The worksite of my first real summer job had a lake on it, and fishing in it during our down time led to laughter I’ve remembered ever since.
The summer I was 15, possibly the most obnoxious and dangerous age any boy ever survives, I worked as a construction hand for my uncle, who was kind enough to hire me even though I was thoroughly ignorant – both of construction and of work. As you might imagine, I was just the kind of help most of the life-long, professional carpenters were hoping for: a kid, the boss’s nephew no less, with little knowledge of life, none of carpentry and a great talent for injury, though usually only to himself.
As it turned out, though, a guy named Abe took pity on me and offered enough patient direction to see that I mostly stayed out of trouble. Abe was a laid-back, easy-going guy who loved to laugh, but mainly at the expense of the other professionals and not at that of the dumb kid who got in the way. It turned out Abe was also an all-around outdoorsman. He was both the first turkey hunter and first muzzleloader-shooter I knew, and we had a lot to talk about because he’d hunted a lot of things and I wanted to hunt a lot of things. Between the hunting of things and the discussion of hunting of things there was fishing, which we did during odd moments of downtime and in the balance of our lunch breaks.
The house we were working on was being rebuilt after a fire. It was in a very nice neighborhood and sat on a hill above a small watershed lake that happened to have bass in it. One day during lunch, after inhaling a sandwich, Abe fetched a rod and reel out of his truck and walked down to see if they were biting. As it happened I had fishing gear with me as well because, well, you never knew where the day might take you.
“Do we have permission to fish here?” I asked him.
“We fish here sometimes on our breaks,” he told me, glancing sideways across the lake at the other houses. Even then I knew the difference between permission and “permission,” and this was definitely the latter, meaning, as far as he knew, no one had ever told him specifically not to. So we fished, possibly the only ones to have done so during daylight hours in living memory. It occurred to me to wonder what we’d do if we caught a really nice one, say, a state record, and the imagined news interview that would result got our wheels turning. We thought how funny it would be to spin the most ridiculous tale possible.
“The wind had caught my cast and the worm and six feet of line were hung up in a bush that was leaning out over the water,” he said. “I was snatching and jerking trying to get it loose and the bass jumped up and took it in the air.”
“The limb it was hung on broke off and I had to tow it through the water,” I said. “Then he took off and stripped line down to this knotted-up old backlash I’d reeled in on top of.”
To which Abe added, “My line broke at the backlash, but I caught it before it got out the end of the rod.”
I couldn’t add anything to that and never heard one better until I saw the Field & Stream blurb this week about the 12-year-old who recently caught a new Louisiana state record catfish. The kid told the local TV news channel, and I quote, “It was more luck than it was skill to catch that big fish. I think the thing that done it was eating Vienna sausages.”
Dang. Why didn’t we think of that one?
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.