Water Rat is one of my heroes. I love being on the water and messing about in boats. But I wish I liked to fish. I watch people who like to fish. They are always on the water or by the water. They know about the water and weather and the morning light and the evening light. They have all sorts of neat stuff: rods and floats and lures and lines, little pieces of lead and hooks, and whole boxes full of mysterious bits and pieces. They even have hats and vests and waders that everyone knows are just for fishing. I could say that it is a lack of patience that keeps me from fishing. Or perhaps I could say I just never got around to it; too many other things to do. After all, I do sail, and I have boats to take care of. Boats seem to always have things to clean or repair or tinker with. But those aren’t really reasons. I have been fishing.
I’m maybe eight or nine years old. We are at the family farm in middle Tennessee, the one my dad grew up on. Dad’s sister still lives there. We go there every summer. This time Carlos, my Aunt’s tenant farmer, takes me fishing in the big stock pond. It is surrounded by rangy black walnut trees, tall weeds, and cows. It smells of sunshine and mud and cow-patties. We have bamboo poles and floats and hooks. Carlos shows me how to bait the hooks with worms or fat grass hoppers. I feel very special. My little brother is too young to go with us.The worms are easier. I don’t remember if we caught anything or not; probably not. It wasn’t really a very big pond. But I remember the sunshine and, for some reason, the dragon-flies.
Jump forward and back home. Different year but somewhere around the same age. I nag Dad about fishing. One day he finally drags out a bunch of old, unused gear. There is even a rusty green tackle box that I have never seen before. It has little tray that folds up when it is opened. We go fishing on a local TVA lake; Boone or Patrick Henry, I’m not sure which now. We catch perch or sunfish or blue gills; those little fish that a kid can pop out of the water when the red and white bobber goes under. I know how to put the worms on the hook. When I catch one, Dad takes it off the hook and puts it in a bucket of cool water. After a while, he says time to go. We’ll turn the fish loose now he says. No, those are my fish. I want to take them home. He gets a stringer and threads the little fish on, one at a time.
I don’t remember much else about the lake or where we were or what the day was like. I guess it was summer. I do remember standing beside Dad in the kitchen and hearing the crunch as he held each fish and cut their heads off and cleaned them. He knew how to do that. He grew up in the country. He also knew why to do that. I remember how their color was gone. I remember that he did not say anything. I don’t remember what happened to the fish, just that they went in the freezer. I guess they were finally thrown out. They were too small to eat.
For a while, my little brother and I used to give Dad fishing lures at Christmas. He always smiled and pretended to be surprised and thrilled. For some reason I remember one particularly. I think it was called a Dalton Special. It was yellow and brown with a stripe and painted eyes. It had two triple hooks and a little spinner on the back like a fish with a propeller. But I don’t think we ever went fishing again.