Decades ago, when I was a young girl, there was nothing quite like spending the afternoon at one of the nearby lakes, especially on a warm summer’s day. Each of them were within walking or biking distance and they proved a delightful way to wile away the hours when you had nothing better to do. There were endless things to see and experience. On the surface of the water, small insects, nearly weightless, skittered across effortlessly. Ducks and geese continually lifted off or landed, quacking or honking to announce their intent. Colorful, jeweled-tone dragonflies flew haphazardly about. And if you carefully scanned the lily pads that grew in clusters by the shore, you would often discover a toad or a frog resting, half in/half out of the water.
I have many memories from that time in my life. Some good, some bad, some downright frightening. Sometimes, I would play down by the water all by myself and sometimes my two older brothers (Clover and Dapper Dan) would accompany me. When we were together, counting salamanders and catching frogs or just peering below the surface to watch the continual flurry of activity was a great form of entertainment. We also loved to play in the water, which involved splashing or swimming or a competitive game of ‘chicken’. I usually ended up on someone’s shoulders because I was the youngest (and smallest) at the time. How many battles we won or lost? I have no idea. I never really kept score.
No matter what activity we chose, if we were in the water, I preferred to stay in the shallow end. Still do. The lake nearest our home, which holds so many fond memories, almost ended up being my final resting place. I got a bit carried away one afternoon as I stood on the dock and tossed bread to the ducks, and slid right off the edge. The ducks scattered and I was left furiously thrashing about, in an utter panic because I didn’t know how to swim at the time. Despite being disoriented and gasping for air, I caught sight of one of the beams supporting the dock. It was within arm’s reach and I was able to grab ahold of it until one of my brothers heard me shouting and pulled me to safety. Since that incident, I only go as deep as my shoulders in the water. I like to know my feet are safely touching the ground.
Catfish were the predominant fish that lived in the lake nearest our home. I wasn’t a fan of eating them but I enjoyed the ‘sport’ of catching them. The only drawback with fishing was that you couldn’t just show up at the lake and cast your line, there was work and planning involved. You had to first procure ‘bait’. That wasn’t too hard. We lived in an area where the soil was soft and fertile and worms were plentiful. The hardest part was finding a fishing pole that wasn’t broken and had sufficient line and a working reel. And even more challenging was finding three poles. We got pretty good at cannibalizing what we had stored in the shed to ensure each of us had something that could get the job done. Once you had your bait and pole ready to go, along with your tackle box to hold your rusty pliers, bobbers, hooks and extra line, it was a matter of walking or biking to the nearest lake.
Fishing was a nice change from the other outdoor activities we were constantly engaged in, which included climbing trees, water gun fights, hide ‘n’ seek with the neighborhood kids, throwing a frisbee, building go-karts, or just running around and acting like lunatics. The nearest lake to our home was just at the bottom of our street and it was pretty small overall. The other one was further away but was quite a bit larger and had an actual dock with a railing to fish from. And from what we’d heard, it was stocked with a great deal more than just catfish. Most of the time, we chose the lake that was further away but we didn’t mind. Getting a chance to hop on a bike just added to the overall fun.
I enjoyed fishing, aside from skewering the worm with a barbed hook, but I wasn’t very good at it (fishing, that is). And having questionable equipment to work with didn’t help matters. And my brothers and I used to fish on a pretty regular basis, up until one ‘fine’ day. It was a beautiful day indeed! The sky was blue, it was warm and sunny, and there was not a cloud in sight. We had gone through our usual routine of collecting our bait and prepping our poles, and once everything was ready, we set off on our bikes. About 15 minutes later, we arrived at the lake and immediately got to work preparing our lines to cast into the water. My brothers were pretty adept at casting. I, however, was not. I never could quite get the timing down as far as when I should release the line. Most of the time, it wasn’t an issue. But on this particular day, it very much was!
When it came to the ‘art of fishing’, I barely had down the basic skills. And ‘casting’ was always something I struggled with. Seventy-five percent of the time my line made it into the water, and twenty-five percent of the time I’m not sure where it ended up. And at this particular lake with the ‘official’ fishing dock, there were a lot more people milling about. At the lake near our home, we fished off our neighbor’s dock so it wasn’t a big deal when I cast my line, because if I screwed up and released it too soon, the only harm that would come of it was that maybe the line got caught in a tree branch and we had to cut it and start over. That was not the case on this one ‘fine’ day.
On this one ‘fine’ day, my friends, I cast my line into the water a few times until I didn’t. Remember the 75/25 ratio I provided earlier? When I say I didn’t cast my line into the water, it was because when I released the line at that particular time, I did it just a tad prematurely and it ended up going backward rather than forward. And, ordinarily, it wasn’t a big deal. It usually wound up in a tree and I’d cut the line and start over. This time? My cast was immediately followed by angry shouting. I wasn’t aware of what was going on but it was clear that someone was EXTREMELY angry. I finally turned around to see what the fuss was all about, and noticed a man (with a very red face) aggressively walking towards me and my brothers. To the best of my recollection, he was wearing shorts and flip-flops and nothing else. He definitely was not wearing a shirt. The reason this is seared into my memory is because as he got right up next to me, I noticed the barbed hook imbedded in his bare chest (still attached to my line).
What happened next? He reamed me up one side and down the other and let me know in so many words that I had no business fishing. And after he was through, he turned around and huffed off. And his words so impacted me that I never fished again. I never intended to hurt anyone but that incident took all the joy out of the experience. And he did have a point. When you set out to hook a fish and end up hooking a man instead, it’s time to hang up your rod and reel. Nowadays, if I crave a nice piece of fresh fish, I just head to Ivar’s. It’s so much easier. You don’t have to skewer any worms and nobody gets angry. And besides, it’s D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!