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WHAT'S FISHING ABOUT? WORK, REWARDS AND A GREAT SETTING

Sometimes you have to wonder what this game of fishing is all about. Consider this:

You take a long drive, often over a dusty road, to get some place where no one else is, probably because they wouldn't want to be there in the first place.You end up throwing something into the water that no one, given a choice, would touch. And

you toss it at something you can't see, and may never see, and hope that whatever it is that's under there doesn't find what you're throwing as unappealing as you do.

After long hours of waiting, your legs start to hurt, your back aches, your arms get heavy and you swear if you have to watch the tip of the pole a second longer you'll go blind. But you watch it, waiting for the tell-tale sign, a bouncing tip, that tells you something has found your gob of punctured and mutilated nightcrawler or shiny hunk of metal appetizing.

It usually turns out that this quick tug is: A. the wind; B. your foot; C. blurry eyes; D. none of the above - but not a fish, either.

And even when you do catch a fish, deciding what to do with it can be as disconcerting as giving money to a panhandler. If it's too big you feel guilty about keeping it, and if it's too small you feel cheated by not keeping it.

You fish with a rod as stiff as licorice, with line that knots at will, with a reel that tangles at the most inopportune times, wearing boots that leak, and with baits and lures bearing names in no way tied to fishing - "Jig-A-Low," "Sassy Shiner," "SkinHead," "Mean Dude," and "Krocodile."

Why, then, does anyone fish?

For the very reasons mentioned.

Where else can you go and hear only the leaves rattling, the waters moving and the winds passing . . . and no honking horns, no ringing phones, no blaring radios touting cars with radios that aren't radios, copying machines that copy and sales on products you bought just last week at full retail.

Certainly, there is no finer smell than that carried by the wind as it passes over meadow, marsh and trout stream, no quieter sound than that heard beside a lake on a still day as the sun begins its final salute, and no deeper sense of belonging than is attained by standing at river's edge at mid-morning, rod-bent and fish-on.

And really, when you think about it, that old hunk of worm may not really look too bad. Check the alternative - bugs. A big, fat, slippery nightcrawler probably looks like a catered banquet to a trout.

Most amazing of all, though, is the arsenal of hooks that are out there to throw. Scientific species and family names have nothing on the fishing companies - "Double Action-Tail Bass-Its" and "Alaskabous" and "Black Maribou Muddlers."

Maribou jigs look like a duster for a doll house, but they attract fish like an invitation to an all-you-can-eat worm farm. Flatfish resemble anything but a living thing, yet they remain one of the world's most popular fishing tools. Spoons are nothing more than fancy paintings on bits of metal, and quite possibly could appeal to the cultural side of the underwater breed, but they catch fish.

And there are lines that float, or sink, or are finer than a hair, or tell the depth, or even change colors.

There are lures that sink, swim and float; scents that appeal to the "tiger" in the fish; cheeses that are both colorful and aromatic underwater; and even little bells, horns and whistles to tell you when fish come calling.

Thoughts of fishing may not always strike a responsive chord. It can be a long drive, and maybe a long wait at the favorite fishing hole.

But look what you get - messy fingers, tired arms, maybe a tangled line and a jammed reel, a quiet morning on a river bank, a close look at a budding flower, the bite of a cool mountain breeze.

Best of all, there's that always present chance that somewhere, sometime, under all that water, there's a fish that's about to take a liking to whatever it was you tied to the end of your line and tossed out.