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Tight Lines Form Strong Bonds

by Shawn Crouse
Assistant Fisheries Biologist

Iím no different from any other angler; I love to catch big fish and lots of them. Nothing gets me all fired up like catching bronzeback after bronzeback on a three-day Delaware River float trip; battling toothy northern pike on big flashy spoons as the rain hits the water; drifting live herring for browns, rainbows and lakers on a gorgeous summer day; or the thrill of pulling in monster channel cats on a big wad of chicken liver at midnight. Fishing at its best simply cannot be beaten.

Most agree that a good fishing story needs a big fish, but I recognize another common theme: my favorite fishing memories come from sharing the excitement of the sport with friends and family.

First, thereís my best friend Ross with whom Iíve fished from the very beginning. I remember just like it was yesterday, going through my motherís kitchen cabinets looking for twist ties, you know the ones used to tie up garbage bags. She asked me what on earth was I planning to do with twist ties. I explained, "We need to fasten our fishing poles to the frame of our bikes so we can ride down to the river to go fishing." I canít remember how many fish we caught that day or how late we were for dinner, but I can say those bicycle trips to the river provided all the adventure we could handle. Those fishing trips were what we lived for; they were just the beginning of countless good times.

Ross with nice smallmouth
Ross with nice smallmouth...and friend Copper!
Click to enlarge

In eighth grade, we began an adventure of paramount proportions; I bought my first boat. No longer were we bound to the shoreline. We were liberated from the confines of dry land. Poison ivy no more. We would fish from sunup to long after sundown. One thing we learned very quickly was irony. I remember the two of us casting the shoreline for smallies. I was using a silver blue fox lure and Ross was using a yellow rooster tail, trying to cast as close as we possibly could to any shoreline structures we could find, knowing fish would be lurking within. The closer we got to the bank, the better the cast, the more fish we caught.

We laughed uncontrollably when we realized that for years while fishing from the river banks, we tried desperately to reach the middle of the open water. Now in a boat, we were trying to reach the shoreline! I guess itís all about perspective.

We caught a lot of fish that summer and learned many valuable lessons. In fact, thereís a story we still share today and can summarize in one sentence: "It is never worth sinking your boat in an attempt to retrieve a treed $1.97 Rooster Tail!" Iíll leave the details to your imagination, but three things will paint the picture (1) we got to shore safely, (2) we were able to retrieve the boat (and most of the gear), and (3) you have enough information to figure out whose cast into the tree got us into that debacle.

The bottom line is that today we are still the best of friends. As kids, we had a lot of things going for us. Not only did we grow up three doors away from one another, we also found a common bond. While other kids were obsessed with video games and television, our intrigue for the great outdoors, expressed primarily through fishing, bonded us as best buds. Amazingly enough, our careers further bond us; we are both proud employees of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Lori Crouse with nice lake trout
Lori Crouse with nice lake trout
Click to enlarge

For me, fishing with someone special can turn a good fishing trip into a great one. It can turn a cloudy, no-catch day into a day to remember.

I recall the last day of the Forks of the Delaware Shad Tournament. I was fishing with my girlfriend of three years in my small boat. During previous years, I boated fish after fish in the same location, during the same time of year; but as you know, shad fishing can be feast or famine. This day, the fishing was slow, so I decided to pick up the anchor and try a new location. Knowing a thing or two about fishing, my girlfriend commented, "We are not going to catch any shad here." I knew she was right, but I had an ulterior motive.

Like we fishermen often do, I made up an excuse about why we should catch more fish here as opposed to there. We sat in this new location, which was notably distant from any other anglers, for approximately 20 minutes. That was enough time to muster up the courage to reach into my tackle box and nervously pull out a rather small box containing a rather large diamond ring. Although not a single shad was caught that day, I was fortunate to land the catch of my life when she accepted my proposal.

Last fall, I was humbly honored to have my grandfather stand beside me as my best man during our wedding. Pop joked with me before the ceremony, saying that I should ask my wife to add the following line to her vows, "Shawn shall be allowed to fish as often as he wishes."

Pop and I go fishing as often as we can, but not unlike other New Jersey anglers, those trips are far fewer than either of us would like. The pressures and demands of this fast-paced world often leave little time for recreation. I have come to one conclusion: you just have to make the time. On any given outing we may land a trophy lunker or sit in the boat with slack lines; regardless of the outcome, we never complain. Even when the action is relentless, we talk about everything from politics to religion between every cast. It is said that families should make an effort to talk each night at the dinner table. In addition, I highly recommend spending quality time with friends and family on the water.

Fishing is a funny thing. On the surface, there is competition to catch the most and the biggest fish, but deep down there is so much more. Taking friends and family adds another dimension to fishing. When I take them out on my boat, I hope that they catch the big one. I want their experience to be one not only for the photo album, but also the memory book. What mattered is that I was there to share the experience for Rossís first muskie, Popís 21-inch smallmouth bass and my wifeís 500th rock bass. Fishing together is quality time shared.

Rummaging through my garage last week, I came across my old bicycle. Two rusty twist ties, still clinging to the frame, took me back to my days as a boy in the fifth grade, riding alongside my best friend on a summer day, primed and ready for a fishing adventure. I think Iíll give him a call. We havenít been out on the water since . . . well, itís been about three weeks. Thatís too long if you ask me.

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Last Updated: May 23, 2005