December: Understanding the Foul Hook

Babes In Boyland, a Mad In Pursuit Diary


mad in pursuit home

about me


snowy creekside

“Get anything?”

We stood face to face, fishing poles in hand. I was packing up the car after a couple hours on Irondequoit Creek, annoyed that my plug had jammed irretrievably under a sunken boulder. It was a darling lure I’d found among my husband’s abandoned fishing tackle – a silver minnow with two treble hooks that darted and bobbed in the current.

“I felt a little something… maybe…” Hell. “To tell the truth, I don’t actually know enough to say for sure.”

The stranger took off his black cap to run his fingers through his thick silver hair, aware perhaps that it was his best feature. “Don’t see many women fisherman… fisherpeople. They say women are more sensitive to what’s going on at the end of their lines.” He rubbed the tips of his fingers with his thumb. “Fewer calluses maybe.”

He went on to tell me that his greatest thrill as a fisherman happened just last week when he took his granddaughter to the Genesee River and helped her catch a 10-pound steelhead. “Seth Green,” he said. “Under the Driving Park Bridge. It’s blown out now, but go there anytime all winter and you’ll catch something.”

Without shame, I asked him to explain blown out. I’d seen the term on the forum at but had assumed it meant no more fish.

If you can’t play fair in a game, what are you doing with the rest of your life?”

“No,” the stranger said. “It means the water is high and turbid, so you have to use something flashy to catch the fish’s attention – big silver spoon or something with a long tail.”

When he started asking me about my technique, I mumbled incoherently. Technique? 

“Are you drifting your hook downstream?”

Was I? What was the right answer? He showed me his rig – a small yellow bead on a salmon hook, with a couple big splitshot above. “See, what you have to do is fish the bottom by Braille. Cast upstream and watch till your line stops moving. You’re on the bottom. Then reel it in. In a thousand casts you mostly feel the pull against rocks, but once in a while a big trout is waiting there for you to serve him something he’s in the mood to eat.”

I paid close attention to his advice, trying to etch the picture into my brain. Upstream-downstream gives me that momentary brain paralysis that left-right does. Upstream? Doesn’t casting upstream make your line go slack and cause tangles?

Before I could sort through this puzzle, the stranger nodded toward a guy in waders who was fishing twenty feet away from us. “He’s casting illegally. Look how he’s jerking the line up, trying to foul-hook something.” He shook his head. “It’s a game, fishing is. If you can’t play fair in a game, what are you doing with the rest of your life?” the unsupervised backwaters of your deepest passions, your frustration demands a short-cut...

I drove away thinking about that and about those moments when the fish becomes a symbol for your heart’s desire… so close… There in the unsupervised backwaters of your deepest passions, your frustration demands a short-cut. You look down at the indifferent trout and it becomes the lover who won’t call, the spouse who turns away, the best-friend who hangs out with someone new. You obsess over it – the loss of control is intolerable – you’ll show that beast who’s boss! You jerk the line. Gotcha! I may be new to fishing but I recognize that moment. It’s the teary-eyed guilt trip, the handy short-cut when your lover, your spouse, your friend is indifferent to the color of your bait, the spin of your lure, the deftness of your presentation. Turn on the tears. Foul hook.

Of course, sometimes you don’t even realize what you’re doing. That night I re-read the New York State Fishing Regulations Guide and it appears the lively plug I was using – with its two treble hooks – is also illegal this time of year.


Irondequoit Creek: DEC Public Fishing Information

Channing H Philbrick Park Trail (formerly known as Linear Park), along the Irondequoit Creek in Penfield NY

The Falls Trail -- historically important place for goggling at salmon as they head upstream.

SGOH-SA-IS-THAH ("smashing water against rock") Falls at Philbrick Park.