By W. Bruce Cameron
Fishing is the act of sitting in a boat for hours and hours waiting for something to happen. It can be an exciting sport if you enjoy watching a lake evaporate one molecule at a time. And sometimes, given the right rhythm to the waves, there’s the added attraction of throwing up.
My father and I go fishing occasionally, though we’ve never explained to each other why. Holding a rod in my hands, I’m struck by the idea that fishing is sort of like kite flying, except the kite is very small and you can’t see it. I mention this to my father, who doesn’t respond, either because he finds my comment unmanly or because he has fallen into a stupor.
We’re in Michigan, where he has gone to retire. Based on how he spends his days, I assume he picked Michigan because it has good cable television. We’ve paid the state a license fee so that if we catch anything, it will legally cost ten bucks an ounce.
We’re trolling, meaning that the boat is moving ahead slowly, dragging behind it a barbed lure in hopes some hapless fish will come across it. To me, trolling is a bit like discharging a shotgun out your kitchen window, hoping you’ll hit a chicken.
The inside of our boat is smaller than the size allowed by the Supreme Court for prison cells. “Catch anything yet?” I ask my father, hoping to amuse at least one of us.
He’s still not talking.
My dad bought a fish finder in order to, well, find fish. We stared at the schools of huge fish on the small screen for two awestruck years before we realized we had it in “Demo” mode. Now we don’t pay much attention to it, but we leave it in Demo because we find the images comforting.
Our lures are made of metal and plastic, substances that fish apparently find very appetizing. I try to picture wanting to bite at the things as they sail past. It’s as if you decided to ignore a hamburger and eat a unicycle instead.
My father has a new net. (The old one fell apart from disuse.) The new purchase is large enough to net a human cannonball. “Why don’t we forget the lures and just drag the net through the water?” I suggest. “Maybe we’ll catch Flipper.”
I’m starting to worry that perhaps my father thinks the fish are monitoring our conversation to learn our plans. Finally he speaks. “What’s he doing?” he says.
I look where he indicates. A boat with a solitary fisherman approaches dead ahead, apparently planning to ram us at 3 MPH. My father stands up and makes a nautical hand signal that means “You Are An Idiot.” The captain of the opposing vessel shakes his fist, but makes no effort to change course. This is an obvious challenge to which the only response is to not change our course.
We’re going to crash and sink because neither boat thought to bring along a woman to point out how stupid we’re acting.
The same laws of randomness that have protected the fish from being snagged by our hooks now prevents a boating accident by the narrowest of margins. “I’ve been fishing this lake for 60 years,” my father calls to our enemy, establishing who has proprietary rights to this stretch of water. The guy in the other boat smells like he’s been fishing even longer.
“I’ve been here all morning,” he counters as he slips past.
“Well, you won that debate,” I praise my father.
Moments later my rod dips and I’m fighting what feels like the biggest fish of my life. With every tug it pulls back, as if it’s trying to catch me.
With a sound like a bow firing an arrow, my line pops out of the water—I’ve hooked the lure of the enemy boat guy. Our lures dance in the air for a moment while we strain against each other and then there’s a snap and we both fall back. His line has broken, and I reel in his lure while he shakes his fist.
My father’s disgusted, but I’m happy — I went fishing and finally caught something!
From The Cameron Column, a free Internet newsletter
Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 2010. Permission is granted to send this to others, with attribution, but not for commercial purposes.