Technician recalls: From March 14, 2003. This was one of the strangest experiences of my life – visiting the southwest United States during the era of George W. Bush, right before the invasion of Iraq. Lots of kind, friendly people there but a lot of war-crazy wackos too. The ice fishing disaster referred to in this column recalls the time I was with the late Dane Gibson in his brand new Jeep Liberty, which crashed through thin ice on Walsh Lake. Everyone survived except for the jeep and my hat.
Well, I was standing there looking into a deep hole in the desert, supposedly filled with fish and deadmen's brine.
Cowboys passing by used to tie ropes to their saddles and toss them down in search of the bottom but never did find it. One, I heard, was dragged into the watery pit saddle and all. Who knows, all they found were his spurs dug into the side of the cavernous maw.
Sinkholes, the only ones found in the great state of New Mexico, line a cliff face at Bottomless Lake State Park, 20 miles outside of Roswell. In essence, it is a land populated by desert-baked gun nuts, X-File geeks and U.S. Air Force bases.
“Use cheese, them trout love cheese,” the park warden told me as I stared over the lip. It only seemed fitting. Down here, even the critters are junk food junkies.
On thin ice
As many of you by now know, my ice fishing season concluded this year in fabulous disaster. What can one say when they are party to the destruction of a brand new $40,000 sports utility vehicle?
The thought of my favourite rabbit skin hat visibly entombed in an ice block that had formed inside the vehicle's interior was enough to drive me southward, to a place where folks don't run the risk of crashing their cars through thin ice.
Yep, a happy place where trout can be easily goaded with a fresh slice of limburger cheese, or if not that, Ol' Pappy's Blood and Liver Catfish Killer.
Down here, everyone's crazy or seems that way. Maybe it's the sun, or all the guns, or the frenzied patriotism that washed over the country following Sept. 11. I figured I'd fit right in.
And you know what? People are just doggone fishin' crazy down here. I was amazed to see how many people will descend on any body of water larger than a cow pond on the weekend.
At Lake Patagonia in Arizona, which is about the size of Long Lake, I saw no less than three dozen fully loaded, turbo engine bass boats cruising along the shore in search of whatever quarry they could find.
Old men bobbed along in sci-fi inner tubes, complete with umbrellas, fishing rod holders and propeller motors.
“There's some big ol' bass in this lake but most people are only taking crappies,” Steve-O, my campsite neighbour said. “You got any catfish killer?”
Jigging them tarantula legs
Walking into a tackle or bait shop in the U.S. is an utterly surreal experience in itself. There I was in the middle of a desert checking the price of swordfish harpoons. Do I want the $195 titanium model or the econo aluminum one for $29.99? It was pure fishin' geek heaven, I tell ya.
The best, however, was the bait section. Crickets, live giant bullfrogs, crawdaddies, waterdogs and this was at Walmart! There was even what appeared to be tarantula legs – good bass bait, I hear – in styrofoam containers but I didn't ask.
And just to show you they still like us just fine down there (although they still hate the French) they even had some specially imported Canadian blue nightcrawlers in the fridge. Just tie them babies off' with some Canada Dry down at the grocery store.
Yep, you could buy just about any high phalootin' fishin' gizmo you want down there, and I did. The problem is there are no bloody fish. I caught some runt sunfish and a few puny trout but if you ask me, our friends down south are hurtin' real bad.
Even after my shameful ice fishin' season, I could scarcely stay away any longer.
So when I hear all this grief about how the American tourism market is dropping off up here, I don't put much stock in it.
Fishin' down in the ol' sinkhole won't cut it for these folks forever.
God bless our lunker trout and pike. If a knucklehead like me can luck out from time to time, those Americans have plenty to look forward to, even if it costs them $5,000 to do it.
Cheers folks. Good to be back.