Editor Commentary

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Hooked and sinkered

Fish have a sense of humor, I'm convinced of it.

Say you, the Great White Angler, take your city-bred wife for her first-ever fishing trip, to share just a bit of your limitless fountain of knowledge.

"Here, boo, let me help you with that." (Insert condescending chuckle here.)

"You see, honeybuns, the ergodynamics of fishing take decades to master, as I have. You need your monofilament 12-pound test there, cast just so, then you twitch the tri-bonzi barb past the dorsal fin in an exact simulation of the little known lambada spawning dance of the Eastern Southwestern Northernmost Central American Walleye..."

While you were speaking, your wife got bored and slouched off to the nearest picnic table, dangling a bit of red thread from her sweater. As she buffs her nails and yawns, a catfish reminiscent of Shamu crawls out of the lake and onto the beach, entangling itself in the thread and surrendering.

Your wife takes a look at the big catch, and wanders off to catch "Oprah" on the mini-portable TV.

You, of course, fish feverishly for the next 14.5 hours and catch nothing more than a Bud Light can. It is pure sandpaper to your soul when she says, "Don't worry crabcakes, my fish is more than enough for both of us."

So the next day, you sell everything you own, including a couple of the children, and head down to the marina with the wad in your hand.

You need a trolling motor guaranteed to sing a bass to sleep, a depth gauge accurate enough to pick up a perch's smirk at 50 feet, a rod made out of the same compound as the space shuttle and Andre Agassi's tennis racquet, a titanium steel reel designed by Porsche, and a tackle box filled with thousands of hot pink lures with bits of actual human hair from Cameron Diaz's armpits.

Your confidence restored at the bargain price of $118,000, this time you offer to take your 4-year-old son out for his first fishing trip. The wife is not invited.

Within roughly three hours you have the boat and tackle all set. They roar and whine and hum and jiggle in expensive ways, sending the adrenaline spurting uncontrollably through your fisherman capillaries.

Only then do you notice that the boy, using a Twinkie for bait and facing the wrong direction, has already caught a bucketful of the biggest fish you've ever witnessed. He casts his $4.95 Coast to Coast special vaguely toward the highway, and on the backswing, the Twinkie glances off a rock. As the #2 hook passes over a puddle the size of a quarter, a 12-pound catfish rockets out of the water and grabs the line with its fins. Holding to its tail is a fine northern, and holding to its tail is a trophy walleye. They actually crawl into the bucket.

The kid goes off to watch Sponge Bob and you fish red-faced all day, catching nothing but a snapping turtle that hops into your boat, bites you in the butt, and hops back out.

In your depth finder, you can see dozens of big fish, just under your boat. They appear to be making nasty-fin gestures.

The following day, you sell the farm, your clothing and Grandma's burial plot to buy the Fishkiller III Megaboat, a sleek, lethal looking monster just like the hick on ESPN fishing shows Sunday morning uses.

You take no chances. Wife and kids are left behind. It'll be just a guy and his dog. Ahhh.

You dip every bit of tackle Berk Bedell ever made, engage every electronic gizmo from Wal-Mart sporting goods. You even slap a little Old Spice onto the lures for good measure and sing Celine Dion love songs to the fish. Nada.

Meanwhile, the boats around you are hauling in perch the size of swordfish. In one, a girl dressed in what appears to be three Mountain Dew bottle caps connected by yarn is resorting to her water ski to beat back fish trying to get into the boat.

As you head to the dock, darkly considering housing costs in the Sahara Dessert, it doesn't help to notice your mutt is clutching a state record-size channel catfish in its jaws.

Then there's the drive home. You're busted from spending all your money on fishing gear, and deeply depressed.

You have 21 bloody hook gouges, 862 swollen mosquito bites, one in an area where a Band-Aid is out of the question; a painful sunburn; a guilt complex for abandoning the family on yet another weekend; a soaking wet car seat resulting in diaper rash; a smell that won't wash off for six days; an impossible tangle of fishing line in the glove compartment; a Freudian sense of doomy self-depreciation; and 18 neighbors waiting on the front lawn to tell you just where you went wrong.

So you glance over at the dog, slobbering all over the car upholstery. (Coincidentally, the dog is, too.)

"Same time next week'?" The dog just grins, as if to say, "What the heck - not much on my social calendar except sniffing other dogs' behinds."

You slap the ugly fishing hat back on your head, the one with the half dozen lures stuck in so they rip out what wisps of hair you have left at the roots as it goes on and off.

"God," you tell the dog. " I love fishing."