When a boat anchor didn't dislodge a ball of lures rooted on the bed of Cowee Creek, David Athearn fashioned a makeshift grappling hook, looped it onto the bumper of his SUV and pulled the tangle - which had been deviling anglers all season - from the water.
What emerged was a ball of neon pink, chartreuse and yellow Pixee spoons tangled among a mess of monofilament fishing line, lead weights, leaves and twigs.
"Up this thing comes, it was about fourfeet long and just this ganglia of hooks, and lures and flys and various assortments," Athearn said.
Picking lures in Cowee Creek is a pastime Athearn has pursued for "quite a few years." It was an annual outing he and his friend "CMO" (See-mo) would organize in an effort to clean up the popular fishing area north of Juneau.
"We'd take big black plastic garbage bags and pick up the pop bottles, beer cans, and Pixee spoon wrappers and all the things that people leave on the banks," he said.
But just over a year ago CMO, his full name being Craig M. Olson, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A month later in August, he died. The pair had been friends for more than 30 years. They hiked, picked mushrooms together and picked lures together.
"We were, you know, outdoor buddies," Athearn said.
In memory of his friend, Athearn decided to continue the annual Cowee Creek lure pick. And this year he hauled in the largest catch yet. It's been dubbed the "mother lode." In all, the wad contained exactly 100 variations of Pixee spoons, spinners, lead weights, egg clusters, hoochies and flies. It took an afternoon and a pair of wire clippers to deconstruct the monofilament and wire leaders holding the lures together. But most of the hooks had rusted away, Athearn said. "Monofilament, though, is like Cher's reconstructed cheek bones, they're forever."
But this wasn't the most unusual thing Athearn has pulled from the creek.
"You find a lot of interesting stuff that cretins toss into the river," he said.
He's found a television, for instance. And on one occasion a pay phone. Athearn remembers hauling the receiver out of the water, holding it out towards Olson, who was spotting from the bank, and said, "It's for you!"
Over the years Athearn said the picking has gotten easier. The popularity and strong fishery of the creek has certainly added to the amount of lures and other types of debris he's found in the area.
"The amount of lures in the creek (is increasing) and unfortunately runs the gambit from beer bottles, beer cans to disposable diapers," he said. "It is a thing that irritates and somewhat angers me. But people are going to be people, and I just do what I can to alleviate (the litter) a little bit."
But what is one to do with all these lures? Athearn chooses to "pay it forward." He gives those he doesn't need or want to friends or local families who will in turn refurbish them. But the rest he puts through "rehab" by shining them up and adding new hooks.
"Come next year, I'll be using them," he said.
And when the season wraps up in the fall, more than likely Athearn will be out at Cowee Creek again, picking lures.
"It's something I will always continue to do as long as I'm in the upright-and-locked position and able to do that sort of thing," he said. "It's enjoyable, I supply myself with lures and it kind of cleans the creek up a little bit too."
• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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