I caught a fish when I was a kid. A big fish. A really big fish.
I caught him, but not in the sense you might think.
I am not a fisherman by any stretch of the imagination. I have landed some fish over a lifetime, but barely enough to mention. If fishing is a gift, then I must have been standing in the wrong line that day.
Truth is, I am a lousy fisherman. I once stood between two men on the State Pier at Gulf Shores, Alabama. I had the same gear and bait and fished in the exactly the same manner. Both were pulling them in as fast as their bait hit the water. Me? Not a nibble.
It was not from lack of effort. I grew up just down the road from a small lake where I fished as a kid. Mostly with a cane pole, but later with a small rod and a “Zebco 202” reel, which was the ‘70’s version of a poor man’s gear. I would occasionally catch a few, but not enough to have a decent fish fry.
My frustration must have shown, because one day my dad said “You really want to catch some fish? I’ll show you how.”
He went down to our old shed and returned with a roll of chicken wire. He cut a piece and fashioned a cylinder about two feet in diameter. Wired up the back end with a flat piece and made an inverted cone for the other end. Cut a little door on the top just big enough to stick a hand through. Tied a cotton rope to it to throw it out and retrieve it.
“Now here’s the secret,” he said. He hung a little bag made from a nylon stocking from the top. It was filled with dry dog food. “Fish just love that smell.”
This was how his contraption worked: a fish pushed its way in through the small end of the cone. Once in, it could not get back out.
It is called a “fish trap,” and it was illegal in Alabama.
We made a path through the woods from our house to the back end of the lake. Cut the bushes back just enough to put the basket in and out.
The next day we went back. I pulled it in and there were four decent-sized shell crackers. I was elated. I could finally catch fish.
I checked the trap every day when I got home from school. Some days there would be a few, other days none. I threw them all back, because there was never enough to make a “mess of fish,” which means enough to clean and eat.
One afternoon about two weeks later dad got home early. “Let’s go down and check the basket.”
When I pulled the basket in there was only one fish. A really big fish. A ten-pound Largemouth Bass.
I’ll never forget the sight of my daddy reaching down into that basket, grabbing that big bass by the mouth, and throwing him as far as he could back into the woods so that he couldn’t flop back in the water.
We headed to the taxidermist to have him mounted, but first we stopped off at the local newspaper to have my picture made holding up that big bass. The caption something like “Local Boy Snags Trophy Bass.”
But there was a small problem. I did not catch it. I trapped it.
I had to think up a tale.
When the paper came out, everyone congratulated me, but that was always followed by the inevitable fishing questions: “Where did you catch it? What time of day? What bait did you use?” How did you land it?”
And the answers were “At my secret fishing spot, just before sunset, with a purple artificial worm. I put it down nice and easy next to a snag about three feet off the bank. He hit it fast. Took me 15 minutes to land him. He put up a fight like you wouldn’t believe.”
The story got a little better every time I told it. Before long it was good enough to be in Field and Stream magazine.
Funny thing was, the more I told that story the more I started to believe it myself. Whenever I told it I could feel the pull as it leapt out of the water. See the glistening colors framed against that orange sunset. Sense the fear that it would break my line before I landed it.
If I had a dollar for every time I told that lie you wouldn’t be reading this, because I’d be spending all my time fishing for trout in the stream behind my cabin in Montana.
I kept that mounted bass on my wall wherever I lived for at least 30 years. I told my story every time a visitor admired it.
Eventually the mount became so yellowed and cracked that I threw it away. Or maybe the Redhead did. She never really liked it to begin with.
So, the tale finally came to an end.
But before you go, hang on a second. Did I ever tell you about the time I caught a monster bass when I was just ten years old? Man, did he ever put up a fight. You see I was fishing right about sunset one afternoon…”