“Don’t tell fish stories where the people know you…but particularly, don’t tell them where they know the fish.” – Mark Twain
Keith and I live in the “Walleye Capital of the World”. Whether it’s open water or ice-fishing, Lake of the Woods is a fisherman’s paradise. Keith grew up here. Naturally, one of his and his brother, Daryl’s favorite past times was fishing. As kids, they didn’t always get to go to the lake. But, that didn’t stop them from fishing. On such occasions, Keith and Daryl grabbed their fishing rods. Instead of hooks, they had slip knots and loops at the end of their fishing line. They released the line and lowered the loop, until it laid on the ground below. Then they stretched their bodies out flat, as if they were laying across thin ice. Keith and Daryl would escape notice, as they fished.
Prior to video games and cable T.V., most boys and girls never stayed in one spot for very long. They were learning by doing. And doing meant going. And the faster they were going, the better. However, there was an exception. It was an activity that was quietly enjoyed from one spot for many years. Hint: It wasn’t Sunday service on a church pew. Although, many argue it is their religion. It’s Fishing. Yes, fishing with a capital “F”. It’s that important.
A lot of folks don’t understand fishing. In fact, some women demand to know, what’s so damn special about sitting in one spot and holding a stick all day long. Sadly, fishermen have been trying to explain it to you for years. You haven’t listened. So, for $9.99 and a fair-trade, dark chocolate bar, I’ll tell you. It’s… Miracles! Fishing and miracles go hand-in-hand. They are by nature, inseparable. They have been for centuries. Even the youngest fishermen don’t need to be told this. Deep down in their souls, they already know. It’s the other folks that need to be churched on it. They haven’t learned that God is mighty fond of fish, fishing, and fishermen. So much so, He gifts them with miracles.
Don’t believe me? Surely, you’ve heard wives say it’s a miracle they didn’t kill husbands who bought new fishing boats. You could also ask a fisherman. There are many talented children, men, and women who fish. They’d love nothing more than to tell you miraculous fish stories. Or better yet, see it for yourself. Go fishing. Then take someone who’s never been before; especially, kids. Trust me. You’ll watch more than one miracle unfold. For some of you, it’s going to take a miracle just to get you to try it. For others, it’s going to take a miracle to get a fisherman to take you. I don’t blame them. They’ve suffered too many years of your ridicule and dismissiveness. Besides, you can’t be quiet; even if both your lips were hooked together.
Folks like you need to start with a peace-offering. Buy the fisherman a cold case of their favorite beverage. You do know which one, right? Absolutely, no buying just whatever’s on sale. And absolutely, no less than one unopened case. Give them that and a hundred-dollar bill. This says you’re putting your money where your Largemouth is. No squawking. Yes, it’s costly for both you and them. Now, tell them you want them to take you fishing. Immediately, swear you’d sit down in their boat and shut up for the rest of the day.
Next, show them you have the duck-tape for your painted duck lips. And be prepared. They will laugh out loud. Offensive words like, “You’re shittin’ me, right?” will be uttered. Otherwise, they’ll be speechless. This is normal. They’ll think you’ve lost your mind. Then they’ll stare you in the eyes. Don’t-say-a-word. They are testing your commitment and fortitude. If you can hold your ground, they may dare to take your offering. If they do, it’s only because this is a really big one. They want to experience this fishing miracle of miracles; you quiet and fishing.
Your fisherman will take a few minutes to make their decision. If the answer is no, thank them anyway. Keep both the beverages and the $100. You can try asking another fisherman. Preferably, one of their buddies. If the answer is yes, never underestimate them. Trust me. They’ve weighed their options and have a plan B. If you break your sit-down-shut-up contract, they won’t think twice before throwing your sagging-butt overboard. However, those of you with bubble-butts may get a second chance. Wear a life jacket, anyway. Next, you need to disconnect from all electronic distractions and pay close attention to instructions. These days, that’s no small miracle.
Leave your cell phone, man bag or purse, and all your rescued-pampered-pets at home. Fifi and Buffy and Lulu will survive without you. Yes, I hear you squawking. Knock-it-off. You’ll need both hands to hold the fishing rod. It’s your first time. Don’t risk ruining it by trying to multi-task. Trust me. If Buffy jumps overboard, you’re going to let go of the rod to rescue her. Depending on where you’re fishing and the size of Buffy, she’s fair game as live fish bait. You’ll panic. As you struggle to reach her from the edge of the boat, you’ll fall into the water. When that happens, you’re on your own. Don’t take it personal. And don’t be wondering why the fisherman isn’t helping you or Buffy. They’re too busy doing rescue work on the other side of the boat. It’s far more important. And don’t blame me. I told you so.
When you drop a fisherman’s rod overboard, it’ll take a miracle for them to rescue you first. It’ll take another miracle for them to take you fishing again. Trust me. All the rods and reels and lures are their favorites. Don’t let go of the rod for any reason, unless the fisherman is holding it. And remember, they don’t need your advice or help. The fisherman is fully capable of opening their own beer can, while reeling in the big one. They’ve done it for years, often alone and without you.
Unfortunately, if you’re feeble or a super model, you won’t be allowed to bait any hooks. Miraculously, you’ve been spared. The fisherman will gladly do it for you. The rest of you will be shown how; one-time-only. From that point on, you need to bait your own. You will get better at it with practice. If your fisherman anoints you with the “holy” water and proclaims you, “Master Baiter”, don’t be flattered. And for heaven’s sake, don’t brag about it to anyone. It’s not a compliment. Again, don’t blame me. I didn’t make the rules.
Next, you will be instructed on casting. Don’t screw up by thinking it’s as easy as it looks. If you want to cast all-by-yourself, practice on your own time; at home. Otherwise, wait for the fisherman to show you how. They don’t want to spend their time untangling lines. And they really don’t want their fishing trip spent in the E.R. They’ll be damned if a hooked body part keeps them from fishing. Depending on where the hook gets caught, they may try to push it through. Yes, you’ll have to watch without getting sick to your stomach. Why? Because you may have to cut the barb off. After all, you put it there. If they can’t push it through, they’ll make a tougher decision…
If you’re hooked, they’ll cave and take you to the E.R. They won’t want to listen to you whine. If they’re hooked, they’ll most likely leave it and choose to suffer. They’ll go to the E.R. at the end of the day, only after they’re done fishing. Are you paying attention? When was the last time you suffered through that kind of pain to do what you love? For many, the most painful part of their favorite activity is fighting over a parking space. However, this is Fishing with a capital “F”. It’s that important to them. So is catching.
Some die-hard fishermen never say they’re going fishing. Instead, they say they’re going “catching”. They fish to catch, so they can eat fish. Period. They’re not into catch and release. Regardless of where your fisherman stands, fishing and catching can be a gamble on any given day. However, it usually requires more than just luck and time. It requires reel work and more. Only inexperienced folks would ever think fishing is a passive activity. Effort goes into it, long before the first line has been cast.
Never be fooled by the watching and waiting parts of fishing. It isn’t always easy. In the blink of a fish’s eye, you could have a bite and lose it, too. You need to be prepared at-all-times. There’s a remote possibility that God has forgiven your former sins against fishermen. And you may catch a fish. If it’s the big one, it’ll be a miracle if you can reel it in and take it off the hook by yourself. Trust me. You won’t be allowed to do so. Your fisherman will be helping you every step of the way. If it’s a small one, you’ll be on your own. It’ll be a miracle if you don’t hook yourself trying to take the fish off. But it’s how you’ll learn. Yes, it will be slimy. Yes, it will still be alive. And yes, it’ll probably pee on you, too. Deal with it.
By the end of the day, it will be a miracle if you’ve kept your promises and haven’t been thrown overboard. If your fisherman hasn’t spent that $100 on an E.R. visit for you, they’ll save it. The next couple times your fisherman goes fishing, they may invite you along. This does not mean you’re now a bona fide fishing buddy. You’re still being tested. And only the fisherman knows how long the testing lasts.
If at any point you fail, you won’t be invited again. Rest assured that you won’t be missed. And that $100? They’ll spend it to buy more beer. After all, they plan to drown out the memory of you ruining their fishing trip. If you pass, you’ll know it. How? Your fisherman will bring you a gift before the next fishing trip.
What kind of gift? Your very own fishing rod. Your fisherman will use the $100 to go shopping for you. Ugh! Instead of thank-you, I hear some of you whining! No, your fisherman isn’t wrong for not taking you along to shop for it. Pay attention! I said this was a gift. Be very grateful. A lot of thought went into buying it for you. It’s special because it’s from your fisherman. It doesn’t matter what you may have wanted. It’s what they wanted you to have for a rod. And it’s more than just a fishing rod. It’s a pass to go fishing with them more often. You can buy any old fishing rod on your own time.
Now, where did we leave off? Oh, yes. We left young Keith and Daryl fishing… on top of the chicken house. And guess, what? They stayed there, in that one spot, this whole time. While they thought this was great fun, their mother wouldn’t have found it amusing. She would’ve squawked and put a stop to it, if only she’d known.
The chicken yard below Keith and Daryl was tranquil. Innocent and unsuspecting chickens were doing what they do best. Some stood still, while their heads teetered up and down. They were pecking cracked corn. Some took dainty sips of water from a bowl. With necks outstretched and heads tilted back, they gargled it down. Others were digging. They used their muscular thighs, strong feet, and sharp toenails. Forcefully, the compacted dirt was broken open. Their heads cocked to one side. Their beaks lowered close to the loosened soil. Using one bulging and straining eye, chickens would discover hidden morsels.
Across the yard, other chickens flopped down. Periodically, they’d alternated sides. They were basking in the summer sun. Three more were veiled by a cloud of dust, as they took their public baths. Two buried their beaks deep into their feathers, removing tiny sources of irritation. Preening seemed such an annoying inconvenience. And one, the coop fool, jumped up and down after a butterfly. All the rest were wandering aimlessly, ‘round and ‘round the enclosed coop. The life of a chicken often appears redundant and uneventful; even boring. That is, unless weasels or creative boys are involved.
Atop the chicken house, Keith and Daryl were waiting. Yet, it’s unlikely that either remained very still. I can envision one scratching an itch and the other picking his nose. I can hear one whisper, “Be still” and the other shouting, “Be quiet!”. Then I see Keith pushing Daryl and Daryl pushing back. Unless one fell off, they had no choice but to stay in one spot. The roof wasn’t very big. And as they waited, I don’t imagine they thought much about of anything. They were busy. They were fishing. It required active watching. Eventually, a chicken would meander near one of the fish-line snares. I’m certain both held their breath, as a chicken foot straddled the line. Sometimes, a chicken simply moved on without stepping into the loop. Then each boy would let out a sigh; one out of frustration and the other in relief. After all, this was a competitive sport.
Eventually, the boys’ waiting paid off. All it required was the right bait; a grasshopper. A juicy and high protein snack hopped between the chicken wire and into the sunny enclosure. One chicken got lucky and snapped it up with its beak. Four other chickens demanded sharing rights. They went nuts and tried to take the grasshopper away. Another succeeded. And the chase was on. Mass rioting followed. All the chickens now moved as one group, all over the pen. Dust and feathers flew. There was loud squawking. It would’ve been impossible for one not to step into a snare.
Keith and Daryl were ready. Each were focused on their own lines. Wait for it…wait for it… and then bam! The line was jerked and the snare was tightened. Coincidently, the boys hollered, “Got one!” at the same time. And each rushed to be the first to reel up their chicken. Meanwhile, two poor chickens were blindsided. Their world was instantly and literally turned upside down. The chickens flew to the top of the coop, without the use of their wings. For Keith and Daryl, these few seconds were crucial. Whomever released their chicken first would win the heat. It was a tight race. Then like alien abductees, the chickens were dropped back on Earth, dazed and confused. Meanwhile, a few loose feathers floated through the air. One would land on a nearly invisible snare. Then fishing would continue. Why? Keith and Daryl hadn’t caught their limit.
“Three-fourths of the Earth’s surface is water, and one-fourth is land. It is quite clear that the good Lord intended us to spend triple the amount of time fishing as taking care of the lawn.” – Chuck Clark