I can vaguely remember catching my first fish. Or perhaps it’s the photo of me I see holding the small bream on the end of the line that causes the memory to course through my mind over and over again. “What’s it doing?” I would ask after several more hours of the same fish on the same hook. As a youngster you are privy to, and allowed, such nonsensical characteristics that are not tolerated as adults. One time, as a teenager, I stood under a tall cedar tree in the dead of winter and shot 32 robins with my pellet gun. You could look upon that futile act of butchery as a deficiency in a teenager’s dull brain, but as I look back now it’s with remorse and a sickness in my stomach that I can’t remove.
I doubt that first fish lived long after taking my cricket, nor would I bet he was eaten. Young boys and girls are lucky to look at the world through oblivious eyes and a brain that doesn’t comprehend much more than happy and sad, and some anger. At least then we were forced to take naps and drink chocolate milk on a daily basis. When we grow older we start to identify with the people who surround us and a large dose of popular culture, then take it from there. On the contrary, one of my best friends in high school quit the baseball team, quit the football team, drank (among other things) four nights a week, and is now married with children and is an executive in a prosperous company. At the daylight hour we either get our shit together or miss the boat.
In a sense, fishing could be considered therapy. Standing in the river waving a stick, as they say, the soft current pushing against wader-clad legs, takes a mind from the far reaches of the equator to the not-so-distant fly gracefully waiting on your command to cease flight in the “troutiest” hole. Frustrations usually arise from missed bites and lost fish, both of which are most likely user error—flawed knots, old tippet, slack line, and so on.
As a young man all I did in the spring and summer was fish, because that’s all I had to do: be a good student and fish. I worked odd jobs here and there, mostly umpiring little league baseball due to the ridiculously good pay and late evening hours, but just enough to keep my little nine-horse Evinrude running up and down the water. It was never considered, even on the slowest days, that those times would ever end. And I wish they never had. Over and over again I hear the whiners longing for their high school days because then they didn’t have guts and thought they mattered. Me, I’d only take back the freedom to hunt and fish, and maybe Mida, my first girlfriend.
Continuing to merely tickle the truth, I’ve laid out grand plans for my hunting and fishing adventures this spring to have only done each once thus far. With you here in this column, I’ve done a good bit and plan to do a whole lot more. That old bag of a mother-in-law, Winter, continues to hang around long after the Christmas lights have been taken down. Just yesterday in southern Tennessee it became a white-out blizzard quite unexpectedly; the way I’ve always imagined a Blue Norther blowing up on the range just after I’ve crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico, riding with Jonesy Lindler and Big Frank Armistead. It seems with these warm/cold days the fish really can’t make up their mind what to do and I don’t blame them. “Come on in and spawn, but you won’t stay long.”
Adverse thinking (sometimes the only form of logic) would suggest that we, meaning central southeasterners, are still weeks away from any real chance at a crappie, bream, and even turkeys. Sniff out the naysayers with their creamy faces and spotless hands. Your man of the woods and water will have a red, wind-burned face and hands resembling that of a dehydrated alligator. And it is he (or she) of the teenage or retired years that oft provide the best information. Time is the only factor and of the essence. A little bleach-blond-haired boy with a stupid grin on his face holding the trophy of his life tells me quite often that if you don’t go, you’ll never know.
Image by Josh Wolfe