There is a trail along home waters, the Big Gunpowder Falls in northern Baltimore County, that reaches out and grabs you. There are varieties of thorny bushes and clinging trees that love, even in the dormant winter months, to pull on your sleeve or grab your fly line as you walk by. If I was a conspiracy nut, I’d say the briars somehow collaborated with the spiny trees to defend the river and its trout from palookas like me.
But, of course, nature’s defense is merely annoying, not impregnable. We still hike through the prickly gauntlet to our fishing spots.
I am not sure what happened exactly, but on Saturday the Grabby Trail got my wooden fishing net without my noticing it.
I use quick-release magnets to hold my catch-and-release net to the back of my vest, and those magnets are strong. Still, the net disappeared at some point during the hike back to my car after a couple of hours of fishing.
Not that I noticed, however.
I returned to the trailhead parking lot, stowed my gear for the ride home, but did not notice that the net was missing. I might have been distracted by a certain beer of 11 percent alcohol by volume, offered by my fishing companion to celebrate a new year of fishing. Or maybe I just didn’t pay attention.
Whatever the reason, I did not notice the loss until I was in my driveway at home.
I figured the net was gone for good, that someone would find it and keep it. I could not immediately go back and look for it. So I decided to fish again on Monday or Tuesday, hike the Grabby Trail, and keep an eye out for the net among the gray backdrop of the winter woods. I kept my expectations low.
Late-morning Tuesday, as my son and I entered the Grabby Trail, there it was — attached by magnet to a steel sign post. Someone had found it and put it there, perhaps another angler who understood that the blue, cylindrical bauble at the end of the handle was a magnet.
I was astonished, and wondered: Would I have done the same?
To be honest, had I come across the net during fishing hikes, I would have been tempted to keep it. I would have stopped and conducted a practical and philosophical debate with myself: What would the Golden Rule prescribe in this situation? What would Lefty have done? How would I find the net’s owner? Posting it near the trailhead, by a well-traveled road, ran the risk of advertising its availability to anyone who wanted to grab it, so better me than they, right?
Then again, if the loss was fresh, maybe the net’s owner will come back for it immediately, and then how’d you feel for having taken it?
And besides, it’s not like you need another net.
I can say with full assurance that, while I was not sure what I would have done before Tuesday morning, I am now.
I am grateful for the stranger who empathized with someone he or she did not know and left the net — approximate replacement cost: $45 — where he could find it. That was honest and respectful, and I’ll be sure to return the favor if I ever come across someone else’s possession snatched by the sneaky thieves along the Grabby Trail.