How to Fish a Crick

by Patrick McManus

There is much confusion in the world today concerning creeks and cricks. Many otherwise well-informed people live out their lives under the impression that a crick is a creek mispronounced. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A crick is a distinctly separate entity from a creek, and it should be recognized as such. After all, a creek is merely a creek, but a crick is a crick.

The extent of this confusion over cricks and creeks becomes apparent from a glance at almost any map, where you will find that all streams except rivers are labeled as creeks. There are several reasons for this injustice. First, your average run-of-the-mill cartographer doesn't know his crick from his creek. The rare cartographer who does know refuses to recognize cricks in their own right for fear that he will be chastised by one of the self-appointed chaperons of the American language, who, like all other chaperons, are big on purity.

A case in point: One of the maps I possess of the State of Washington labels a small stream as S. Creek. Now I don't know for certain but am reasonably sure that the actual name of this stream is not S. No. Just by looking at the map one can tell that it is not shaped like an S, the only reason I can think of for giving it such a name. S. therefore must not be the full name but an abbreviation. Why was the name abbreviated? Was it too long or perhaps to difficult to pronounce? Since the map also contains such stream names as Similkameen and Humptulips and Puyallup, all unabbreviated, one would guess not. This leaves only one other possibility. The cartographers felt that the actual name of the stream was obscene. They did not want it said of them that they had turned out an obscene map, the kind of map sinister characters might try to peddle to innocent school children, hissing at them from an alleyway, "Hey, kid! Wanna buy a dirty map?"

Well, I can certainly sympathize with the cartographers' reluctance to author a dirty map. What irks me is that they use the name S. Creek. One does not have to be a mentalist to know that the fellow who named the stream S. did not use the word creek. He used crick. He probably saw right off that this stream he was up was a crick and immediately started casting about for a suitable name. Then he discovered he didn't have a paddle with him. Aha! He would name this crick after the most famous of all cricks, thereby not only symbolizing his predicament but also capturing in a word something of the crick's essential character.

The cartographers in any case chose to ignore this rather obvious origin of the name and its connotations in favor of a discreet S. and an effete Creek. If they didn't want to come right out and say crick, why couldn't they have had the decency just to abbreviate it with a C. and let it go at that?

Maybe I can, once and for all, clear up this confusion over cricks and creeks.

First of all a creek has none of the raucous, vulgar, freewheeling character of a crick. If they were people, creeks would wear tuxedos and amuse themselves with the ballet, opera, and witty conversation; cricks would go around in their undershirts and amuse themselves with the Saturday night fights, taverns, and humorous belching. Creeks would perspire and cricks, sweat. Creeks would smoke pipes; cricks, chew and spit.

Creeks tend to be pristine. They meander regally through high mountain meadows, cascade down dainty waterfalls, pause in placid pools, ripple over beds of gleaming gravel and polished rock. They sparkle in the sunlight. Deer and poets sip from creeks, and images of eagles wheel upon the surface of their mirrored depths.

Cricks, on the other hand, shuffle through cow pastures, slog through beaver dams, gurgle through culverts, ooze through barnyards, sprawl under sagging bridges, and when not otherwise occupied, thrash fitfully on their beds of quicksand and clay. Cows should perhaps be credited with giving cricks their most pronounced characteristic. In deference to the young and the few ladies left in the world whose sensitivities might be offended, I forgo a detailed description of this characteristic. Let me say only that to a cow the whole universe is a bathroom, and it makes no exception for cricks. A single cow equipped only with determination and fairly good aim can in a matter of hours transform a perfectly good creek into a crick.

Now that some of the basic differences between creeks and cricks have been cleared up, I will get down to the business at hand, namely how to fish a crick.

Every angler knows how to fish a creek. He uses relatively light tackle and flies, and his attire consists of waders or hip boots, a fishing vest, creel, light weight slacks, and a shirt in a tasteful check. The creek is worked artfully, with the fly drifting down like the first flake of winter snow. Everybody knows that's how you fish a creek.

But the crick, as I've pointed out, is an altogether different species of water and demands its own particular approach.

No fancy tackle of any kind is ever used to fish a crick. Since fiberglass rods came on the market, it is difficult to find a good crick pole. The old steel telescope rods were fairly good, but the best crick pole I've ever seen was one I owned as a kid. It consisted of a six-foot section of stiff pipe, with a piece of wire that pulled out from the tip to provide the action. Stores sold it as a fishing pole, but it could also serve fairly well as a lightning rod, fencepost, or a lever for prying a car out of the mud. Rod action, it should be noted, is of little importance in crick fishing, since the crick itself usually provides about all the action one can stand.

Hook size should never be less than No. 4, and leaders, if they are used at all, should be short and test about the same as baling wire. This saves a good deal of time, since if you hook up on an old log, tractor tire, or Model T submerged in the crick, as happens every third cast, you can simply haul it out and not have to bother replacing leader and hook. Sinkers must be large and fat in order not to frighten off the fish. If the splash is large enough, they think it's just another old log, tractor tire, or Model T being dumped in the crick. The reel should be an old bait-caster with the worm gear busted and the handle off. A crick reel, if you don't happen to own one, can be improvised by loaning a perfectly good creek reel to one of your kids for a period of one to five minutes.

The experienced crick fisher never wears hip boots or waders on a crick. Old oxfords with flappy tongues are all right, but tennis shoes in the final stages of decay are the first choice of crick fishers everywhere. Whatever shoes you select, they should have sizable holes both fore and aft. The holes allow for good circulation of the crick water through the shoe and help to cut down on the risk of fermentation of the feet. Another advantage is that the crick fisher can thrust his toes out through the holes and get a good grip on banks of submerged clay, rotting logs, old tractor tires, and Model T's.

The creel is shunned in crick fishing. All fish are carried on a forked stick, which adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of the sport. Most of this enjoyment comes from laying the forked stick down, forgetting it, and then spending several happy hours looking for it. Once the crick fisher tires of this pastime he usually vows to keep the stick in hand at all times. This brings into play the ultimate in crick-fishing skill, since the angler must now land his fish by taking up his slack line with his teeth and one ear, accomplished by a quick, dipping, circular motion of the head.

Flies, of course, are never used on a crick. The crick fish just gaffaw at them. They want real meat - fat, wiggling worms, grasshoppers on the hoof, and, occasionally, toes.

That pretty much covers the technique of crick fishing. Naturally one cannot expect to master it so quickly as creek fishing, unless, of course, he happens to be under the age of fourteen. Eight-year-olds are naturals at crick fishing, and if you have one handy you might take him out to a crick and observe him in action. Despite the opinion of all parents and most behavioral psychologists, eight-year-olds are good for something, and teaching the art of crick fishing is it.

At least once a year I try to fish Sand Crick, the crick of my youth. Admittedly, I have lost a good deal of my technique and most of my stamina but I still manage to have a good time. Usually I come back with a few fish, some good laughs, and a charley horse that extends from my trapezius to my peroneus longus.

Last summer my cousin Buck accompanied me, and I got one of those terrible scares that only crick fishing can give you. We had no more than started when Buck stepped into quicksand. It startled him so badly that he could only manage to get off three of four casts before total panic set in. The quicksand by then was halfway up to his knees.

"Hey," Buck said. "I don't think I'll be able to get out."

A cold chill shot through me. Not only was a lifelong friend and relative in peril but he was carrying the communal worm can.

"Quick," I yelled. "Toss me the worm can!"

"Nothing doing," Buck said. "Not till you drag me out of here."

I wasted a good ten minutes of fishing time getting him out of that quicksand. On the other hand, I probably would have used up more time than that digging a new batch of worms, besides having to knock off a little early to tell his wife there was no point in waiting supper on him.

Incidentally, in order to prevent another similar emergency from occurring, I took the precaution of putting a handful of worms in my shirt pocket, where they were eventually discovered by my wife on washday. It is interesting to note that dehydrated worms cannot be reconstituted by even three cycles in an automatic washer. Also of interest is the fact that it is almost as difficult to reconstitute the wife who conducts the experiment. After such an occurrence, the wise though absentminded crick fisher should take care to eat all his meals out for several days, and in the unlikely event that the wife does offer him something to eat, he should first give a bite to the dog and observe the animal carefully for a couple of hours afterwards.

Buck and I fished a couple of miles of Sand Crick together that day, reminiscing every step of the way over our adventures as kids along this same crick. We came upon a half-submerged car, a 1937 Packard that someone had dumped in the crick under the pretext of preventing bank erosion but actually to be rid of a 1937 Packard. Buck drifted his line in through the gaping holes of the front windshield and hooked a fine Eastern brook out of the back seat.

"First time I ever caught anything in the back seat of a 1937 Packard," he said.

"I've never been that lucky," I said enviously, "but I came pretty close once in a '48 Hudson."

The last hole of the day was one known affectionately as The Dead Cow Hole. The particular cow that the hole was named after was one of the most malicious beasts ever to deface the banks of a crick. I don't know what the farmer called his cow but I know some of the names fishermen called her, always preceded by the same presumably accurate adjective. You always knew when a fellow planned on fishing the stretch of crick presided over by the cow, because he carried his fishing pole in one hand an an ax handle in the other. (Usually you could get in at least one good blow each time the cow galloped over the top of you.) Then one day the cow took ill and died, thus, or so I thought, effectively removing herself from action. The news reached me on a sweltering summer day, but nevertheless I made ready immediately to take advantage of the cow's misfortune. I scarcely touched the tops of the withered grass in my rush to get a line in the water.

As I neared the crick, however, I noticed a flock of magpies flying hurriedly in the opposite direction, and several of them, I observed, showed definite signs of nausea. At about the same time a hot, dry gust of wind criminally assaulted my olfactory nerves with such violence as to bring tears to my eyes.

"No!" I thought. "Could it be? Could she actually have been that fiendish?" The question was shortly answered in the affirmative. On peering down from the top of the hill above the crick, I could see her carcass ripening in the summer heat not ten yards from the fishing hole!

Evidently she had seen the end coming and rather than spend her last moments repenting her sins she had, with malice aforethought, used them to drag herself into a strategic position so that, even in death, she would dominate not only the immediate area of the fishing hole but four hundred yards on all sides.

Several times I took a deep breath and tried to rush the hole but my wind always gave out before I could cover the distance. It was hopeless, at least for me. Cousin Buck did manage to fish Dead Cow Hole that same summer, and with considerable success apparently. He told me about it a week later and I believe he said he caught a couple of good fish. I couldn't be sure because he was still gagging so hard it was difficult to understand him.

That's the nature of crick fishing, though. Some people may not have the heart for it, or even the stomach, but for those who do, it has its rewards. They escape me at the moment, however.