You may have heard the proverb, “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime of crushing debt after he buys the boat, trailer, tackle, depth finder, trolling motor, etc.” Seriously, though, despite my dad’s best efforts throughout my childhood and a few excursions of my own as an adult, I’d still rather someone just give me the fish — preferably deep fried with a side of coleslaw and hush puppies.
Don’t get me wrong, though, I do enjoy a few minutes of catching. I could just do without the fishing part.
One of my earliest memories of fishing with no hope of escape was the time my dad and some of his friends took me on an expedition to the Toledo Bend Reservoir on the border of Texas and Louisiana when I was around 11 years old. Along with the fishing, we planned to visit nearby Zwolle, Louisiana, for the Zwolle Tamale Fiesta (a festival honoring — you guessed it — tamales), which was to be the highlight of the trip for me because... tamales.
Unfortunately, I wound up in a boat with a marathon fisherman who refused to allow a few tortuous hours with not so much as a minnow toot to stop him from dragging me around the lake until I got so bored I resorted to assigning nicknames to the live bait. To top it off, we completely missed the tamale festival — an experience of childhood trauma that still haunts me when I eat Mexican food, so at least twice a week.
Just recently, I was cajoled by a few of my friend dudes into tromping out to a fully-stocked pond and making some casts from the bank — once they taught me how to operate an open-face reel without dislocating my fingernails. (I’m pretty sure they just took me for comic relief.)
After impaling a few earthworms, I actually hauled in several large bluegill and one unnecessarily belligerent channel catfish. I must admit that there’s nothing quite like the pop on the end of the line of a borrowed rod that reverberates all the way down to the hair on your toe knuckles. I kind of felt like that guy from the “River Monsters” television show — if he got his man card revoked and basically forgot everything he knew about fishing.
Things quickly took a turn, though, when I cast my bait too close to my friend’s bobber, hooked a fully jacked bream the size of a Pomeranian, and watched as our fishing lines performed some kind of monofilament mating ritual that resulted in a tangled mess of polyethylene worthy of a bipartisan congressional commission. We spent the next 10 minutes standing face-to-face in a slow-dance posture while we picked at the knot and trash-talked the Zebco corporation.
Despite the tangled line and a bloody thumb that the catfish mistook for an hors d’oeuvre, I had a great time, and I’m still hoping the lingering fish funk on my hands wears off sometime before next Christmas.
Most of my other fish tales prove that “the big one that got away” wasn’t just the theme of my teenage romances, and although I’m not terribly fond of fishing, I do love and appreciate God’s great outdoors. I’d just rather enjoy it within reach of a thermostat and TV remote.
I keep thinking that I’ll learn to love fishing someday when my three daughters are grown and gone, and my wife keeps me locked out of the house until after dark. Until then, I’ll be the weirdo who doesn’t like to fish, but always volunteers to bring the coleslaw.