I must have been about 12 years old. I was riding my bike on the brick lake path just to the East of the Southwick Creek bridge. It was early November, it was getting dark, and I was in a
hurry to get home. I was petrified of the dark those days. Petrified until I spotted Mel Hansen’s old pick up truck parked by the stream. Yes, The Mel, perhaps most famous in our small Village as being the operator of Hansen’s Pier and Bait. Thankfully, that business has been immortalized in the paintings of Tom Heflin. If you’ve seen those paintings, Mel’s the one wearing his trademark long billed cap. Frank Drabek is the fella wearing the red and black plaid jacket. I spent many summer afternoons listening to Mr. Drabek regale me with fishing stories from times long past. But that’s another post.
Mel owned a few of the little fish houses that used to dot the shoreline of the Bay, before the big bad Village decided to construct the two large Municipal boat piers sometime around 1990. On that rainy day, it wasn’t Mel’s truck that stopped me in my tracks. It was the giant Brown Trout flopping angrily in the bed of that truck. Mel had just caught that 20″+ fish in about 12 inches of water, and opened the eyes of this little 12 year old to the frustrating world of trout fishing Southwick Creek. Frustrating because I’ve fished off the mouth for 18 years, and have yet to catch a trout in the lake. I’ve caught them in the stream on little flies, I’ve grabbed 18 inch Brown’s with my bare hands for the lasting glory of a photo, but I’ve never caught one in the lake. You know who has caught one? Perry McKittrick. He caught the Wisconsin state inland record Brown Trout (18.6 lbs!) in Geneva.
I approached Mel, timid and quite worried that he’d remember me from the time that I pumped gas into my dad’s Boston Whaler without having money on hand to pay him. I can’t remember if I ever paid him for that gas… Mel was kind, and told me how the Brown Trout run up that little trickle of a stream in the fall to spawn. You fish at dusk when it’s raining because the fish need cover, and a dark sky and muddied water provide just that. Yes, that little stream that you thought was just full of tadpoles and silt is a vital cog in the reproductive cycle of the brown trout that have thrived in the cool, dark waters of Geneva Lake for centuries. I spent some time fishing (watching) with Mel that fall, and for a few falls after. I endured rain soaked November nights during much of the early 1990’s fishing at that creek mouth. The village dredged the small Bay there in about 1996, and that disrupted the fishing for a few years.
Mel doesn’t fish much these days. I don’t really either. Drowning worms off my parents pier with my kids doesn’t count. I caught the trout in these photos with my son last fall in the stream, and they’re still swimming. I always let fish go. No, I don’t fish much, but I’ll still be tempted to throw a little cleo lure off the mouth on rainy November nights. November nights not unlike we’ll experience tonight. I just might have to find that little cleo. Honk if you see my car occupying Mels old spot.
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