Reliving childhood fishing days

Posted: Friday, June 02, 2000

FAIRBANKS -- Looking out the window of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game this week brought a smile to Richard Barnes' face.

Each day since Saturday, when Fish and Game held its annual Fishing is Fun Day, there has been a crowd of kids surrounding the small pond outside Fish and Game headquarters on College Road in Fairbanks.

The pond was stocked with 500 rainbow trout for Saturday's event and there were plenty left over after a rainy day resulted in a relatively small crowd of kids fishing for them.

Consequently, kids have been rolling into Fish and Game all week fishing for those leftovers.

''There's a stack of bicycles laying in the dirt out here,'' said Barnes on Thursday afternoon. ''It does my heart good to see that, kids being able to ride their bicycles someplace to go fishing, those big, red and white bobbers bouncing on their fishing poles.''

Barnes grew up in Minnesota doing that exact same thing. He used to ride his bright red Schwinn to Meadow Brook, which ran through the back of his father's farm, and fish for brook trout.

He rode holding his fishing pole with his index finger against the handlebar, ''hoping you didn't crash,'' he said. Barnes carried his worms in one of his father's Prince Albert pipe tobacco cans. When he caught fish, he strung them on a willow stick.

While memories of my childhood fishing career aren't nearly as vivid as Barnes', I do remember riding my bike to Newlin Brook and fishing for brook trout with my brothers while growing up in Vermont. I still can recall the day my brother, Bill, caught what we all considered a massive brown trout in that brook.

Instead of Prince Albert cans -- my dad has never smoked -- we used old dog food cans before graduating to custom-made plastic worm containers called Tupperware. We had a few old wicker creels that belonged to my father and grandfather that we used to stash any fish we were fortunate enough to catch. I spent a good part of my time fishing for salamanders under rocks.

I was 9 when we moved from Vermont to New York. The only fishing we did then was for sunfish in a neighbor's small pond. There weren't any other places to ride your bike to go fishing. A few years later, working on the family dairy farm took precedence over fishing in the summer.

In Fairbanks, there are only a few places kids can ride their bikes to go fishing.

The Chena River is one, but it's restricted to catch and release for grayling and most kids aren't keen on catch-and-release fishing. Ballaine Lake on Farmer's Loop and Outboard Pit behind Greer Tank in south Fairbanks, both of which are actively stocked by Fish and Game, are two others.

Fish and Game began stocking Ballaine Lake just a few years ago, and it has developed into a favorite for kids and adults.

''It's become a real popular fishery,'' said sport fish biologist Mike Doxey, area management biologist for Fish and Game's sport fish division in Fairbanks. ''It's a pretty spot, it's well-maintained, and it's socially safe.''

On Tuesday, there were a half dozen people testing the waters of Ballaine Lake, one of which was 16-year-old fly fisher Clayton Rue, who had ridden his mountain bike to the lake from his home nearby.

There were no Prince Albert cans in sight and Rue carried his gear in a nice backpack.

He had a fishing vest stuffed in the pack and a tube to carry his fly rod.

Despite the fact he failed to entice any trout to bite, Rue had a smile on his face. The mosquitoes weren't too bad and fishing beats watching TV, he said.

''It's a good way to pass time,'' said Rue, packing up for the ride home.

It is at that.

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