It doesn't take much to get hooked on this sporting vacation Gone Fishin'

November 14, 1993|By Mary K. Jones | Mary K. Jones,Contributing Writer

"If you marry me -- you marry a fisherman and need to understand my summer weekends are reserved for fishing."

The first test in this relationship was to spend a weekend fishing. Bait your own hook, clean your own fish -- one trip can tell a lot.

There are magnificent rewards in a relationship like this: One, he's a gourmet cook. Fillets over charcoal on the beach or broiled with a butter sauce, an excellent white wine or champagne, fresh tossed salad greens with radicchio and flower blossoms, wild rice and fresh basil and corn on the cob with spicy hot pepper butter.

Add the power and beauty of the water, settings that range from the mountains to ocean beaches, and it's easy to get hooked on this sport. Last summer was a fisherman's dream come true: We hit three of the best fishing spots the United States has to offer.

Padre Island, off the southwestern Texas shore, attracts college students during spring break, and it also attracts something year-round -- fish. The land formation and water currents combine to provide some of the best fishing grounds in the Gulf Coast.

We arrived in June, which is considered off-season for fishing. The pace in town was relaxed. After stopping at several charter fishing operations to see what they were catching, we chose a deep-water trip. We wanted action, and I wanted fish to take home. Good-size red snapper were biting.

The boat left at 8 a.m. We were told that beer or cola kept you from getting seasick. So, coolers were hoisted, we walked onto the boat, and the drinking began. A third of the fishermen ended up in the cabin, seasick, and stayed there for the duration of the trip.

When the boat arrived at the fishing site an hour later, the fish were on the hooks the minute the lines hit the water. Electric reels weren't for us -- we wanted the experience of feeling these fish fight as we reeled them in. The coolers were stuffed to the brim with our catch.

And this was the off-season! Fall is the time to come to Padre for serious fishing. Runs of tarpon and channel bass are here; trophy-size game fish are biting. But I'm convinced that no matter when you come to this area, the fishing will be good.

On to Montana

We went to the mountains next. On hands and knees, we crawled to a spot behind a clump of willows. We had to be quiet and drop our flies into tiny pools of water that we couldn't even see. We were after wild brook trout, high in the Pioneer Mountain range in Montana, and these fish disappear if they see a shadow or hear a voice.

Best fly fishing

Beaverhead County, surrounding Dillon, Mont., is known as one of the best fly-fishing areas in the world. Its blue-ribbon streams include Beaverhead River, Big Hole River, Madison River and Clark Canyon Dam. There are a number of tiny brook streams where you can catch "brookies."

Guides are often booked more than a year in advance, but get one if you can. Guides know the secret spots and isolated areas. Catch and release -- not because you have to, but because you know the next fish will be bigger -- and sure enough, it is. The best fishing here is between June and September. Early spring has mountain runoff, and the water is full of silt.

We left early in the morning to fish tiny streams that were a foot wide and a foot deep. We stopped along the way to collect live grasshoppers to use for bait, in addition to our assortment of dry flies. If you haven't tried fly fishing, the Montana mountains are a perfect place to start. You can easily catch your limit in an hour or two; many of the pan-sized fish are released to prolong the day.

Take several days

At Clark Canyon Reservoir, you can fish by boat, cast from the shore or float in tubes. A stop at the marina will let you know where the fish are biting and which lures to use. Boat rentals and float tubes are available.

Plan on a several-day vacation. The beauty of the terrain is worth the trip alone.

The towering mountains, rich blue skies and lush green valleys are a treat. Tourists are only beginning to discover the enchantment of this area.

In search of salmon

Our next stop was at Westport in Washington state. It was late August. Our charter fishing boat left the dock at dawn. We were after king salmon.

Twelve miles out, we found our first school of fish. Action was fast, and by noon we had caught our limit. The fishing policy on this trip was that the boat stayed out until everyone caught their limit. We were back at the dock by 5:30 p.m.

A side bonus: The boat crew cleaned the fish. Once again, our cooler was stuffed.

Fall is the best time for salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, you can go after halibut, cod and red snapper. From March until late spring, the charter boats will take you offshore to watch the annual migration of gray whales.

IF YOU GO . . .

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