A trout is a moment of beauty known only to those who seek it.
—Arnold Gingrich (1903-1976)
I was sitting in the middle of a mayfly hatch, and it was beautiful. Clouds of them drifted through the air. My body was soon covered with them, and I couldn’t help smiling. Their delicate bodies were a dazzling sight, which sparkled like fine jewels. Their double-pronged tails, white and thread-like, waved like antennas in the wind. Their poise was ever-so graceful, and elegant. So taken by them, I missed the only trout willing to snap at my dry-fly.
I anchored my cataraft just off the south shore of Clear Creek Dam, on Clear Lake where the trout were rising. Overhead, an osprey circled; always a good sign. Chris anchored about 300 yards away, and was already casting. It felt good to be back on the water, and conditions couldn’t have been better with fair skies, and gentle breezes; the latter being a rare event for this lake. Aside from a couple of kayakers, we were the only people on the water on a Sunday afternoon. Before making my first cast, I watched and listened, delighting in what was around me. There was the cry of an osprey, the wind rustling the trees along the shore, wavelets lapping against the pontoons, and trout slapping the water; wild solitude at its finest, well, almost.
I’d made about twenty casts when I decided to switch from a Big Black Gnat to a mayfly. Rummaging through my fly box, I looked over at Chris, and saw a large boat bearing down on him. The boat, I thought, was oversized for this water, and was approaching fast. Just shy of reaching him, the boat slowed, and pulled next to him. I couldn’t see what was happening, but the next thing I knew, Chris was rowing to shore, and the boat was on its way over to me. That’s when I knew it was the State Police; three of them in an unmarked boat.
They were checking fishing licenses, and more. One of them asked whether the Subaru was mine. I said, “No, the red truck.” He said, “The Dodge?” and I said, “yes.” (What I didn’t know was that Chris had already stated that we were together, and that the Dodge was ours.) What was up with that? I wondered. Was the officer trying to catch me in a lie? One of the officers asked whether I had a life jacket, and I said, “Not with me.” He then told me I needed to row to shore, so they could check my vessel’s regulations. Vessel? Regulations? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “What regulations?” I asked. He informed me that the cataraft is a boat, and regulations require an air horn or whistle on-board. I was in disbelief. One of the officers then handed me a life jacket, “We’ll loan you this to get to shore. You don’t have to wear it, just keep it next to you.” I thought, if I don’t have to wear it, than what’s the point?
As I pulled my 8 pound anchor, I tried to sort out what was happening. In all my years of fishing, and a decade of them from my cataraft, I’d never heard or experienced anything like this. On shore, as I retrieved my fishing license, I heard one of the officers telling Chris what they had told me, that using a cataraft requires a life jacket and whistle on-board; On-board? I thought that was over the top. While I don’t consider us novice boaters, this was news to us. What I thought even more ridiculous is that no life jacket is required if you wish to swim the lakes or rivers, maybe get a cramp, if not hypothermia, and drown. You can float and fish from an air mattress, inner-tube, or fishing tube on any lake or river, and no life jacket or whistle is required. I sensed that this was not about safety. They were there to write tickets, and nothing more.
The ticket was $260 dollars. The officers suggested writing a letter to the court with photos of our life jackets, and that the judge would likely reduce the fine if not dismiss it. So then, why the ticket? I could only wonder why three State Police were wasting their time with us when someone, somewhere at that very moment, was in need of emergency help. We’re all for obeying the laws, but this seemed frivolous, if not bordering harassment. A warning would have been enough.
We packed up our gear, and left. We contacted the State Marine Board, because the regulation guide is very unclear as to the rules about these small, personal, 9-foot catarafts. The Marine Board did confirm however, that they are considered a boat, a vessel. So with that, we grabbed our PFD life jackets and whistles, and returned to the lake. Having missed the mayfly hatch, we finished out the day casting through clouds of black caddis flies that the trout wouldn’t bite.
Update: Good news, having sent a letter along with photos of our life jackets, the judge dismissed the ticket.
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