Pete’s my best friend. Been that way since junior high where we learned about Marlboro’s, Rolling Rock, and liking girls. Oh yeah… and a little detention. Through thick and thin, we remained close. Probably because neither one of us knew whether we were in the thick or the thin or what that even meant. Things usually worked out for Pete. I always came up short. Maybe because I am short; that was my first mistake. He had the good sense to be tall. While I never made the cut for Little League, he made the all-star team. In high school, he dated the prettiest girl. I read Mad Magazine. He followed a career in law enforcement; I in manual labor.
But we did everything together. We played ball, hunted frogs, drank late into the next morning, dated girls who became best friends. Married girls who became best friends. And we fished together. To no one’s great suprise, he was better at it. I’m not sure why. Maybe like the girls in high school, fish just liked him more. He blamed it on my retrieve; it was too fast. “No fish is going to chase a worm going sixty miles an hour”, he counseled. So I slowed it down. I still didn’t catch any fish, but I did manage to clear the lake of weeds for the other fishermen.
Fishing, more than anything, takes patience. You start out with “live bait”: worms or minnows. Some are earthworms. Some are nightcrawlers. The only way to tell them apart is to ask them. Don’t be put off if they lie. Worms, as a whole, lack enthusiasm when faced with impalement. Minnows are even more finicky. They’re a disagreeeable lot that jump around trying to get you to stick the hook into your own finger. They’re sold by the pint. Like milk. Except everyone knows what a pint of milk looks like. Only the guy selling the bait can identify a pint of killies. You’re at his mercy. They normally cost about the same as Steak n’ Tails at the Waldorf.
Once you get your live bait (which often can live for as much as thirty seconds) on your hook, you cast it out with a bobber attached about three feet above it on the line. Then you sit there and watch it for any sign of movement. This experience is most closely mirrored by the Tibetan Monks, who for days on end, repose in silent meditation otherwise known as “tending the bobber”. Finally the bobber bobs (that’s what good bobbers do) and takes off across the water. Now you have to “set the hook”. That’s the part where you yank the pole upward with enough thrust to dislodge a Buick. After a back-and-forth battle between man and beast, if you’ve done well, you land him and, when he turns out to be a bluegill the size of a walnut, toss him back before Pete sees you.
A true sportsman never uses live bait. It’s cheating. Like getting left back four times so you can play varsity sports until you vote. Lures are the true staple of the honest fisherman and they come in thousands of shapes, sizes, materials, and colors. Pete has them all. He could have had yachts, jet planes, probably his own country if not for the lures. There are spinners and divers and surface plugs. Some meant to attract by representing a food source; others by mimicking a shapely mermaid in lingerie.All of them work and none of them work. It all depends on the wind, the temperature, the barometric pressure, and how hungry or horny the fish is.
Once the prize catch is ashore or in the boat, the proper procedure is to “catch and release”. In other words, take the hook out and throw the fish back in the water. The truly humane thing to do would be to take it to a fish clinic and have them sew his lips back on, but what with the dearth of aquatic surgeons these days, that rarely happens, and so back he goes, much to the amusement and/or horror of his friends.
I’ve never been good at catching; even worse at releasing. My fish like to swallow the lure down to their dorsal fin, requiring the utmost intricate of performance to dislodge the hook. I have a special pair of forceps to accomplish this. I manuver them down into the southern regions of my catch’s anatomy and softly pull and twist the hook out, almost always with the lion’s share of his insides attached. Then I gently toss him back in the water where he rolls over and plays dead as he floats downstream never again to be fooled by some plastic imposter. I glance over at Pete. He shakes his head but never says a word. That’s why we’re friends.