I recently visited a place that revived some very special fishing memories. It’s not a place filled with exotic wildlife or white sand beaches. But the air is still crisp and clean and the landscape beautiful with song birds providing familiar background music. As I looked across the water I felt I hadn’t been gone long, though it had been many years since I’d stood there – the precise spot where I caught my first fish on a rod and reel. I remember the fish and the day well, a freshly stocked rainbow trout on a cold, frosty spring morning. As I walked a short section of shoreline I realized Hinkle Lake hadn’t changed much. Several people were fishing along shore, many in spots I remember people standing the last time I fished there. I stopped and chatted with a few as they waited patiently for a trout to tap their baits. Each was a warm and pleasant conversation about fishing, brimming with the determination and anticipation all dedicated anglers share. As I walked away I felt like I’d just talked with long-time neighbors, though I’d never met any of them before that morning.
I have many special childhood memories of Hinkle and Deegan Lakes, small watershed lakes in my home town of Bridgeport, West Virginia. As a young lad I thoroughly explored both these lakes though I was much too young to own a boat or drive a vehicle to get one there. But I never felt I was missing something by walking the shorelines. At that age I was equally attracted to anything alive and moving whether it was in the water or close to it. I used my rod and reel where undergrowth and trees opened enough to cast and the rest I explored visually, often on hands and knees. My most memorable catch during those days occurred on Deegan Lake when I found a sun-baked shallow flat filled with spawning red-spotted newts. I didn’t need my rod and reel to catch them so I propped it against a tree, rounded up some kind of container and waded into the lake to spend the rest of the afternoon catching newts. I don’t remember giving thought to a creel limit on newts, or wondering if it was legal to harvest them, so I continued catching them until the evening chill forced me out of the water. I’m sure I caught fifty or more of the beautiful salamanders, a banner day for any multi-animal angler. Aside from the trout fishing, that afternoon is one of my most memorable times on these tiny Bridgeport lakes. It also ranks as a memorable event among family members because I had no idea unsupervised newts could crawl out of a sink so easily.
As I walked the shores of Deegan Lake my mind was flooded with many past fishing experiences in West Virginia. I recalled a sunny afternoon on Dog Run Lake in Salem when a kind, elderly gentleman taught me how to tie an Improved Clinch Knot. Strange, but I still remember every detail including his name, what he was wearing, and his patient tutoring as he explained the importance of a good knot. Over time, I learned to troll for trout in many local waters including the Bridgeport lakes, upper and lower Dog Run Lakes, Conaway Run Lake and others. Later, when I became more mobile, the Potomac Highlands along the eastern border of the state became my favorite outdoor destination. My fishing companions and I referred to it, simply, as “The Mountains”. Pocahontas County, perhaps best known as the home of Snowshoe Ski Resort, became a center point for frequent fishing excursions where I learned to catch trout in the Highland’s countless streams and lakes. I learned to stream fish on Shavers Fork, Glady Fork, Laurel Fork, the East Fork of the Greenbrier and others that flow through the scenic mountain valleys. Spruce Knob Lake at the highest point in the state and Buffalo Lake in Pocahontas County became classrooms for my continuing education on trolling for trout. The picturesque region became so special to me I took my prospective bride from Tennessee there many years later for her first fishing adventure. Over time, she fell so in love with West Virginia, the people, and Bridgeport, she insisted we get married there.
My son and his family recently moved back to the area so I plan to revisit some of my favorite fishing spots with him, and explore some new ones. I’m anxious to apply the things I’ve learned about catching fish to Stonecoal and Summersville Lakes, both relatively new reservoirs when a job transfer moved me from West Virginia in 1978. And Stonewall Jackson Lake’s fine bass fishing is close to the top of my priority list. However, I look most forward to visiting some of the small streams and ponds where I learned to fish and recalling the memories many will revive. The time will come soon when we take my grandson Cody to some of these places to begin making new fishing memories with him. I’ve been fortunate to have fished many places for many types of fish, from muskies in Ontario and smallmouth bass in the highland lakes of Tennessee to pike in Minnesota and largemouth bass in the Deep South. But through the years and all that good fishing there’s one thing I learned that is often overlooked by many anglers; the best fishing memories are made most special by the time shared with close friends and family members, not by the fish you catch. And as I stood looking across Deegan Lake with a flood of memories rushing through my mind, I realized, there’s no place like home.