Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Forgive me, my love, but I'm a
Mad fishin' foo!
As Valentine's Day nears, my thoughts are turning to true love. And by that, I mean fishing.
For some, fishing is a sport. For women in my family, it qualifies as a disorder. From my grandmother on down, "fishing in moderation" is as much a fairy tale as "happily ever after" or "I'm a size 2". Either we disassemble the rods and stay away from any body of water larger than a bathtub, or we become total fishin' fools.
Our favorite fishing hole was always empty because it had a reputation for being cursed. People had drowned there, but in a region of avid (and usually liquored-up) fishermen, that was no reason to avoid a good spot. What kept them away was the report brought back by the divers who went looking for the bodies. There was a deep, deep hole in the reservoir there, and the rumor goes that the divers came back up in a hurry and refused to go back down after running into an enormous fish bigger than a man. Terrifying!
And so much the better for Aunt Ruth-Ann, who loved Stephen King novels and looked upon all fishing holes as potential horror movie back-drops. That wasn't necessarily her fault, by the way. My uncle had come along one trip and while he and I walked along the shore, we found an enormous, rotting carp. To impress his niece, he picked it up by the gills and said, "Watch this." Then he flung it high into the air in Ruth-Ann's direction. His aim was too good. She never suspected a thing until a huge, maggot-riddled carp fell out of the heavens and spattered across her thigh. "Poltergeist," my uncle was quick to explain. "Restless river spirit." He got in trouble anyway, but Ruth-Ann was never the same around water after that.
We stopped fishing in the haunted hole the day Mom hooked a 30" muskie. Muskellunges are basically freshwater barracuda, and a 30 incher is just barely legal. Getting one off the end of your fishing pole when you were expecting a cute little sunfish is quite an undertaking. Once she got the muskie ashore, the fight really began. That fish chased us up and down the beach while we tried to get the hook out of its mouth and get it on a stringer without losing any fingers. Ruth-Ann finally subdued it by beating it over the head with the tackle box.
Later on, we shared our experience with a local fishing guru. Not only did he know every fishing hole in the region, but he helped run the local hatchery, so he knew pretty much every fish in the state. On a first name basis. Pulling out his tackle box and said, "Let me show you something."
"A hammer?" Mom asked.
"That's right. Soften em up with a good whack to the head before you try to handle em. Used to use a gun, til I shot a hole through the bottom of my boat."
Fishing for something that you had to beat to death in self-defense once it was caught was not what we had signed up for, so after that we stuck to shallower fishing holes. From that day on, though, we carried a hammer with us every time. Because you can never be too safe.
So are you a mad fishin' foo? Take this simple test to find out.
You're in a park restroom, where none of the doors shut and only one stall has toilet paper. You are stretching precariously to bounce the door shut with your fingertips before it sags too far open, while trying to keep the business ends of yourself and the toilet in reasonable proximity. Because you are stretched so far out, you find yourself looking straight down at the ground, where an insect roughly the size of a Mitsubishi is admiring the scenery as it wanders toward the trousers bunched around your ankles. Do you:
a) scream for a S.W.A.T. team and mace it? If so, you are a sane human being, with no fishing disorders.
b) lull it into a false sense of security by saying, "Ni-i-ice doggie," then call for your buddy to bring you the hammer from your tackle box because that's the finest piece of live bait you've ever seen on six legs? If so, pull up your pants and take a bow. The fishing instinct is strong within you.
Comments and big fish tales to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the Feb 13, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.