My sister Barbara and I stand at the Lemons Branch Boat Dock looking out over a calm, peaceful lake on a balmy Friday evening while we wait on her husband, Richard, to show up with the pontoon boat. I haven’t been fishing in too many years to count, and I’m anxious to bait my hook with slimy worms and reel in slimy fish. In all likelihood, my niece Tasha would place me in the “not a girl” category along with her mom because we love to do a lot of “guy” things. |
Once loaded on the boat with a rock big enough to block out the sun for a makeshift-anchor, we head to a murky area to do a little brim fishing before it gets dark. We clatter around, grabbing fishing poles and worms, saying, “Excuse me,” “Whoops, didn’t mean to snag ya in the face with my hook,” and “Watch out, I just kicked the worms over.”
At the same time I’m apologizing to my worm, my sister holds up her bait and says, “I’m sorry little worm, but I’m gonna have ta stick one end of this hook through your head and pull it out your butt,” earning amused glances from the two young boys, Mike and Ritchie, who tagged along.
After reeling in my line with an empty hook for the fifteenth time that evening, I frown and say, “I think all I’m doing is feeding the fish.” But on the next cast, I haul in a brim. Since everyone has caught a fish at this point, we pull in our lines and head upstream to do a little catfishing.
On the way up, we stop near the bank where another group is fishing and accept a catfish they’d caught. Everyone in western North Carolina knows to send his or her catches to my daddy, Monroe, who will pack his freezer with anything edible growing or living in the wild. No kill ever goes to waste. It’s not a country boy or girl’s style. No matter what you may have heard. If anyone asks us if we turned our catch loose, our standard reply is, “Yep, right into Monroe’s stomach.”
We find a spot that’s not too muddy for catching catfish and prepare to secure the boat. With a little grappling and creative knot-tying, Barbara and Ritchie lower the rock anchor from the front of the boat, while Richard drops the real anchor from the back to keep the boat in more or less one spot – although I did notice we kept floating closer and closer to a stand of trees in the middle of the lake.
We bait our hooks with cut-bait and worms, cast the lines in the water, and settle in to wait for the fish to come to us.
We wait some more.
A fish jumps and splashes back into the water behind us.
We wait and wait and wait and wait and wait...
My line jiggles, and my sister whispers with excitement, “Did you just get a bite?”
“Naw,” I whisper back. “I kicked the pole with my foot.”
We return to waiting.
Not so much as a nibble on the lines.
Richard points at the screen on his fish-finder. “A whole bunch of ‘em just swam under the boat.”
We glance over the side, as if we might see them swimming by twelve feet below the surface. Holding our breath, we wait for our poles to bend double with the weight of a monster catfish on it.
Another fish, or perhaps the same one, jumps behind us again. Richard and I glance over our shoulders and scan the dark lake, thinking we might catch a glimpse of the daredevil fish.
Finally, Barbara reels in a small catfish and as Richard tries to free the hook from its throat, Barbara says, “I’m sorry little fishy. I was gonna turn you loose, so you could grow into a great big fish, so I could come back later and catch you again, but you swallowed the darn hook.”
Richard’s cell phone rings. He flips it open and says, “Speak.” It’s our friends fishing from the bank wanting to know if we’d caught anything, and to tell us to stop by before we head home to pick up two more catfish they’d caught.
Still no action on our end.
By now the bullfrogs had started croaking, and I swear they sound like they weigh at least fifty pounds, and my sister wants to know if I hear the horns, which throws us into a fit of funny bone-whacking laughter. If you’ve read Too Darn Cute at Pizza Hut you’ll know what I mean. My family tends to have a lot of funny bone-whacking moments.
After we get our laughter under control, Richard and Mike get into an intense discussion about the width of the fish-finding beam that runs from the middle of the boat at the back and outward.
“It’s eighteen feet long, “ Richard says.
“So it runs about thirteen feet from the side of the boat,” Mike says.
“No, it runs eighteen feet from both sides of the boat.”
“So it’s thirteen feet from both sides of the boat.”
Mike shakes his head and says, “But about five feet of that’s under the boat.”
Exasperated, Richard says, “What’s three times eighteen?”
I look at him trying to figure out why a third eighteen has gotten thrown into the mix.
My sister joins the debate. “Eighteen plus eighteen is thirty-two.”
“Okay, thirty-two plus eighteen equals what?” Richard asks. “Add that, and you’ll get a beam radius or something.”
A moment of silence cloaks the night, except for the baritone frogs, and that darn fish jumping behind the boat, as we calculate in our heads. No one seems able to come up with an answer. My sister says, “It’ll have to end in zero, whatever it is.”
I frown and say, “Eighteen plus eighteen is thirty-six.” Hoots of laughter join the fifty-pound croaking and the fish splashing behind us.
“Well, if we ain’t a bunch of illiterate dummies,” Richard says.
Inpatient to catch a fish, Barbara hauls out a package of fish bait and hands it to Mike. He sniffs it and says, “This stuff smells like poop.”
Barbara sticks her nose in the bag and reels backward. “Shoo, God, you’re right.” She hands it to me. “Smell this.”
I ward her off with my hands. “Uh-uh. No way. I saw your reaction.”
Laughing, she hands it to Richard. “Let’s do a Jeff Foxworthy and pass the bait around, so everyone can get a good whiff of it.”
Our fish friend jumps in the air and smacks the water again. Richard grabs his fishing pole and starts whacking at the lake in the direction we heard the fish enter the water.
“What on earth are you doing?” Barbara asks.
“I’m gonna kill that blasted fish the next time it sticks its head above the water.”
Our friends on the bank call again, and Richard puts his cell phone on speaker, so we can all hear it.
“Uh. Dalton had an accident.”
Someone in the background says, “Dalton didn’t have an accident.”
“What kind of accident?” Richard asks.
“Well, the fish are sorta floating in the water now.”
We break out in laughter.
“How did that happen?”
“They kinda got knocked in.”
“Well, grab a big stick and rake them in.”
“We can’t reach them. Can you get them from the boat?”
Since we aren’t having any luck, we reel in our poles and prepare to set sail.
As we’re chugging down the lake, Richard’s cell phone rings again. “Speak.”
“You better hurry. That big ‘un’s getting anxious. He’s swimming your way.”
We didn’t catch anything other than a floating catfish and brim that night, but since I hadn’t been fishing in twenty years or more, I’ll take it. Besides I caught something much more valuable – memories of time well spent with laughter among friends and family out on a peaceful lake under God’s beautiful night sky. Call us rednecks if you like, but we’ll smile and take it as a compliment.