I didn’t want to catch any catfish

I didn’t want to catch any catfish

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been fishing. There was a pond nearby when I was around 10 years old, a smelly, stagnant thing alongside busy railroad tracks, stocked with little more than bluegill and probably dumped goldfish. The other kids said there were catfish, but I was happy to never see any.

All I knew of catfish — of fishing at all, really — came from my older brother, who fished quite a lot as a young man but left pole and bobber behind as soon as he picked up a golf club. “Watch out for catfish,” he said. “They’ll slice your hand wide open.”

I didn’t want to catch any catfish.

The only appeal to fishing now, I’m embarrassed to admit, is the really nifty vests and boots the fly fishermen wear. Fly fishing does in fact sound like a lot of zen fun: concentration, skill, the quiet broken by the rush of water. I could do that, and trout is pretty delicious. I’ve always wanted to catch fish and cook it on the spot.

But the only sort of fishing I’ve done is with a cheap plastic Zebco reel from Safeway that got stuck constantly, line that tangled into spools of hooks and knots, and a tackle box that smelled like war surplus fish guts.

I remember casting a squirming “feeshin” worm out with a red and white bobber. Zing! Plop! Then the bobber would sit there, floating on the muddy water of a stupid pond with trains thundering behind. My sneakers were slipping around in the mud, and there were floating algae and pods of tadpoles close to the rocky shore.

Surely I’d cast the hook into a bad spot because it’d been a good 45 seconds and there was no sign of a nibble. So I’d reel in, look around for another patch of muddy water and cast again. Zing! Plop! There that bobber would sit, worm dangling below. Why the heck was this taking so long?

“You need a sinker,” said my friend, who knew much more about these things than I. He handed me a small teardrop-shaped lead weight with a loop on the end. The addition of a sinker required removing and rethreading the hook and a complete line redo, so may as well sit down up the bank to do a proper job. The worm by this point looked half dead, more gray than red now, so the merciful thing to do was let it go aground and try to recover. Finally, with a fresh worm and added sinker and bigger bobber clipped on the line, I was ready to try again.

Zing! Plop! Bobber, sinker and worm went swirling ‘round each other through the air, aimed at a green, muddy brown spot of water. And there that bobber would sit for an eternity, a good two, three minutes, easy.

Then I’d spot the stones all around my feet, perfect, flat stones for skipping on the water. Maybe I could hit that bobber with one after a couple of skips. So the fishing venture would devolve into boredom, throwing stones at the bobber. No one ever asked me to go fishing twice.

The fantasy was real enough: We’d catch a swell wicker basket full of fat fish, make up a probably illegal campfire there on the bank of the pond and fry up our catch, just like Opie Taylor. The reality was a bleeding finger with a hook in it, sodden sneakers, a lost, tangled hook, sinker and bobber set that had to be cut loose and left forever in a tree branch, and toting that stupid, smelly tackle box back home. And I was hungry. The potato chips I brought along got wet and had to be fed to the tadpoles.

I do have one of those vests, though.

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