I’ve spent nearly one/third of my life standing in water. And typically with only one/third of my body length actually submerged below the surface. Which somehow technically equates into 2711 days of my entire existence here on Earth spent holding a graphite fishing rod while trying to catch a fish. And that, for some reason, seems perfectly normal to me.
You know how your fishing buddy will say “He was this big!” while describing the latest trophy fish that he caught, his hand-scale getting further apart the longer the story goes on. Well, I’ve got a few whoppers of my own.
As a young boy, I went fishing one afternoon with my neighbor friend and my Dad. Simple bobber and worm strategy, casting off of a submarine bridge. The Shenandoah is plump full of smallmouth bass, sunfish, and goggle-eye. These would be your ‘sport fish’. Then you’ve got your bottom-feeders, ‘trash fish’ to most people. Carp, catfish and the slimy, rubbery lipped-so-you-can’t-unhook ’em, grunting-Croker style, pee-on-ya while you try to unhook ’em, fallfish. I always thought that they were referred to as fallfish because disgusted fisherman would unhook the beast, throw them up onto the nearest bank, and the fish would always “fall” back into the river, to be bothersome yet another day.
So Robbie gets his line hung-up on something deep in the river, and with his rod bending into a U-shape, struggles to retrieve line as he cranks on the reel. Getting hooked on a rock is not uncommon when fishing a worm rig weighted with lead spilt-shot, but in this case, Robbie was making some progress as his fishing line that pierced the water’s surface was indeed slowly coming in our direction. Probably just a big hunk of waterlogged driftwood. But then a second line appeared and as it emerged, ran taunt up out of the water to a tree limb looming high above the river’s bank. Obviously an abandoned fishing line that had snapped off after someone’s errant cast into the trees. The limb wrapped by the fishing line began to bend as the pressure increased, and the rest of the foreign line showed itself leading back into the river’s water. Robbie had his line almost completely reeled in, but was still entangled with this second line. With the first line almost entirely on the reel, still hooked tight to the second line, there was a sudden lively movement of the second monofilament and the “real snag” became clear to us. On the end of this other fishing line, from the depths of the currents, up over a tree limb, and into the waiting hands of master angler Robbie, who waited patiently on the low-water bridge, was a little, 8-inch catfish. That’s one way to catch a fish.
But perhaps there’s something to be said for this suspended-line technique that could aide in securing your next evening’s supper. My friend Mitch and I spent a morning out fishing the Shenandoah as an excuse to knock back a six-pack of Heineken, the ultra-chic breakfast beer of the 1980’s. He was fishing with a Jitterbug lure, a heavy floating top-water lure, painted in a frog pattern. Twenty year old boys being boys, it was important to our gender as to who could piss, party, and cast a lure the longest. For some reason, Mitch began to attempt to heave his lure up over a suspended swinging bridge, just to prove his ‘superiority’. After about 14 attempts, the Jitterbug finally made it completely across the bridge’s steel cables. Before he could stop laughing, boasting or even start reeling, a smallmouth mistakenly took the plastic lure for its lunch. Catching a fish on a artificial lure cast over a swinging bridge hanging forty-foot above the water… try that the next time you’re out on the river doing a little fishin’.
Not all ‘fish stories’ involve actually catching a citation-sized fish. Me and my future Ex-wife-to-be were vacationing down in Jamaica many years ago. And a wonderful vacation it was. But a man can only take so much hair braiding and souvenir shopping, so I negotiated with her and booked two seats on a big-game fishing boat. Just me and her, two other couples and a small crew of local fisherman. It was only $35 for a half day. After many years, I’ve theorized as to why this fishing trip was such an inexpensive adventure. I don’t think that we actually had any hooks tied to the ends of our lines. Never had a nibble. Never landed a fish. Never saw a red snapper. Until dinnertime that evening, and that fish was swimming under a little wave of mango salsa. But I couldn’t have cared less. I was boating around the Caribbean, drinking ice-cold Red Stripe beer in the company of three bikini-clad women. Then suddenly the relaxing sound of the boat splashing through calm waves was broken by the Captain excitedly yelling to the crew, all the while pointing off towards the sea. I couldn’t understand what was happening because of the strong Jamaican accents, but the crew members began directing our attention to the far side of our trolling vessel. And then they appeared. Not forty yards from ship, three Pilot whales began to surface. They flanked our boat for five minutes and then they disappeared back into the deep. That $35 was money which was certainly whale-spent. Har-har, matey.
Women have natural-born maternal instincts that allow them and their young ones to remain safe, even when facing an unforeseen, dangerous adversity; giving them a second chance at survival and to live on and see yet another day. Men just do stupid stuff.
So my fishin’ buddy Carey and I were out for a day of serious fishing. He’s a bait fisherman. I’m a fly fisherman. The trash talk had started at our favorite bar several days beforehand, as we were planning our little mano y mano tournament which would finally determine who was indeed the better angler. The light-hearted bantering continued on our way to the river, and reached a new low as we waded across the limestone bottom of the Shenandoah. After awhile, we moved past our yapping and began to concentrate solo on the mission at hand. Sure, there were little verbal barbs being thrown from time to time. “That’s what you’re using for bait?… OH, that’s the fish that you just caught! So sorry. My bad.” Then the fish stopped biting and time passed by without conversation, gurgling rapids were the only ones speaking as we waded downstream. Suddenly Carey starts yelling “Son-of-a-gun. Dag-on-it. You mother… ” “What’s up?” I asked my ‘hated’ competitor. Seems that Carey’s lure had gotten hung up on a rock, but he had quickly jerked back and successfully freed the hook from the mossy stone. But the jerk had jerked with such force however, that the recoil of the line had sent it violently headed directly towards him and now a single barb of his three-headed treble hook had embedded itself into his right triceps. Now we both weren’t laughing at this point because it obviously caused him a lot of pain. One of us was laughing, but we both weren’t laughing. We were a half mile upstream from our vehicle. So we took a moment and discussed our possible options in caring for his injury. And a decision was made. We kept on fishing.
When we got back to the car, we reassessed the situation. Carey had fished for an hour and a half with a two-inch plastic lure hooked into his flesh, so he was starting to hurt. Probably because that hook was in his casting arm. We each opened a beer and began phase two of our master plan. I unscrewed the body of the lure from the treble hook buried in Carey’s arm, then trimmed away two of the treble hook’s three barbs with a pair of wire cutters. “Yea, that’s better” And we headed further downstream, to a spot where Carey assured me that we’d find some really hot fishing action. His own secret fishin’ hole. There was a little island in the middle of the river where locals would plant their pot seeds for unrivaled quality of cultivation. Ingenious idea it was. Plenty of water and sunshine and nutrient-rich soil. And no one in their right mind would ever wade across the currents to discover the illegal orchard.
We went to Carey’s house specifically because he had a set of Exact-O bladed tools that we could use to cut the hook from his arm. You’d think that they’d have a professional facility somewhere nearby that would provide similar procedures. Nah, probably won’t be a safe idea. Carey couldn’t reach over his right arm to get the proper angle of blade on skin, so I took over. First we numbed the surgical area with a zip-lock bag full of ice. Then like a young Christiaan Barnard, I began to whittle away at the strip of skin covering the barbed hook. I hacked and hacked, but with no visible signs of success. Carey calmly spoke up. “Uh, it’s starting to hurt again” Why wouldn’t this blade even scratch his three thin layers of skin? I carefully tested the blade against my own skin and determined one thing. The blade was about as sharp as an old butter knife. So we re-iced and switched blades. You can’t go to war with your guns unloaded. You can’t attract bees with vinegar. And you can’t cut open your friend’s arm with a dull knife. There’s a life lesson for you little kiddies to remember. So finally, the skin was sliced, the hook removed and all was well.
We met up later that evening at the Beanery, so that we could share our day’s adventure with all of our barfly buddies. Watered with cold beer and stimulated with dimmed lights, the story grew and grew, like many a fish story does. You want the truth. Go ask a fish.