Mick Duffy is only 6 years old. But he’s the son, grandson and great-grandson of accomplished West River litigators. So he’s pretty good with a question.
Like this one: “Where’s the bait?”
In angling circles, that’s the equivalent of “Where’s the beef?” a question used by the fast-food restaurant Wendy’s in 1984 ads making unflattering appraisals of competitors’ burgers. The line was also used that year by Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale to challenge the substance of primary opponent Gary Hart’s agenda.
Since then, “Where’s the beef?” has been absorbed into the collective conversation to question the value or substance of things. “Where’s the bait?” as used by grandson Mick, was clearly challenging my fishing philosophy — and perhaps my intellect — as we rocked gently on the docks up at the north ramp at Pactola Reservoir, fishing artificial lures for trout.
We weren’t exactly making a killing, as Brad Pitt would describe a successful day of trout fishing in “A River Runs Through It.” We weren’t making much of anything, in fact, other than a lot of casts and a lot of retrieves.
The “we” in this story wasn’t just Mick and me. Mick’s Grandma Mary joined us, along with grandsons Jackson, 9, Lenny, 5, and Torin, 4. We were packing my 6-weight fly rod, an assortment of kid-friendly spin-cast outfits and one light spinning rod and reel.
Oh, and artificial lures, which I much prefer to bait — live, dead or preserved.
I picked Pactola because of a recent Game, Fish & Parks Department stocking of rainbow trout averaging 2 pounds. It takes a while for stockers to leave the area of the release, so it’s typically a target-rich environment.
Still, I wanted to test the fishing a bit the day before we took the grandsons out. For that I took the 6 weight and some woolly buggers and a spinning outfit and a couple of small, white marabou jigs.
The rainbows were still where you’d expect to find them, bunched up and suspended midway up in the water column in the shade of the docks or cruising along the shoreline down at the edge of deeper, darker water.
I fiddled around for a while rigging up, before hooking and eventually losing a rainbow on the jig. Then I caught a couple more on the fly rod with a woolly bugger, figuring that was enough survey work to know the trout would be there.
Next day, Lenny and Torin soon got more interested in playing with dip nets than casting. Jackson and Mick were resolute, however, and had cast for quite a while before Mick posed the “Where’s the bait?” question. He wore a steely, interrogatory expression that turned to one of amazement at my answer: “I don’t use bait.”
I told him I didn’t like to mess with real bait, which fish are more likely to swallow meaning they are likely die if released. And I release most of my fish.
Mick listened with polite skepticism. And he seemed encouraged later when I used a woolly bugger to catch a nice rainbow, which he netted for me.
“Do you want to release it or should I?” I asked.
Mick was outraged: “But I like to eat trout!”
So I agreed to keep it. I would have, too, except that as the grandkids gathered and touched it, the trout flipped out of the net and flopped back in the water.
Mick watched with a forlorn demeanor. But he returned to casting, albeit with a question that finally evolved into a statement: “We need some bait.”
OK, OK, next time.