I peeled a length of monofilament off The Boy’s reel, threaded it through six guides and the casting top on a bright yellow rod, then set about tying on a hook. One loop through, five wraps around the main line, back down through the first loop, then up through the loop the last move made for a knot called the improved clinch.
“Why are you tying it like that?” The Boy asked, and I talked about how the strength of a system is only as great as its weakest point.
“You want to fish with the smallest line that will do the job,” I said, “because that will let you cast farther, get your bait or lure down quicker, work the lure better and keep more line on the reel for re-tying while still catching the fish. No matter how light the line, though, the weakest point will probably always be the knot, because it creates stress points that allow the line to break. The lighter the line in relation to what you’re trying to catch, the more important the knot. This one spreads the stress out about as far as it will go and doesn’t take too long to tie, so it’s the one I use.”
I finished the knot, threaded a night crawler onto the hook, pinched on a couple split shot weights a foot or so above and told him to cast away. When his line hit the water I said, “We’re fishing now” and, in that breath, 35 years fell away.
I was sitting on the lid of an ice chest in the middle of a flat bottomed boat with an Old Man at either end. The waters of Grenada Lake were turning from midnight to chocolate as daylight grew. We had just dropped the last hook of the day’s first baited trotline back into the water, were securing tackle for the short run to the next, and the Old Man on the front seat had just said the words I’d told The Boy, a phrase he served up on every fishing morning at that very point in time.
The Old Man partial to this line always wore blue coveralls and black rimmed glasses. He was of the generation that splashed on Old Spice or Brut, pulled to the side of the road when meeting a funeral procession, knew his neighbors by name and whether their dogs would bite, and he happened to be the one who’d first shown me how to tie the knot I’d just put into practice for The Boy.
I could feel the particular kind of dormant humidity that gives passersby a reprieve while it waits for the sun to help it really get going. I could hear the tin bait cans clank against aluminum keel and feel the deck vibrate as the Mercury on the transom grumbled to life. I could feel the ice chest I rode rock back as we went, see the gray hair in front of me flap briefly in the breeze, then hear the motor slack and feel the boat re-settle, lurch once from the overtaking bow wave, then turn to the snag where our next line waited.
I became aware of a commotion to my left and looked to see The Boy reeling in a fish, and so snapped back to present. Shortly he horsed up a channel cat that was mostly eyes and fins and tail, but it was the first fish of the day and so, by that definition alone, a keeper.
I took it off the hook and dropped it into the box.
“That’ll stink up the gravy,” I said, tipping my hat to memory with another of the Old Man’s lines, and thinking how the knots we use to spread our stress to keep from breaking take many forms, and how some lines, no matter how small, are always stronger than others.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.