into the water, but she canít hook anything. Finally she lowers her newly baited hook a few feet into the clear water, and watches in astonishment as a horde of miniature sunfish pounce, pummel, and punish the defenseless worm in a blur of lightning-quick attacks that feed the runts of the lake.
Liddy will try an artificial lure. But not just any artificial lure. She reaches into the tackle box and brings out a prize . . . it is a Rooster Tail. Carefully she removes the beauty from its plastic case, glued to the red, white, and blue cardboard backing with the leaping rainbow trout on it. She reads the instructions on the back. "Cast out and let the Rooster Tail flutter as it settles to the proper depth, then give a quick jerk to get the blade spinning. Do not reel too fast; let the hackle skirt pulsate as you reel in with a pause-and-retrieve action."
Liddy attaches the Rooster Tail to the end of her line with a bowline knot she has recently learned how to tie, and confidently casts it into a likely spot near a fallen tree. She gets the blade spinning and starts to reel it in. A few turns of the reel and then it happens . . . she is snagged. She pulls. She tugs. She whips the rod from side to side trying to dislodge the hook. She lets out line. She takes in line. She tries every trick she knows, and she knows a lot. Nothing works. She pulls harder until the tension releases suddenly with a snap. She has lost her Rooster Tail.
"Shit," says Liddy.
We fish in grim silence for a while. Liddy uses a rubber crawfish, I stick with my Mepps Black Fury . . . no luck. A 12-year-old boy materializes out of the woods.
"Hey mister," he calls. "You wanna buy some lures, cheap?"
"Whatcha got?"
"I got a Swiss Swing Plain, Americaís number one lure."
"You donít say."
"How about a Rapala Fat-Rap?"
"You look familiar. Donít I know you from somewhere?"
"Lots of people say that."
"Whatís your name?"
"Thatís a rare name."
"I guess thatís the best way to describe me: rare."
"What else have you got?"
"Iíve got some nice Bass Busters."
"You got any Rooster Tails?" asks Liddy.
"No, but I got a Max-E Spinner, and if you come back tomorrow Iíll have a Rooster Tail." He laughs a bit too loud for Liddy.
"Howíd you like a punch in the nose?" snarls Liddy. The boy laughs even louder and slips away into the woods.
We decide to try the other end of the lake. We motor up the middle of the lake, past rowboats, past two paddle boats racing in reverse, past a family in an overloaded canoe, past a small sailboat occupied by a thin man and a plump lady. The thin man wears a baseball cap and is shirtless. He lies on his back controlling the angle of the sail with a clothesline wrapped around his wrist. The boat moves erratically as he flips the sail from one side to the other. The plump lady shouts an apology as we move by. "He donít know what heís doiní, he never done this before." The thin man grins.
The lake narrows as we approach the other end where it is fed by a creek. We are close to the swimming pool and picnic areas, which are standing room only. We can hear the public address loudspeaker.
"Attention please." Long pause. Very long pause. Now, more urgently, "Attention please." Pause. "A little girl is lost. She is five years old, wearing a yellow bathing suit and her name is Innocence. If you find her please bring her to the concession stand. There is a reward. Thank you."
Suddenly, an explosion of whoops. A volleyball has been spiked.
Two little boys are throwing rocks into the water. They stop to stare at us as we drift by. They wave shyly. Their father sits on a folding lawn chair watching them occasionally. He is trying to relax but he cannot stop his knees from bouncing. His toes are rooted to the ground but both heels move synchronously like racing pistons. They only stop when he speaks to us.
"Catchiní anything?"
"Weeds," says Liddy.
We cut the motor and begin to drift slowly back where we cam from. We pass a man standing in knee-deep water practicing with a fly rod. We pass three well-fed fishermen sitting in lawn chairs along the bank watching their lines. They look like members of the Pickwick Club of London. One of them sighs, and says resignedly, "Sheís got me."
Liddy is reeling in her line and with it comes another line . . . a brussels-sprout-sized sinker is attached a foot above the hook at the end of the line upon which is impaled a struggling, prawn-sized crawfish. The pudgy piscator is angling the bottom for catfish and carp. He is not annoyed by the interruption of having his line hooked, but neither is he surprised. It is a diversion for him, and forLiddy, her first catch of the day. She unhooks the hook, and tosses it back into the water. Without a nod, the ample angler gathers in his line and flings it back into the water with a clangorous grunt.
We spy a shady spot along the shore where overhanging trees protect the water from beachbound intruders. It lures us to cast our lines and we do. Facing the shore, my back to the lake, I am unaware of the boat that quietly approaches until I feel a gentle bump. I turn and see the alien boat directly alongside. A man in a tan shirt is reaching for our gunwale to secure the boats together. There are two men in the boat . . . I wonder if they are pirates. They both wear mirrored sunglasses. They have triangular patches on their shirt shoulders that read, "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ó Pennsylvania Fish Commission." I think about the boat-launching permit. They wear enameled nametags pinned to their left shirt pockets. I can read the one nearest me: WRIGHT. The law is always right, I think. The other name I cannot make out, but he is older and he is in charge.
"How long have you had this boat?"
"Since last November. Is something wrong?"
"The boat doesnít have any numbers."
"Yes, numbers. Youíre supposed to have registration numbers on both sides of the bow."
"Oh. But the boat is registered. The red Keystone State stickers are there."
"Yes, but the numbers are not. Let me see your registration card."
I experience a flash of panic. I donít remember having a registration card. I look at Liddy. She shrugs. I reach for my wallet, knowing it isnít there, having no idea what I am looking for.
"Itís a pink card."
I find a pink card that reads "Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association." I hand it to him.
He looks at it and hands it back without comment. I start to hand him a receipt for certified mail, then think better of it. I have a bright idea.
"Maybe itís in the tackle box."
Liddy rummages through the tackle box, but finds nothing that looks anything like a pink card.
"You should have gotten it in the mail along with the red stickers."
"I donít remember getting it. That must be it. They didnít send it to us."
"This is serious. How do I know you didnít steal this boat?" I see the jail cell closing. "You can call Sears. We bought it there last November. Or was it October?"
"November," says Liddy.
"Look, Iím sure we didnít get the registration card. How could I forget a thing like that? They made a mistake and didnít send it. Iím sure of it."
"Let me see your fishing license." He points to the plastic encased fishing license pinned to my cap. I unpin it and hand it to him. He looks at it, then turns it over.
"What have we here?" he exclaims.
It is the pink boat registration card. I see the jail cell opening.
"Well now, Kamaswami," he says, looking at the card. Where before he was uncertain now he is confident.
"Uh . . . my name is Loo."
"He likes to say Kamaswami," says Wright.
The chief compares the hull number with that on the boat.
"I guess itís your boat all right." I canít tell if he is relieved or disappointed.
"Now then, about the numbers." He pauses. He appears to be looking at me, but I canít be sure seeing my reflection in his mirrors. "Along with your registration card and red stickers," he continues, "you received a little booklet called Summary of Boating Regulations, 1983. It tells about the numbers."
I start to say we didnít receive the booklet but change my mind. "Why didnít they send us the numbers?" I ask.
"Itís your responsibility to get the numbers. Look, Loo," Kamaswami is my pal, "you are clearly in violation of the law and Iím afraid Iíll have to lean on you." Partner Wright is amused.
"All I can say is that there was no intent to break the law. We just didnít know about the numbers."
"Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse, Loo." Kamaswami shrugs, what can he do? "I will have to cite you." He waits for me to speak, apparently expecting to hear an outlandish reason why he should not cite me.
I am out of excuses, I wait for the verdict. "Now then," he says, "these are your rights: you can either plead guilty now and pay a $10 fine, or you can appear in court on Tuesday morning and contest the citation."
"I think itís best." He begins to write the ticket. We wait in silence as he writes. He does
not hurry.
While he writes a question comes to me. "How did this lake get its name?" I ask Wright. Wright knows the answer and is eager to tell me. "If you look carefully at an old
Pennsylvania map of this area," he says, "you will see that there was a creek running through here called Big Goat Creek."When they decided to dam up the creek and make a recreational lake and State Park, somebody got the idea that Big Goat State Park was not the finest name they ever heard so it was decided to change it to little Buffalo State Park even though as far as anyone knows there have never been any buffalo around here."
"Are there any fish in this lake?" Liddy wants to know.
Both officers are indignant . . . they speak at the same time, "This lake is full of fish," says Wright. "We stocked it with bass, muskie, trout, and bluegills," says the Chief.
"I fish here myself," says Wright, giving ultimate legitimacy to the exercise. "Caught a bunch of bass just the other night . . . right over there." He points.
"What did you catch them on?" I ask.
"A Mister Twister," he answers
"The chief finally finishes writing the ticket and hands it to Wright. "Read it to him," he orders.
Wright clears his throat and begins to read, haltingly. "Charge: Rules and Regulations ó Display of Numbers. Nature of offense ó did operate a eleven-foot Sears boat powered with an electric motor without displaying registration number Pa 5662 AB validated 3-16-83.
"Being charged with violating the Fish and Boat Code, you have a right to a hearing and summary proceeding in accordance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. If you elect to sign this acknowledgement, you are forfeiting such rights."
He hands me the ticket. I stare at it, trying to read the fine print. It is signed by Waterways Patrolman and District Officer, A. Turner Leaner. I sign the ticket and hand it back. The leaner gives me a carbon copy, and says, conspiratorially . . . we are old friends, "you understand how important this is, Loo. Sometime we have to make examples of people so things donít get completely out of hand."
"Oh yes," I say, "thatís very clear. We taxpayers are lucky to have people like you out here upholding the law."
He smiles, nodding in agreement. They push off, "Have a nice day," he calls as they move away.
Liddy and me drift in silence for a while, casting our lines indifferently, pondering our fate. Finally I speak, "What will the children say when they find out their father is a criminal?"
"They will probably send their mother a sympathy card," says Liddy.
More silence, then Liddy flicks another dart, "I always thought your eyes were a little beady," she says.
I pick up a small sheet of paper from the tackle box and look at it carefully, then comment, "The information on this sheet is written in French and English. Did you know that Fat-Rap in English translates to Grand Plongeur in French?"
"Vous ne dites pas?" Liddy knows French.
"Hereís one thatís called Esperance. I guess as long as we donít lose that one weíll make it."
Liddy smiles and nods, "Oui," she says.

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