Watershed moments exist on a spectrum. Their area of effect varies as does your realization of their occurrence. Sometimes, you’re fortunate enough to realize what’s happening. You discover a new household brand or a better way to complete an everyday task. Someone teaches you a recipe that becomes a favorite. You realize with stark clarity that a beloved family member is old now. You hold your nephew for the first time. You realize you are in love.
Some of these experiences just crack the lens through which you view the world, while others are glass-shattering experiences that break a piece of your existence with enough volume to make you stop and listen.
It’s great when that happens, but it doesn’t always go down like that. Not every watershed moment causes you to hold your breath at the time or stop to reflect. Many quietly change your life, and it is only afterward, with careful introspection, that you realize the value of the moment.
In today’s world, very little is new or novel, but there are so many nooks in our world that you can always find something new to you.
As a guy from a small town who went to a small school with an even smaller cross-section of humanity, most of my early adulthood was drinking from a firehose as I realized just how little I knew. The internet was in its infancy during my childhood. We didn’t travel much and apart from books, I had few injections of the novel or alien in my semi-charmed, sheltered life.
So when my freshman biology class went on our school’s annual “Biology Trip” to the Oregon Coast, it was mind-blowing. My science teacher, Mr. Doug Dean, put together a full itinerary that involved climbing rocks, hiking trails, tidepooling and fishing. We went out on the ocean in a fleet of boats more suited to the lake, but conditions were so calm, the only risk was seasickness.
At this point, 14-year-old Luke had only fished for trout, sunfish and bass and that almost exclusively with ultralight gear. So when I was handed a medium spinning outfit tipped with a large lure, I was out of my element. The “Firetiger” Wild Eye Swim Shad lures we used were four inches long — the size of many stream trout I chased every summer — and heavy enough to plummet to the nearshore depths in a few seconds.
We quickly caught rockfish after rockfish and even a few lingcod in the fray. Several of us got queasy, and a few chummed the waters, but I managed to avoid the latter on my first two forays out on the ocean.
I returned home with an entirely new repertoire of fishing knowledge, and Mr. Dean even let me keep a few of the Firetiger swimbaits. The gaudy red, green, orange and black lures were hardly natural, but I decided to use one in my local trout waters and my life was never the same.
When those rubber swimbaits hit the road and came home with me, it took me a few days before I used them.
Now, I can’t be 100 percent sure if it was this trip or another coming back from the Rogue Valley for a sporting event, but I do remember being the only student awake in the van as Mr. David Wehr drove home, the other van in tow.
I was sitting dead-center in the front bench seat while my classmates all snoozed behind me when the windshield was smashed. Part of me remembers a large sheet of unsecured plywood flying off a trailer in front of us while another part makes me think the hood latch failed and let the hood fly into the windshield, the glass completely fractured and spidered but still held together by the safety glass coating. With a calm demeanor that left me awestruck and speechless at the time, Mr. Wehr just calmly pulled the van over.
No one had been injured, and we made it home, but that memory was one of the few that literally smashed the glass of my experience in the moment even as its effects continued on.
I was too young to drive, and fishing was very much an “only if you can’t be hunting or playing sports” activity in the Ovgard household. Still, the first opportunity I had, I threw the now hallowed swimbait into my home waters and hooked up on one of the biggest trout I’d ever caught. We still ate trout then, abysmal as they are on your plate, and I remember being extremely proud. I convinced my dad to stop on the side of a nearby stream because it was “more scenic,” to take the picture (never mind the fact that the trout I was holding was infinitely larger than anything found therein).
In the months that followed, I quickly shifted from Firetiger to “Original” coloration in an effort to more closely match the native tui and blue chubs our meat-loving trout feed upon, but otherwise, it was the same lure that caught rockfish and other creatures of the deep in saltwater.
In the nearly 20 years since, those swimbaits are second only to Countdown Rapalas in my arsenal. This particular watershed moment taught me to use bass and saltwater tactics for big trout.
I’ve since caught trout on almost every lure imaginable, from Whopper Ploppers to crankbaits to Senkos to 8-inch, line-through hard-bodied swimbaits. I use heavier line on a reel with stronger drag to limit fight time and keep trout from fighting to the death. I use larger nets to ensure I can keep trout fully submerged while unhooking, and I’m a generally better angler for blurring the lines between tactics, a lesson I never would’ve learned without a Firetiger swimbait.
And though the colors have changed, I still use that exact same swimbait more often than not.
For similar stories, read the author’s book, “Fishing Across America” which is available for preorder now at https://bit.ly/3MKucLp. Sign up for every single CaughtOvgard column at www.patreon.com/CaughtOvgard. Read more for free at caughtovgard.com; Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your continued support of local journalism.
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