As my father has proven to me time and time again, there is a big difference between fishing and catching fish. Fishing is the soul-numbing act of sitting for hours and watching a thin cobweb of nylon trail out of sight into the black depths of the lake behind the boat while nothing happens. This is best accomplished in a light rain, the boat yawing back and forth in tsunamis, your breakfast hearing voices telling it to "come on back up."
Catching fish is what the other boats do.
"Yo! Doin' any good?" my father bellows at other boats as we pass. The fishermen hold up stringers laden with white bellied trout.
"How 'bout you, doin' any good?" they bellow back. When you're fishing you have to talk like you never got out of third grade, I'm pretty sure it's a rule.
"Naw," my father admits. Then he points to me, like, how can I catch any fish with such a worthless son?
"What 'cha usin'?" my father hollers. I once thought this meant, "What are you taking to keep from throwing up?" like, what drugs are you using? Now I understand it to mean, "what bait have you affixed to the end of your line to haul in more fish in a day than I've seen (outside of the seafood counter at the grocery store) in five years?"
"A Burt Reynolds!" it sounds like they yell back. I blink, wondering what in the world would possess a fish to try to swallow such a thing. Is that with the toupee, or without?
My dad smiles and nods, like, "okay, but you're pretty damn stupid to use that kind of bait when obviously you'd be better off fishing with whatever I'm using," and waits until they are out of sight before diving into his tackle box. "Aha! I knew I had one!" he shouts, holding up what looks like my retainer from high school. "Quick, let's put this on!"
We furiously wind in our lines in a dress rehearsal of what is sure to be how we are going to spend the rest of the day once we attach our Burt Reynolds's.
You have to wonder what the fish are thinking as our lures troll past them underwater.
Fish: "Hey look, Ralph, isn't that Burt Reynolds swimming by at a constant speed attached to monofilament, there?"
Ralph Fish: "Hey, I think you're right! I'm gonna go bite it right away!"
Two hours later we are still fishing. My father keeps consulting his fish finder, which is blinking and beeping as if it has detected a fleet of Soviet submarines. "You think we're going too fast?" he asks me for the hundredth time. I shrug. I've decided the only way we're going to catch a fish is if our hooks collide with one, so it only seems logical to me to speed up.
"Montana, now that was an experience," my father murmurs. I carefully avoid reacting so as not to encourage another retelling of the time my father went to a catch and release camp in Montana. To me, catch and release is like paying for food at a grocery store and then putting it back. I stare at my line and will myself not to regurgitate. I am so cold I could spend a week lying in the streets of Phoenix Arizona and I would still be shivering. "Montana. Sure was amazing," my father chants, eyeing me carefully. I am pretty sure I'm in a coma. "Very interesting story," he remarks. "Wow, what a day. Boy. We should really talk about that one. Man. Holy smokes."
I will not talk. My brain is on catch and release. I don't even react as the tip of my father's rod bends down as sharply as a graph of the Japanese stock market, his reel making a sizzling sound in its holder. Then it occurs to me what I am seeing and I leap to my feet. "Dad! You've got a fish!"
This is such an unexpected event I feel like I've been blasphemous. I begin winding my own line in with wild fervor, because that's a rule, you have to get your hook out of the way. I am perfectly positioned to block my father's lunge for his rod, which means I am bodyslammed right out of the boat and into the lake.
"Hey!" I yell with a certain amount of surprise. I immediately begin to initiate a drowning sequence.
My father, of course, is busy pulling in his catch, and seems remarkably disinterested in the fact that his son is fast falling both behind and below his boat.
"Hey!" I announce again.
"Hold on to the rod!" he shouts encouragingly.
My clothes are filling with water and it is becoming increasingly difficult to picture myself breathing. He wants me to cling to something that feels like it is tied to the bottom of the lake. Screw the rod, it's life I'm concentrating on holding on to. "Help!" I shriek, since "hey!" seemed to convey the wrong message. I get ready to have my whole life pass before my eyes, but all I can seem to remember is that I forgot to carry the trash out to the curb this morning.
Then something smacks me behind the ear. I look up, blinking, and see that my father has steered over to me and is wielding the fishnet. "Why are you hitting me in the head?" I demand peevishly.
"Grab it!" he commands earnestly. I flail out, catch the net, and am pulled over to the side of the boat. With a lot of strenuous gasping, we manage to get me aboard.
I fall to the floor and leak water, panting. "The fish?" I finally manage to choke.
He shakes his head.
"The rod?" he asks.
I make the same negative gesture. Our defeat is so profound that we don't even speak while he turns the boat toward shore. We're done for the day. We pass other fishermen and don't even ask if they're doin' any good.
Half an hour later we're approaching the docks. I've brought up all the water I swallowed and returned it to the lake, and the sun is actually getting ready to make a try at a comeback. "Looks like we're going to have to wait a bit," my dad remarks, pointing to the long line of watercraft awaiting their turn at the boat ramp. He cuts the engine and we drift a ways, not saying anything.
"So," I say finally. "Tell me about that fishing trip you took to Montana."
Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 1998
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