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Alan Liere: An Opening Day heritage: Sacred family fishing traditions transcend time

Opening day holds a lot of memories for young and old alike. (Rich Landers)
Opening day holds a lot of memories for young and old alike. (Rich Landers)

There was a time not so long ago, that one such as I could not make it through the winter without fishing withdrawals. Lake Roosevelt and Rufus Woods Reservoir were not the year-round fish factories they have become and the Idaho rivers did not open for fishing until June.

In 1952, the opener of the lowland lakes was a really big deal for thousands of winter-weary anglers, and I’m not sure why my father hadn’t taken me fishing before; I was nearly 8 years old. Maybe fishing wasn’t as important in Dad’s life then, or perhaps he had a premonition it would be too important in mine. I only know that on a Saturday night in April, he informed me that the next morning – the traditional Sunday opening day – he would introduce his only son to the wonders of angleworms, salmon eggs and fish slime.

Actually, I suspect Dad had a pretty good idea right away that this was not a normal fisherman-child he had fathered. After warning me that real anglers got an early start, he set his Big Ben alarm for 6:30 a.m. At half past two in the morning, I was standing at the foot of the bed, fully dressed and ready to go. “Is it time yet?” I wanted to know. Dad assured me it was not.

At 3:30, I was back. “Now is it?” I asked hopefully. Again, my father told me no.

At 4:15 Dad finally gave in, rolled out of bed, stumbled around making lots of noise, and finally went into the kitchen where he made oatmeal and cinnamon toast.

At 6 a.m. – a half hour before Dad had planned to get up, he and I were sliding a rented rowboat into Diamond Lake, and from that point on, nothing would be the same again. Never before in my young life had I been on the water in a boat. Never had I smelled such newness. Never had I felt such a sunrise or actually heard the world yawn, roll over and awaken. Soon, I was squealing in delight and awe as an undulating 10-inch trout shattered the mirror beneath us and was swung aboard to drum lustily in the bottom of our boat – it was magical. It was euphoric. I am eternally grateful.

Today, I have fished through all the phases – seeking first the most, then the biggest, then the most exotic. Today, when I want a fish dinner, I find plenty of enjoyment just dangling a worm for perch at Eloika, drifting a nightcrawler for brown trout under the banks of the Colville River, or going out late at night for those delicious Loon Lake kokanee.

This year on opening day, as I have done on many opening days, I slid my boat into Diamond Lake at 6 a.m., motored straight out from the public access and anchored in 25 feet of water. I used Dad’s favorite bait – a single red Mike’s salmon egg on a size 14 hook. Trout still like ’em.

Other opening-day anglers sometimes paused to chat. They were probably amused by my ancient, metal, telescoping rod and the J.C. Higgins level-wind reel – the ones my father gave me that first morning so many years ago. I wished they could also say “Howdy” to my dad, sitting there in the bow seat wearing his white pork pie hat and enjoying the commotion at the launch. I sure do miss him.

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