Some people think the most important day of the year for the anglers of Fish in a Barrel Pond is Opening Day, in late April, as long as the ice is out.
Those people are wrong.
Seasoned members of the Neverwas Nonesuch Angling Society know the most important day of the year is the second Saturday of February, the day they can start making reservations for the upcoming season.
Why a caretaker would keep a rifle by the window was nobody’s business back then and the same holds true today, but one thing that has changed is that casual approach to a reservation for Opening Day. Or any other reservation for that matter. Getting the right camp for the right days is serious business to the anglers who frequent these waters and we treat it as such, with careful attention to fairness and adherence to established policies. In other words, starting at 9:00 a.m. on the second Saturday in February, it’s first-come, first-served until all reservations are made.
Certain restrictions are in place for a few weeks, to keep the first chuckle-head who gets through from booking the whole place for the summer, and everyone has a set of dates they desperately wish to reserve when they call. Because schemes gang aft agley, some have alternative dates handy — or a second choice of camps — but others are not tim’rous beasties and prone to compromise, certain they can get what they want through speed, determination, and a group of friends at the table with cell phones .
The phone here will be off the hook on Saturday morning and anyone who calls before 9:00 will get a busy signal. Thumbs and forefingers will hover above keys and buttons, anticipation will be palpable, and beads of sweat will break out on brows as the moment approaches. Then, mere thousandths of a second past 9:00, hundreds of keys and buttons will be pushed and hundreds of busy signals will blare.
But there can be only one. Only one caller can be the first, leisurely picking dates in choice camps while everyone else hits redial. The selection will dwindle as the morning wears on and later calls will take on an air of desperation. Surprised friends will yelp when theirs is the call that gets through, and more than one phone will be heard clattering to the floor, fumbled on its way to the member on whose behalf it was dialed. Some time shortly after noon, the phone will not ring when the receiver is replaced and, after a few late calls from folks who forgot what day it is, by sunset everyone’s plans will be made.
(We will ignore for the moment that the above illustration depicts a bass taken on a plug.)
For months they’ve planned and coordinated schedules, hoping to reserve the days they’ve set aside and, for an entire morning, they and their friends will furiously punch buttons in an effort to secure those days before someone else can snatch them up. The technology has changed but the traditions of Fish in a Barrel Pond have not, and in a few short hours I will take their calls again and talk until I am hoarse, just as my predecessors have done for years.
On Sunday morning it will be back to the future as the online reservation system is enabled and Saturday’s invoices go out by email but going Old School for a day and taking calls one at a time, in the order they are received, does more than keep things fair for everyone. It keeps alive important traditions our high-speed digital capabilities just can’t match. Important traditions like spending a day on the phone while everyone reserves the same traditional days in the same traditional camps as they have every year for as long as anyone can remember.
There was some controversy a few years ago, over the time source used to determine when it was exactly 9:00. We’re all pretty much wired together these days and time is more or less universal so that storm passed but, as pointed out in my weathered copy of the legendary Super Top-Secret Caretaker’s Handbook, 99% of callers will get a busy signal the first time around, no matter the time source used. In the section labeled “Suggested Mid-winter Amusement” the Super Top-Secret Caretaker’s Handbook recommends a short delay in answering to bump that figure to 100%, just for giggles.
Caretakers have their own traditions, too, so in the spirit of those who have gone before, it will be 9:00 when I say it is 9:00. I look forward to your calls.