SPORTS

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October 20, 2003

The Great Outdoors: An Amerikanski fishes in Poland

I spent several weeks in Poland this summer. Now, I just can't go that long without trying to catch something or shoot something, so before my departure, I determined that I needed a plan. I don't have the kind of money necessary to arrange to transport or rent firearms, hire local outfitters and guides, procure the necessary licenses and tags, and so forth, so I figured that hunting was out of the question. I also don't know when the various seasons run over there.

That left fishing. Quite often, when I go down to Lake Michigan to cast for perch or trout, I run into Polish guys and they chat with me about fishing in the old country. So on my way to Poland, I decided that if these guys can fish in my country, I can fish in theirs.

Fortunately, fishing is a very mobile sport. I had received a collapsible rod as a gift a few months prior, and I threw some lures, line, bobbers, and whatnot into a small tackle box. I assumed bait would be the easy part—if I couldn't buy it, I could always use leftovers from the cafeteria or dig around in the dirt after a good rainstorm. In Poland I bought my license and some nightcrawlers, packed a lunch and a beer, grabbed my tackle box and fishing rod, and rode the bus to a reservoir a few miles out of town. I found a nice little point jutting out into the water, dropped my stuff and set about rigging up.

Then it hit me. I had everything except hooks. Good Lord, how could I forget something so basic? The nearest bait shop was miles away. Time for Plan B. I noticed a gentleman fishing about fifty yards down (oh, right, this is Europe—about fifty METERS down). So I went over to him, made a bit of small talk, and asked if I could borrow a number-ten hook.

This very pleasant gentleman gave me a hook, and I sauntered back to my spot by the water. Then I noticed that this particular hook requires a special type of knot. I know about a dozen or so knots, but I didn't know this one. So I went back to see my new buddy and asked him to tie it for me. He obliged, very patiently. We chatted a bit more—I'm from Chicago; he has some distant relatives there (surprise, surprise).

I returned to my little piece of shoreline and started casting. Now, proper fishing with a bobber requires that you spend a bit of time balancing the rig, adding just enough weight so that the faintest nibble will pull the bobber under the water. Too much weight and the bobber sinks to the bottom; not enough and a crocodile can't pull it down.

I was playing around with this, casting out, hauling in, adding and subtracting split-shot sinkers. Somehow, this attracted my friend's attention, and he came over and decided to "help." I knew what I was doing (this time), but he had been so helpful, and my conversational Polish was still a work in progress, so I had no way of politely telling him that I had it under control and he should go away. He screwed around with it for a few minutes, adding way too much weight, then declared everything "in order" before returning to his spot. I quickly re-adjusted the weights and started fishing. Things were pretty uneventful for a little while. Then I cast out to where I had seen some bubbles rising, and half the line came off my spool and got tangled. This has never happened to me before, nor has it since. I think that for whatever reason, the fishing gods were making an example of me that day.

My neighbor looked over at me and just shook his head; he didn't want to get involved. I was a lost cause. He must have thought I was a moron, and, based on what he had observed, this would have been a perfectly reasonable conclusion. I just hope the image of my tangled line doesn't become this man's impression of American outdoorsmen in general.

I untangled most of my line, cut and retied the rest, and got back to fishing. But by then it was getting late, and I didn't want to miss my bus only to end up camping by the mosquito-swarmed reservoir. I decided to call it a day and head home.

I missed my bus stop and got lost downtown, then returned to my dorm room to find the lights blown out. It was that kind of day. No fish caught, my pride in tatters—at least my body wasn't injured or wet. My dream of a (successful) fishing tour of Europe would have to wait another week.