I’ve always thought of fishing as a poor man’s activity.  There was a time that I fished a lot.  I haven’t fished in years; it’s not that I’ve become rich; it’s just that I’m not dirt poor anymore.  When I was dirt poor, fishing was something I could do that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  All I needed was my inexpensive Zebco rod and reel and a lure.

Today, fishing is a major industry.  According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s most recent survey, over 34 million folks fish yearly: approximately 28.4 million anglers are freshwater fishers, and 9.1 million are saltwater fishers.  Anglers fish 16 days per year on average and spend an average of $1,064 on this activity.  In other words, each year folks spend $14.7 billion on fishing trips and $17 billion on equipment.  If they would have included me in the survey, I think the average money invested in fishing would have been a lot less.

My earliest memory of fishing involved my father who one day suddenly decided to take the family fishing.  He bought cane poles and hooks and line and bobbers and weights and worms and headed for a nearby lake with all of our fishing gear in a paper bag.  Even then I noted the irony of having a tackle bag rather than a tackle box.  I don’t think Dad even changed from his white dress shirt and blue dress trousers.  I’m not sure that Dad even had more appropriate fishing clothes.  He always seemed to be dressed in a white shirt and tie.  The fishing experience didn’t last long, maybe 30 minutes fishing from a wooden pier in some nameless lake in the middle of Louisiana.  I don’t know what struck Dad that day that compelled him to take us fishing.  Maybe he just wanted to try a little family time.  He must not have liked it because I don’t recall it ever being repeated.  Well, wait a minute.  It seems that I recall what I suppose must have been another fishing experience with Dad.  I don’t recall the fishing part, but I can’t imagine why we were out in the woods in a nice black humpbacked car if we were not on a fishing expedition.  What made me remember the experience is that as we drove along on a dirt road (path) in the woods, we came upon a huge mud puddle we needed to cross.  Dad had us all, Mom, my younger brother Jerry, and me, get out of the car either for our safety or so that we could have a better vantage point from which to observe the feat he was about to perform.  As we waited and watched, Dad revved the engine repeatedly and then gunned it.  It indeed was a sight to see as the engine roared and the mud burped up from beneath the wheels.  The really interesting part came when he cleared the mud hurdle.  The suddenness of the car stopping was notable.  The car almost stood on its grill; Dad stepped from the car and motioned us to get in and confessed he had forgotten to release the emergency brake before attempting the great mud puddle crossing.  I imagine you can see why this was much more memorable than any fishing which might have gone on.

I wasn’t a fisherman as I was growing up.  I, apparently, had bigger fish to fry.  Sorry about the pun.  I came to be a fisherman after I married and after I finally realized that I was poor.  Fishing, if practiced with restraint, can be an inexpensive activity.

Many times I’ve gathered my trusty Zebco and a bag of lures, yes, I said bag, and headed for the lake, Lake Somerville, a pretty good fishing hole conveniently only six blocks from my home.  The lake, a Corps of Engineers’ project,  was created by damming Yegua Creek.  It was estimated by the Corp that it would take five years for it to fill.  It filled in one rainy winter.  So much for science.  My fish of choice was the bass.  The lake has a lot of crappie also, but my choice was the black bass.

Fishing, although a pretty dull activity for the most part, became an adventure when I obtained a boat.  Obtained is the cautious word.  I certainly didn’t buy it.  Larry, a coach, had apparently appropriated it from some recreation area far from Somerville.  It was so small that I doubt that this theft had even been a felony.  He passed it on to my friend Sammy, another coach, who passed it on to me, not a coach.  This beauty fit in the bed of a standard pickup truck.  When I say fit, I mean fit with the tailgate closed.  It was built of a few sticks of wood and covered with thin fiberglass and had a pleasing design with a pointed end and a flat end.  It didn’t come with a motor, but I  laid out money for a shiny paddle.  In spite of its frail appearance, I only had to do a little fiberglass repair once.  I could pick it up with one hand and toss it into my truck and head for the lake.  Perfect. 

My time of fishing from this boat coincided with my brother’s interest in fishing.  Now, Jerry, my brother, was a rather large fellow, about six-two and well over two hundred pounds; whereas, I was closer to five-ten and 160 pounds.  Nevertheless, that’s a total of at least 360 pounds plus fishing gear in the little boat.  This allowed about two inches of safety from the lake water.  Although our trips to the lake were many, remarkably, we never capsized the little boat.  We became so familiar with the boat that from time to time we would even stand in the tiny vessel to cast our lines.  Needless to say, we notified the other fellow when we were about to stand.  It must have been an amusing sight to see two grown men in this tiny vessel.  Once we decided to paddle out to a small island in the lake.  As we paddled toward the island, a huge powerboat zipped along near us.  The wind must have carried the voice which I heard say with absolute conviction, “They can’t do that.”  But, of course, we could.  Eventually, I returned the boat to Sammy, and it disappeared.  But, while I had the little boat, there was a little adventure added to my fishing experiences.

Speaking of my brother, one summer we would often meet after work to make a quick trip to the lake to do a little bass fishing.  We would usually catch only two or three keepers.  Early in the summer, I suggested that my brother take our catch home throughout the summer to place in his freezer to save for a big fish fry.  By the end of the summer, I was certain we had enough fish stored to have a pretty good fish fry.  One afternoon while putting the boat into the truck, I commented, “Just put those with the others.”  His response seemed like a non sequitur: “What others?”  I clarified, “The other fish.”  Without hesitation he responded, “There are no other fish.”  I shot back, “What do you mean there are no other fish?”  Without apology he responded, “I ate them.”  Holy crap.  So much for planning ahead.

One day after work, I headed for a creek which fed into the lake where I expected to catch a fish or two.  I must have been in a rush that day because I quickly left the pavement, bumped down the dirt path, jumped from the truck, took two steps, and made a hasty cast into the trees on the other side of the creek.  On the first cast, snagged in a tree, a new record.  Struggling to get the lure to release from the tree, I never noticed the old man standing beneath the limb from which I was trying to extract my lure, until he spoke, “Anybody could have done that.”  Not realizing he was there, I was truly shocked by his judgmental pronouncement.  It took me a moment to gather myself after I eventually got my lure back.  Finally I worked up the courage to ask, “You catching anything?”  His response made me feel a little better about his judgment of my fishing skills: “I’ve been out here for three days, and I ain’t caught a damned fish yet.”  I had the good grace to not catch anything that day either.

Fishing means different things to different folks. 

I recall an older lady who was comfortably settled on the edge of the lake hauling in with her cane pole tiny brim one after another.  A friend of hers hailed her from farther down the bank inquiring how her fishing was going.  She shouted back, “I’ve got thirty or forty nice ones right here in this gallon bucket.”

I mentioned my friend Sammy.  He definitely wasn’t a sports fisherman.  He fished, but he was a trotline fisherman.  Trotline fishing is the equivalent of using traps to catch wild game.  Sammy dragged me along several times to check his trotlines.  He was pretty good at this activity catching blue and yellow catfish in abundance.  After my association with Sammy for years, I concluded that it wasn’t his nature to be involved in sports fishing.  In fact, I think Sammy would have used dynamite if he had thought he could get away with it. 

I, on the other hand, thought of myself as a sports fisherman.  I recall one morning at about dawn I began casting my lure in a quiet cove in the lake as bass boats roared away in the distance in a race for their bass competition honey holes.  I felt particularly poor at that moment and a little resentful of all of the racket these heathens were making.  At about the time I was about to feel sorry for myself, I hooked a two-ponder, hauled it in and, satisfied, returned home to show Linda my prize.

The most fun I ever had fishing was with Jim, my friend from Louisiana.  While on a visit to Louisiana, Jim suggested we go fishing for brim in a private lake a few miles south of Alexandria.  Brim?  Jim assured me that they were not normal sized brim.  He said that the lake had the second largest brim in the United States, the largest being in Georgia, I believe.  He surmised that the unusually large size of the brim was because the lake was atop an iron deposit.  Whatever the reason, he was right: they were huge.  One couldn’t get thirty or forty of these beauties in a gallon bucket.  Maybe one or two, but their tails would definitely hang out.

Jim found the old Cajun’s place, paid him a minimal fee for the rental of a flat bottomed boat with paddles, and we set out upon the lake.  The lake was a long narrow affair which apparently received water overflows from the adjacent swamp, and, yes, there were alligators.  We never saw any, but we repeatedly heard their low rumbles from the nearby swamp.  Bass when hooked are tame by comparison to these oversized brim.  We caught about sixty that day.  Not bad.  Cleaning them later was a whole other story, but brim are good eating.

I think my experience fishing with Jim was probably the last time I participated in the activity.  Not a bad way to end my inexpensive fishing career.

As I mentioned, I haven’t fished in years and seriously doubt I’ll ever fish again; however, if Jim were still alive and the little boat were still available, I might be tempted.



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