No Bites, No Fish, No Problem (My Experience at Patagonia Lake)
By Heidi Jaenicke
A fishing disaster doesn’t always mean a failed trip is one lesson I learned while on the boat with my dad one lively afternoon at Patagonia Lake.
While there are no exact explanations as to what caused my day to be so chaotic, I suppose it started with my attitude. I was overly confident in my fishing skills, which undermined the fact that there’s so much more to fishing than just being able to cast out a line. Even though my trip didn’t go 100% according to plan, I’m pleased with the delectable outcome of my adventure.
We began our voyage by driving about an hour and thirty minutes southeast of Tucson to Patagonia Lake. It was a beautiful fall day with abundant sunshine and perfect temperatures. As we drove down towards Patagonia Lake we could feel the essence of Arizona in the fall as the majority of our scenery consisted of vegetation tinted in golden and green hues.
Having such delightful views to observe on our way to the lake was another element that created my high standards for this trip. We were expecting the staff at Patagonia to be eager to help assist and inform us on all we wanted to know on Patagonia Lake, was another misconception my dad and I had. No matter how picturesque the views were, these natural attributes weren’t capable of camouflaging the lack of customer service we experienced at Patagonia Lake. Perfect example of this was when we first arrived at Patagonia Lake entrance and the employees that were collecting the fees seemed to be overly nonchalant and a little too laid back with their job positions. I’m thankful for visitor guide pamphlets and tourist maps, as they proved to be more interaction than the relaxed Patagonia Lake workers who seemed more interested in maintaining a carefree attitude than working with the customers. I felt like I was a part of a poorly directed episode of The Walking Dead interacting with zombies employed at Patagonia Lake.
After paying our entrance fees we went down to the convenience stand where we encountered some more walkers, I mean un-lively workers! Disregarding the unresponsive employees, my dad and I were ready to start bringing in the masses of fish. But first we needed a boat. We chose to rent one accompanied by a trolling motor at the rate of $35 an hour with a deposit of $100. Reaching for his wallet and judging by the expression on my dad’s face, I suspected that he was thinking the same thing I was, “Isn’t that a bit pricey?” Not wanting to create a scandal we both just took the prices as they were and rented a boat for two hours.
If you want some protection from the sun, I’d rent the boat with the cover for shade. It’s a little factor that makes a huge difference for a boating trip of two hours or more. Unless you’re planning on blistering your flesh off from the Arizona sun I suggest using one or bring lots of sun screen to constantly reapply in order to avoid becoming a victim of both a sunburn and poor customer service.
Down at the docks my dad and I viewed the selection of boat rentals, which ranged between boats that looked like they were floating properly and boats that looked like they weren’t going to be floating much longer. The luxuries of the boat were irrelevant at this point as we just needed enough space to support myself, my dad and the loads of fish we were planning on capturing.
We finally rented the boat, got our gear and prepared ourselves for two hours of fishing bliss when one of the employees told us to avoid getting caught in the lake weeds, cattail reefs and low shore. The catch twenty two to this is that when you’re equipped with a non-powerful trolling motor this location is exactly where you’ll probably end up.
Stepping into the boat on the bank of the Patagonia Lake my dad and I were both maintaining composure after all of those events, but yet again we were taken aback by what one of the employee’s said. “Oh … the second battery is for the last hour, because the one you’re using now will only be good for an hour before it dies.” I thought to myself, “Gee thanks for the advice. Now I really know I want my deposit back!”
It was too late to turn back though because we were already in the water. Moments after setting out my dad and I realized that trolling motors go as fast as they sound; which isn’t fast at all.
I was extremely delighted to learn how to steer a trolling motor boat in the beginning, but this feeling of excitement quickly exasperated as my hand became sore from holding the handle for extended amounts of time. Finally being able to let go of the handle I prepared myself to catch some fish; that was until I realized that we were migrating towards the cattails.
Unwilling to let the boat go near the reefs, which could mean possibly forfeiting our deposits, my dad and I took turns shouting in panic while simultaneously shifting the boat away from the reefs. Throughout this scandal I couldn’t help but be envious towards all other folks out on the water with their modern boats, sophisticated equipment and extravagant motors zoom past our puny form of transportation. Watching others excel in fishing within short distances of you attempting to fish just is something that creates agitation and resentment towards your fellow fishermen. Not only could these fishermen go near the reefs, shore and lake weeds without overturning their boat they actually were catching fish.
Coming to the realization that I might not be bringing home the fish by the net loads I began to think of just going to the grocery store and cooking up some farm raised fish. I wasn’t in the mood to make something extravagant. I merely wanted to savor some seafood; even if it was reeled in at the supermarket. By then I made up my mind that I was having fish for dinner whether I caught anything or not and that I’d call my culinary creation the Patagonia Lake special. As I got lost in my thoughts I realized I wasn’t appreciating the trip like I had planned.
The enjoyment of fishing had disappeared into the waves along with our hopes of ever catching anything. At this point my dad and I could only joke at the series of events that were constantly unfolding. I was hungry and grumpy. He was trying to return to shore while maintaining composure and we were both continuously switching seat positions to shade ourselves from the sun. In combination with not obtaining a bite from any fish, our battery died when we were passing by other boats creating an awkward close call which thankfully didn’t capsize our boat. The passengers on the boat we almost collided with didn’t make much of our close encounter but for my dad and I it was the breaking point.
Dealing with all of these dilemmas I wanted to say, “What else could possibly go wrong?” but I knew this would only escalate the situation. Which happened anyway. Next I made a slight misjudgment of shallow murky water which ended up being the sandy shore leading to our boat being temporarily stuck. This was easily undone thanks to some elbow grease that was used by my dad and I paddling our way back to the deep end of the lake. Then I tangled my fishing line almost hooking myself with my baby hook. And lastly my dad ended up breaking off his line and losing his bait to some unknown underwater object. At this point in time we were ready for anything - except the possibility of catching any fish.
One aspect of this fishing experience that I truly enjoyed was looking at the families, friends and people enjoying themselves on the shore, something my dad and I couldn’t relate to. Then we decided that we weren’t having a bad fishing trip, we were just having an unsuccessful one and the best thing we could do with our situation was to laugh out loud.
We also discovered that people watching is extremely accessible from a boat’s perspective. Drowning your thoughts in loud noises is easily done thanks to teenage boys and young men speeding on the southern end of Patagonia Lake; which is a wonderful distraction towards negative thoughts when you aren’t catching any fish.
Also for those of you unlucky fishing folks like myself, you don’t have to let an empty net of fish stop you from making a delish fish dinner. Tired from the day’s events I made sure that my dinner plans were going to be anything but complicated. All I wanted was a fish dinner that was light and satisfying. After making this meal I was definitely in a better mood and came to realization nature, clear blue skies and the tranquility of any fishing experience is something to delight in.
Lemon Lime Tilapia (Patagonia Lake Special)
3 white fish fillets, (I used tilapia as it has a mild flavor that seasons well)
1 small lemon (zest and juice)
1 large lime (zest and juice)
2 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
Lemon and lime slices (optional garnish)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pat down the fish fillets with paper towels to remove any excess moisture then line a baking sheet pan with aluminum foil and place the fish fillets on the pan. Over both sides of each fillet distribute both the juice and zest of the lemon and lime. Season each piece of fish evenly with red pepper flakes (if you’re using them) salt and pepper then drizzle with olive oil.
Place in oven for 18-20 minutes until fish is flaky and firm to the touch. Enjoy with fresh tomato salsa, avocado and any variety of beans topped with queso fresco.
Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.
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