Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My First Fish

For my first fishing trip, Daddy woke me up about 4:30, gave me something (leftover biscuits?) for breakfast, put me in the back seat of the car, and drove to Panola Shoals, near Atlanta. This was a stretch of river which flowed over sheets of rock; the water was fast and dangerous and I was never permitted to fish there. Daddy fished there. He never caught anything, but I recall his standing in the water up to his waist, leaning into the current with a cane pole stretched downstream, bent by its force. He was fishing for channel catfish.

He had found a small branch stream which fed into the river and parked me there with strict instructions not to go anywhere else and to wait until he came for me.

(I now think he was mostly out in the woods, shooting craps with his buddies and that’s why he never caught any fish. I provided the alibi for my mother to explain his going away for a whole day.)

The place he left me was dark. Small trees bent over the water and made a kind of dim cathedral. The water was black; the bank was muddy, for there was too little sun for anything to grow. The water barely moved. But, underneath the water – ah, that was different! It was populated by millions of immense fish, just waiting for me to give them a worm and drag them out!

Instead, my cork began moving -- BOUNCE! jiggle….jiggle…jiggle.. jiggle. jigglejigglejiggle PLOP! ……… and then BOUNCE! jiggle….jiggle… jiggle.. jiggle.jiggle PLOP! ………JERK! Rebait…..

In the late afternoon, Daddy came for me and dragged me protesting from my fishing hole and took me home, tired, hungry and with a headache from not having drunk any water all day.

When I was nine or ten my willingness to sit and watch a fishing cork bobbing was limited only by the hours of daylight . And my ability to understand that the fish causing all the ruckus were too small to be caught was overcome by confidence. Confidence that someday …SOMEDAY! I was filled with hope, which in a young boy is almost limitless.

The second time he took me, I baited my hook, and started the jiggling routine. Over and over, something ate my worms and forced me to rebait. As time passed, I began playing games with the cork. Instead of waiting for something to pull it under with the PLOP sound, I began jerking when it was jiggling. And sometimes when it wasn’t jiggling – but it was about to jiggle. Boredom? Needing something new to do? Who knows. But, finally, as I jerked, something jerked back!

Out of the water I pulled the most beautiful fish ever seen by mortals! Green! Glistening eyes! A yellow belly! And I had caught it! It was mine! I caught it all by myself! Nobody helped! And it was lovely.

Carefully poking a small stick in its gills and pushing it up to a fork in the stick, I laid my treasure on the bank and eagerly returned to the water to repeat my triumph. Now, how had I caught it? On the first jiggle, or the second jiggle, or by waiting until it PLOPPED! Or just before the jiggling started. I couldn’t remember, so I did them all. And I caught another fish! Two real fish!

This time, when Daddy came to get me, I was ready to go home and show everyone my fish. All the waiting had been worth it. Now, I had proved I could fish and not only fish, but catch fish, And Daddy was proud of me!

My mother was somewhat less enthusiastic, only worrying about whether she would have to cook the fish. I couldn’t understand that. Surely my fish were worth cooking – so she did, frying them in bacon grease, coated with cornmeal. I ate them both, except for a taste for one brother.

What a meal! Marvelous, crispy little bites! Bones, fins – everything but the innards and heads!

My fish, Including the heads, might have been at least two inches long.

© Larry Hamby 3/18/2007