After a little practice, I was on my way to catching lots of bait for my fishing group.
As a kid I spent a good part of each summer day seining minnows and crawdads from the creek that gurgled near my parent's home. Sometimes I did it for bait, and other times just to catch them for fun. It never seemed difficult. But for some reason, getting bait for a fishing trip has become a chore since I've gotten older.
During the warmest part of this past summer, my fishing buddies and myself had worked up detailed plans for a catfishing trip to a hydroelectric dam in northern Missouri. It's a place that lots of people flock to because of the monster cats taken out of its tailwaters.
The plan was to fish with fresh shad. It's the bait that produces the big cats and it's usually in ample supply, if you just toss your short cast net a few feet from the bank. I've found out since then that "usually" is a word you should never depend on.
With no bait, we proceeded to make the drive and worry about the shad when we arrived. After the hour of anticipation and driving was over, we toppled out of the truck and piled our gear around it. A hundred-yard walk with gear in hand put us at the water's edge.
There were already plenty of groups of catfishermen strewn down the long tailwater. After the first bit of excitement left us, the realization started to kick in. The long faces on the fishermen were telling us something. "Nobody's catching shad," said a local as he walked by. When we took a closer look, there were plenty of people tossing cast nets in the swift, murky waters, but not one of them brought in shad.
It's one of those situations where you just can't go home, so you do the same hopeless thing that everyone else does – pick up the cast net and give it a go. I quickly stared at my buddies and wondered who was going to start tossing the net since I didn't have a clue how. Strangely enough, my fishing buddies were all looking at me. In our usual sort of preparation we realized that not a single person in the group could throw the new Old Salt Cast Net we'd brought. After some finger-pointing and maybe a little cussing, they ended up forcing me to do the tossing.
I've only thrown a cast net a few times, and it was just for fun. My concern of looking like an idiot was at an all-time high. I walked to the water's edge and watched a few old fellows toss their nets into a beautiful circle that plopped perfectly into the water. That can't be too hard I thought.
My first cast didn't draw much attention even though it never made it airborne, and I almost drowned myself. After regaining a little composure, I tried again and again. After 50 throws, only about a quarter of which actually looked decent, I still hadn't caught a thing. I went back and read the accompanying instructions and focused on making better throws. Only a few minutes later I started to get the hang of it.
With the net throwing well, I was gaining a little confidence. I actually caught a few crappie and a channel cat. I threw them back and kept after the shad. Once I got used to the net, it didn't seem hard to throw at all. It never tangled up because of its monofilament construction and it was tough as nails. More than once I caught a jagged boulder on the bottom and had to pull hard to get the net off. It would always come back unscathed.
Then, completely out of the blue, I tossed the net out, gave it a tug and it seemed heavy. I pulled as fast as possible, and sure enough I could feel something in it. At the first glimpse, all I could see was something shiny and alive. When I lifted it out of the water it was heavy with shad of all sizes. Some were 7- or 8-inches long. Luckily, I had caught a surplus of bait and had enough for my group and the folks around me.
The Old Salt Casting Net survived a beginner's clumsiness and came out a winner – I couldn't even tear it up. It was tough enough to take on the rocks. The Old Salt did the trick and it wasn't nearly as expensive as some of the nets the other fishermen were throwing and it did the job just as well.