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Summer Nights

Northwood brothers search for horned pout, quality conversation

  • From left, brothers Josh, 25, Alex, 20, and Matt Steenbergen, 18, head to a fishing spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake to fish for Hornpout on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013. They said the point of fishing is not about catching a fish, but about spending time together.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    From left, brothers Josh, 25, Alex, 20, and Matt Steenbergen, 18, head to a fishing spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake to fish for Hornpout on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013. They said the point of fishing is not about catching a fish, but about spending time together.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • Josh Steenbergen, 25, casts his line while fishing for Hornpout with brothers Alex, 20, and Matt, 18, in Northwood on Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Josh Steenbergen, 25, casts his line while fishing for Hornpout with brothers Alex, 20, and Matt, 18, in Northwood on Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • Alex Steenbergen prepares a hook while fishing for Hornpout at a spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Alex Steenbergen prepares a hook while fishing for Hornpout at a spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • Alex Steenbergen prepares a hook while fishing for Hornpout at a spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Alex Steenbergen prepares a hook while fishing for Hornpout at a spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • From left, brothers Josh, 25, Alex, 20, and Matt Steenbergen, 18, head to a fishing spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake to fish for Hornpout on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013. They said the point of fishing is not about catching a fish, but about spending time together.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    From left, brothers Josh, 25, Alex, 20, and Matt Steenbergen, 18, head to a fishing spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake to fish for Hornpout on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013. They said the point of fishing is not about catching a fish, but about spending time together.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • Josh Steenbergen, 25, casts his line while fishing for Hornpout with brothers Alex, 20, and Matt, 18, in Northwood on Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Josh Steenbergen, 25, casts his line while fishing for Hornpout with brothers Alex, 20, and Matt, 18, in Northwood on Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • From left, brothers Josh, 25, Alex, 20, and Matt Steenbergen, 18, head to a fishing spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake to fish for Hornpout on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013. They said the point of fishing is not about catching a fish, but about spending time together.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • Josh Steenbergen, 25, casts his line while fishing for Hornpout with brothers Alex, 20, and Matt, 18, in Northwood on Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • Alex Steenbergen prepares a hook while fishing for Hornpout at a spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • Alex Steenbergen prepares a hook while fishing for Hornpout at a spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • From left, brothers Josh, 25, Alex, 20, and Matt Steenbergen, 18, head to a fishing spot in Northwood on the Bow Lake to fish for Hornpout on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013. They said the point of fishing is not about catching a fish, but about spending time together.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • Josh Steenbergen, 25, casts his line while fishing for Hornpout with brothers Alex, 20, and Matt, 18, in Northwood on Bow Lake on Tuesday night, July 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

On warm summer nights, unless wrestling is on television, it’s probable that the Steenbergen brothers, Josh, Alex and Matt, are standing at the edge of a narrow stone bridge over Bow Lake, fishing rods in hand.

Tuesday was not one of those nights: gray skies, intermittent rainfall, a discernible chill in the air. But around 8 o’clock, as wind and mist whipped over the tiny bridge, the brothers showed up anyway.

The location, near their parents’ Northwood home, is popular among local anglers, including teens and young adults in search of perch, trout, bass and, perhaps most routinely, horned pout. The Steenbergens had arrived for the latter, an unattractive yet appetizing bottom-feeder and member of the catfish family, known officially as the brown bullhead.

Horned pout, or the pursuit thereof, is an established tradition among those who frequent the state’s small lakes and ponds. Because they consume most anything – feeder fish, plants, trash, cat food, etc. – they are one of the easier fish to catch. That, and the fact that they are nocturnal, means fishing for horned pout is convenient for anyone whose priority is not really catching any fish.

“We mostly come here just to kind of hang out,” said Matt, 18, a recent graduate of Coe-Brown Northwood Academy. He hauled a tackle box out of the bed of an old pickup

truck and walked with the others toward the bridge.

The brothers said they have fished on Bow Lake since they were kids, but it was only a few years ago that they became interested in horned pout.

“Just by spending a little too much time down here and eventually you catch something after it’s dark and you’re like, ‘What the hell is that?’ ” Matt said, referring to the fish’s cat-like whiskers and large head. “We’ve always known they were around, but never went fishing for them until five or six years ago.”

The lake is known for other fish as well, he noted: “Yellow perch, white perch, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pickerel, rainbow trout.”

“Turtle,” Alex, 20, said.

“Oh yeah, snapping turtle,” Matt continued. He attached a worm to a hook, cast it into the water and leaned the pole against a railing.

Christian Rainey, a 20-year-old former classmate of Alex’s who was fishing nearby, mentioned how terrible the weather was. Conditions had been better the week before, he said: the water a bit warmer and lower. He started to reminisce about horned pout.

“The good thing about horned pout is, like, where most fish will just nibble (on a hook), horned pout inhale it,” Rainey noted. “So when you’ve got one on the line you definitely know it.”

After about 20 minutes, it became clear that no one had anything on their lines. Josh, 24, began discussing the future. He said he hoped to return to school this fall at New Hampshire Technical Institute, after having to take an extended leave due to medical complications relating to a rare genetic disorder he has, which affects the functioning of his heart, kidneys, liver and other bodily systems.

“You name it, I’ve probably had it,” he said, referring to multiple organ and heart valve transplants.

“He’s out here with us most of the time, whether we catch something or not,” Alex said. “But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about just hanging out with your friends, talking, just relaxing, getting out of the house.”

Alex said he works on a dairy farm in Epsom and takes classes at NHTI. He mentioned his affection for World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE.

“That’s them two,” Matt said. “I spend as much time as I can out on the water.”

Last year, he, Alex and a close friend spent five weeks in Alaska, visiting family and fishing. It was an amazing experience, Alex said, though they didn’t see as many animals as he had expected. He said the people there seem different than those in some other places.

“The regulars are kind of like Pittsburg people, carry their guns everywhere,” he said. “Everyone has a gun.”

Speaking of firearms, Rainey, still nearby, seemed frustrated that he had a year to wait before being eligible to buy one.

“You can enter the military and fight for your country at 17, but you’ve got to be 21 to buy a handgun,” he said, and then crossed to the other side of the bridge and made a cast.

Minutes passed without any bites. Alex mentioned his aversion to television programming and offered some thoughts on the New England Patriots’ recent acquisition of quarterback Tim Tebow.

“If anybody can train him, it’s Belichick,” he said, referring to the team’s head coach. “But if not, then he can go away.”

“They’re the ones that know about the sports,” Matt said, motioning toward Josh and Alex.

“Yeah, he’s just the fishing guy,” Josh said.

“I enjoy (sports), I just don’t know what I’m looking at,” Matt said. “I just like being out on the water,” he reiterated. “In the spring when the trout are out I usually go before school and work, just go out with my fly rod and be the only one out on the pond or river.”

As with horned pout, Matt said he stumbled into fly fishing somewhat by accident.

“Sixth or seventh grade, I found a fly rod in the shed, started playing around with it, didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” he said. “I just kept snapping the leaders.”

Asked how it felt to have completed high school, Matt, who works at a local hardware store and plans to study environmental science at Plymouth State University this fall, said it didn’t feel as good as he thought it might.

“It kind of sucks,” he said.

“I tried to tell him that it sucks,” Alex said.

“Well, it’s not that I don’t like my job or anything,” Matt explained.

“High school is fun,” Alex noted.

“Yeah, you get to hang out with your friends all day,” Matt said.

The two thought for a moment.

“I wish I’d realized at the time how easy it was,” Alex continued.

“Yeah, looking back, I’d rather type papers all day than walk around the store,” Matt said. He thought for a second. “Well, I take that back,” he said. “Mostly it’s just fun to hang out with friends.”

Matt noticed a twitch at the end of his rod, and the conversation trailed off. He picked the pole up and gave it a tug. The line went taut.

“It’s something,” he said, reeling the line in. As he continued, the brothers peered into the water and tried to make out what the dark, lifeless mass was that was trolling toward them in the water. Rainey walked over and helped pull the pile onto the railing. It appeared to be weeds.

“I think someone pulled a boot out of here once,” Alex said. “I’m dead serious.”

“Something’s in there,” Matt said, shining a flashlight on the pile. A fish about 6 inches in length wiggled out. “It’s a yellow perch,” he said. “What the hell?”

He examined the fish and then tossed it back into the water and cast out a new line.

After a few minutes, a pair of headlights appeared in the distance.

Alex said he preferred his horned pout fried. He stressed the importance of properly gutting and cleaning the fish.

“Getting the head off is the worst, because their skull is so thick,” he said. “I’ve tried to kill them humanely, stab the brain or whatever, and it’s still sitting there breathing and everything.”

His line quivered. He walked over and began reeling it in. On the end was a 4-inch horned pout.

“That’s a really, really small one,” he said. “That’s probably the smallest one I’ve ever caught.”

He looked it over, cut the line and tossed the tiny fish back into the lake.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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