Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Final Comments on Fishing

Lately, I have had logjam of things to say lodged prominently in the front part of my brain which makes it nearly impossible to effectively communicate anything clever, should the opportunity arise.

I thought of something clever the other day and when I opened my mouth to speak, something else came out. It's been going about like that lately.

A number of things may be contributing to my medical condition. I'm incredibly busy and I find myself consumed with the things I have to do in order to keep my job, which I enjoy and depend upon for buying fishing equipment and Vitamin D milk and neckties and diapers and strollers and expensive city water to pour out on my front yard three days a week.

I have also reached the deeply satisfied point in an outdoorsman's life attributable to owning a glittery, carpeted, red-and-white-and-gray fishing boat. I have located Outdoorsman Zen, or my inner Ice Cave, or finally released the 12-year-old that's been pent-up inside my chest for the last 20 years. I don't know exactly how it's changed me emotionally, but it's good.

I shot sporting clays recently with my buddy Fred, who is fantastic, and another friend - an older, successful, and entertaining local businessman. Fred, who is nearly always around when something very interesting happens, made a comment about my fishing boat and the man immediately perked up. 

A boat, eh? he said
Yes Sir. 
Is it one of the sparkly kind? A sparkle boat? 
Yes Sir. I said, with pride. It is a Sparkle Boat.

....One of those boats with the rednecks in them and the glitter in the paint that you might use to fish on "The Red Man Trail" with? He snickered into his Peter Millar sleeve.

Yes Sir, I said, sensing a trap. I did not forge ahead eagerly into explaining that the "Red Man Trail" is now defunct and has since been replaced by "The Fishing League Worldwide", nor did I provide any brilliant insight on the internal politics that precipitated that great upheaval.

I knew there was something not quite right about you.
Yes sir. Would you like to ride in my sparkly boat? It goes super fast. 
You know - I think I would!

Everybody loves a sparkly boat. Unfortunately, the sparkles have done little to bolster my fishing skills and I have continued to build an incredibly mediocre name for myself on the amateur bass fishing circuit. I do, however, manage to get from one terribly unproductive fishing spot to the next with great speed and precision - which allows me to fish at least twice as much unproductive water as before. So, I consider the sparkly boat a huge success. If I am going to be a pretty bad fisherman, I at least want to get there quick!

I made my way to the front of the tournament weigh-in line at a recent event with my pitiful sack of skinny fish just as Uncle Buster sidled up with a positively frightening collection of enormous watery predators.

You get a limit? he queried, swaying and struggling to keep his plastic bag full of great green behemoths from escaping and endangering spectators.

Yeeesh! Look at that, Buster! That one just burped a live catfish!

Yeah. I did alright. He rumbled, mustache quivering as he strained to keep the mouth of his fish sack closed against the obviously dangerous animals inside.

You got 5? Tell me you at least got 5. He insisted.

Ah. Errhhhh. I got 4.....I think they might be guppies.

He looked at me hard for a second, slumped his shoulders and stalked off.

BUT THE BOAT RAN GREAT!!! I shouted after him.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Legend of the Co-Angler Part II: Managing Expectations

Recently, Buster drew a Co-Angler that I have personally hosted in the past. He asked me in advance "is this guy a retard?" which loosely translated meant "What do I need to be aware of with this Co-Angler?"

I said, "No, he's ok. His English is so-so, but he stays out of the way for the most part. He can't back a trailer so you'll have to handle the launch yourself unless you want to watch something really special happen at the boat ramp at daylight. Trust me, I've seen it."

Buster cut his eyes at me across the tops of his sunglasses, said "O K" like that (with quotations) and drove off.

At the end of the tournament Buster pulled up in a hazy cloud of diesel emissions and said (by way of greeting) "Hey that guy is A Idiot just so you know" (sic).

I have learned to ask very vague questions instead of making statements, so I responded with "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Well, he is A Idiot. We got done fishing and you know how your Co-Angler is supposed to give you gas money for driving his butt around all day? $40 is the basic minimum. Most anybody will give you $40. Now, I don't care - don't get me wrong, but it's just the principal of the thing. You want somebody to at least offer up some cash - especially if you catch fish."

"Ok." I said, cautiously (without quotations) mentally adding up the number of times I'd fished with Buster and paid him approximately zero dollars.

"Well, we got done fishing and he rooted around in his elastic fishing pants and came out with 4 sweaty dollar bills and some change. Four dollars! I gave it right back to him, sprinkled the change all across his shoes and said "Enricardo" (which is definitely not his name) "that ain't enough".

I can only imagine 8 hours of being called "Enricardo" may have slowly eaten away at Buster's $40 Co-Angler donation, but I can only speculate.

Buster went on: "Enricardo (again, not his name) said 'Well, I have three children out of wedlock and my girlfriend and I are separated and I am having to pay $1,200 a month in child support and so..... and SO...Ah...I Am......Poor.'

I said, "HAH! Everybody is P O O R! Tough petunias! Sounds like a personal problem to me! If you think you can't afford your children you should try some of mine! You need to be at a worky-job right now, Enricardo - not out fishing in rural Alabama like an irresponsible butthole".

He produced a roast beef sammich from somewhere on his person and took an angry pull, giving me time to gather my thoughts. In my opinion, anytime you get to look someone directly in the eye, call him a "butthole" and offer him "life advice" in the same breath - you, sir, Have Become A Man. That's about as "Alpha" a move as I know of.

Out of the blue this had really gotten interesting so, I said "go ahead" which means "please continue" over a walkie-talkie.

Buster obliged:....."So I asked him "Enricardo: are you a Christian" and he said. . .  . . 'No'! How about THAT, huh? In all my life of asking people that question I have literally never, not ever, I mean NEVER had somebody just say 'No.' like that. I've had people say 'Well, I am a CATHOLIC' or 'I am a Baptist' or 'My Momma luved me and she was a Presbyterian' or whatever - which suggests they don't know what in the hell they are, but never have I had somebody say 'No'. I didn't even know what to say back! There ain't a good starting place there, you know?

So I said, 'look here, Enricardo, take your $4 and your grubby change and go home and get one more job in addition to the one you got now. If you insist on fishing 'on the cheap' - just hitch-hike and don't eat anything for two days if you have to, but make sure you pay your boater for gas or word will get out that you're a damn cheapskate. If that happens nobody will help you when you're fishing and you'll find yourself in the back of a boat pointed directly away from anything worth fishing and completely unable to do anything about it. And also - learn to operate a damn dip net properly. Watching you net fish today was like watching a guy with no hands try to fix a television set.'"

And with that, he left.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Legend of the Co-Angler: A Sociological Study In Two Parts

As I have explained before, the fishing tournaments Buster and I attend require each "boater" to draw a random "Co-Angler" to sit in the stern and fish and also to make sure we don't cheat during the tournament - which I absolutely would do at this point.

Most people begin their fishing lives as a "Co-Angler" in order to learn the ropes. I did that once and the great, lumpy, velcro-shoed, beard-eater I was paired with absolutely traumatized me with his two-speed bass boat. It was either "off" or "WIDE OPEN" and my highly-developed sense of personal safety just won't allow for it. After our first long run of the day, Velcro-Shoes looked over at me kind of hard and said "Son there is no sense in all that hollering". Apparently, he didn't care for "wordless screams of anguish" before 7:00AM.  At the time I didn't realize that sound was coming out of me. So, I skipped over the Co-Angler stage, went home and bought my own boat. The result is - I don't know "the" ropes, or "any" ropes, or even "where they at" (to borrow a phrase from Mr. Velcro Shoes) and, as a result, nearly everything I do is wrong.

At the most recent "pre-tournament meeting" we were assigned Co-Anglers and Buster and I each placed a phone call to co-ordinate a meeting time. I dialed the number given me and, when a woman's voice answered, I said "Hello, I'm calling for Aaron".

"Hello. Yes. This is E-r-i-n" the female voice clearly enunciated.

I stood there in a rural Wal-Mart parking lot surrounded by enormous, ruddy-faced men from all walks of life, with not a single woman in sight, and I was dumbfounded - rooted to the spot; mind straining against the bounds of reason and The Universe to accept what had just befallen me.

At no point in my entire one-and-a-half years of amateur tournament fishing have I even contemplated the existence of a lady co-angler. It never occurred to me that a woman would intentionally put herself at the mercy of a strange man in a 75mph aquatic death machine. My experience with women suggests they are far too intuitive a breed to make such an egregious error in judgment.

Just then, Buster appeared out of the crowd.

You call your co-angler? He growled.
Yeah. I called that woman about fishing. I burbled mindlessly.
What in the world are you talking about? He said, beginning to generate what I have come know as his "patient face."
What? What are you talking about? He insisted again, sensing my distress. You mean you DREW A WOMAN CO-ANGLER? He cackled, gleefully.
Yes. That.
Ha!! You have to let her pee in your livewell!!!! Hahahahahahaa!!! He cackled, drawing a crowd. Jimmy drew a WOMAN Co-angler and she's going to pee in his livewell!!

In retrospect, getting from "drew a woman co-angler" to "livewell urination" was an incredibly rapid escalation, even for an Uncle, but he seemed so pleased that I didn't attempt to argue. Slowly, the earth came back into focus and what had immediately occurred to him began to dawn on me: nobody goes 9 hours without urinating unless something really big is happening like - The President is asleep across your legs, or your arm is in a lion's mouth - that kind of thing.


Then, he abruptly left, leaving me at the center of a growing circle of burly, outdoorsmen intent on offering completely unhelpful advice regarding the possibilities inherent in a strange woman spending the day in your boat.

Suddenly, the reverse hit me - what happens when a man has to pee and there sits a strange female - not 8 feet away on the open water?

I am a problem solver. I resolved to "hold it."

The following morning dawned clear and I met my lady co-angler. She was wonderful. I began to mentally prepare for an epic day of fishing with a delightful partner instead of the general run of crusty, disgruntled, middle-aged men I've been saddled with in the past. Suddenly, roughly 6 minutes into our day - I had to pee. It was 5:14AM and we were still at the ramp, but I had to go - bad. Three cups of coffee and a gallon of Gatorade did not put me on the pathway to "holding it".

Err. E-r-i-n. Eh. I, you know.
You ok? Forget something?
Ah. No. I mean ah. Well. I got to go.
Yeah, lets go! We're gonna catch em! YEAH!
No. I mean I got to ah... Eh. "Go."
Ohhhhhh. Oh. Ok. Yeah. Ok. Ah. Well....I just won't look then.
....Eh. Ok.

It got awkward.

I stood perched on the bow of the boat and, for the first time in my life, I got nervous. I don't generally urinate in front of strange women. It's not really my thing. I can't get into it.

I just couldn't do it. It got weirder. I stood on the front of the boat waving and bobbing for three of the longest minutes of my life thinking about watefalls, urinals, the ocean....Nothing.

Don't worry about me! Just take your time. She whispered encouragingly from the stern.

I cringed and broke a sweat.

Eh. I don't normally have this problem! I whispered back. (I don't know why we were whispering, but it seemed appropriate).

A few more moments passed. The silence grew oppressive.

Ah. Could you make some noise or sing a song or something? I whispered, to dispel the awkwardness.

What??! Ah. Ok!?!? Seriously? Ah. Ok. Eh. Ahmmmm Hummm mmm. Ammhmmm. Hmmm. Huummmmm. She began the first few bars of "Away in A Manger" for some reason which really threw me off.

No. No. No. No. Stop. Stop. Stop. I'm kidding. That was a joke. Heh heh. Heh.

More time passed.

I reached a point of complete focus and enlightenment as my tonsils began to float. I understood eternity. I contemplated cold fusion. I was SO close to the answers!

And finally, mercifully, success!

That may have been the ultimate "ice breaker" and we had a great day afield. I learned to manage "performance anxiety" and successfully relieved myself no less than 4 times throughout the day without a hitch. It became a point of pride.

Through all that - somehow, in 9 straight hours of fishing - she never once called for the livewell. I don't know how she did it.

So, thanks E-r-i-n. You're a great fisher-woman-person. And thanks for not peeing in my boat!