On the Hook

A smirking muskie taught Shop Boy everything he needs to know about letterpress.

Guess I’d better explain:

Elevenmile Reservoir is one of those places that just feels like nowhere else in the world. Colorado has a bunch of those. It’s about 40 miles west of Colorado Springs, part of the Pike National Forest. It’s at 8,600 feet. Crisp, thin air. Bright, bright, bright, bright sun. Cold, blue water. And trout.

The drought that Colorado’s been going through has played hell with it, though. The water levels are way down, turning outcroppings that’d normally be underwater snagging your lures into odd, above-ground rock formations. Haunting, if you know what the place looks like in wetter times. And the northern pike — muskies to some of us — are going bat guano as the big pond shrinks, giving little fish and even some bigger trout no place to hide from their toothy neighbors.

Anyway, Shop Boy and Mary’s dad, Wayne, who lives out there, stepped to the shoreline one lovely morning, wound up and cast red-and-white spoon lures into Elevenmile. Wham! Something jumped my lure seconds after it hit the water and the fight was on. Well, to make a long (big fish) story short, the muskie stopped fighting as it reached the shallows and just sort of looked at me accusingly. Then, with a sudden, violent shake of its head, it snapped the line. Gone? Not hardly. The fish just kind of circled a few times right there in front of me, sizing me up.

I took a step back from the water’s edge. Swear to God.

Later, I actually landed a muskie, which dared me to try to remove the lure from its mouth with my bare fingers. Yes, he smirked. I panicked a little, and fumbled around until the muskie sort of flopped off the line, then I picked the fish up warily and put that big, evil sucker back in the water ASAP.

OK, so … Letterpress Lesson No. 1: Inspect your equipment before using it.

Before the first cast, I’d forgotten to loosen the drag setting on the reel to give the line more “slack” to prevent it from snapping. It’s like the time I didn’t check the grippers on the C&P — flat steel arms that hold the paper steady at impression — and ended up smashing an antique, really cool magnesium die.

Letterpress Lesson No. 2: Know when you’re overmatched.

When you’ve got a difficult feed, running the C&P — or taking a hook from a fish’s mouth — at a slower speed doesn’t make you any less of a man. Better safe than sorry.

Letterpress Lesson No. 3: Read the directions.

That one seems obvious.

But all of these state-run fishing spots have a big board where they post the rules, regulations and such. Wayne and Shop Boy ambled right past it on the way in. Seen a hundred just like it, after all.

On the way out, we saw this: “Fishermen: Please help us preserve the trout population. Harvest any muskies you catch.”

Gulp.

Now the trout are giving me snake-face, too.

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