Dad woke me to go fishing at 4:30 in the morning by squeezing my foot ever so gently. I was six and couldn't believe waking up that early could feel so bad.
We drove to a friend's farm pond while it was still black outside. Dad left the engine running as he got out to open one gate after the next. He told me to watch closely so next time, I could open the gates.
Branches clawed at my window, and the pasture was a tunnel. It was frightening. Yet Dad, unfazed, kept driving.
Dad parked and we walked to the pond. I stayed glued to his hip as we edged forward like reconnaissance soldiers-a large one and a tiny one holding on. How did he know where he was going? Stars began to wink after we had walked a while in the dark, and I found I vaguely could make out the weed-covered earthen dam that formed the near boundary of the pond.
The weeds and trees crowded over the edge of the bank into the pond. The sky began to lighten, and I began to feel a little braver. A pall of white mist hovered over the motionless water. It tapered up in vapors that disappeared. Then a gentle breeze made the vapors begin to swirl. I got cold and began to shiver, I didn't want to complain, but I couldn't help it.
"Aren't you cold?" I whimpered.
"Warm as toast," Dad said. "You'll get warmer when the sun comes up. Now be really quiet, or you'll scare the fish away." Then Dad waded out into the fog, making a gesture with his head indicating I was to follow. I hung back. "That's why we've got hip boots on!" he whispered. "We've got to get away from the bank and the trees a little, so we can cast."
The week before he had coached me on casting with a rod and reel. He had tied a smooth weight on my line and let me cast it in the yard. He said I was gifted at casting. We had prepared our rods and reels the evening before. He fixed mine up and sort of made me think I was doing it myself.
We had tied a lure on my line that had two sets of sinister hooks. It was black and dark green, with bright yellow eyes. I felt it was a weapon with magical powers and had even dreamed about it after I'd seen it in my fathers' tacklebox.
My first cast into the mist went way up in the air and landed only about 15 feet away from where I stood, shivering, with my boots sunk in gumbo mud. I reeled in and saw my lure dancing proudly at the end of my line. My next cast produced an incredible bird's nest above the spool of my reel. I began to shiver so violently I could hardly hold the rod in my hands, let alone commence untangling the line, even if I had known how to do it.
"Bring it on over!" Dad said. With great effort, I extracted a foot from the mud. It was slow going. I noticed Dad had a cigar in his mouth. It was lit. How could he keep from breathing the smoke? I felt colder when pond water came in over the top of my boots.
Suddenly Dad jerked his arms up over his right shoulder, and his back went straight and stiff as a board. His pole was bending and bobbing frantically in a complete arch above him. He reeled wildly. I heard the screeching noise of his spool spinning against the drag of the reel. The fight went on for what seemed a long time. He looked over at me briefly and grinned. "Bass," he said. "About a pound-and-a-half."
The big bass plopped back into the water on the end of a stringer, and struggled there in a hopeless tug-of-war against Dad's belt.
"Give me your pole," he said. "Here, cast a couple with mine."
I really had my heart set on fishing with my lure. He said his lure was especially difficult to cast. "You want me to cast your lure?"
"Yeah... It just caught one, didn't it?" He said with a wink.
My line looked irreparable. I took his pole and made a couple of half hearted casts with it and got nary a nibble. Then he handed mine back. "Good as new!" he said.
I was grateful to him. I wanted to thank him but what came out, in a whiney voice, was, "I'm cold."
"Step over this way. It's easier to stay warm when you're older, and when you quit getting wet," he said. "Here, wear this." He put his jacket on me and pulled up the sleeves for me.
"You'll get warm when you catch one," he said. "Make sure you don't get any more loops on the spool before you cast." Before he had finished his sentence, his lure was once again alive in the pond.
I was shivering miserably. I felt it altogether possible I might freeze to death. I couldn't move without convulsing. My feet sank deeper and deeper into the gumbo. My casts were dreadful because the shivering had made me spastic, but I was careful not to make any more loops in the line.
Despite my discomfort, I could feel my lure wiggling through the water as it dug down to the depths of the pond. I imagined it was a fish.
Then, rudely and all at once, the whole pond tried to pull my pole out of my hands. I held on, though I was certain the pole would break in two.
"Attaboy . . . let him fight," my dad hollered. "Try to point your pole tip up in the air... Whooppeee!"
My reel began screaming. Then the tug broke up into short spurts. Then my line came to the surface, and there was lots of pressure.
"Reel him in," my dad advised. "Reel him in. Keep the line tight!"
The huge bass broke water right in front of me. His whole green slick body shot up out of the water. I watched him in wonder. I could see the plug hanging out of the corner of his mouth. His body curled into a tight comma, then he shook his head back and forth with incredible vigor.
The lure came flying through the air and landed beside me. I was speechless. My dad stood motionless, with his mouth half-opened. I was crestfallen, but somehow I felt good just the same.
As I looked back out at the pond, I started wanting my fish back. The feeling grew. I began to feel indignant. I felt a yearning, a fervor, a passion. I could see the water where he had struck. Then I knew what Dad meant when he said that the water looked fishy.
I wanted my fish back. I felt I had been cheated. I needed that fish back. I needed any fish, tugging again on the end of my line. I looped my finger under the line and felt my arm coil to cast out to the fishy spot. All at once I realized I was completely warm, clear through, and I was having fun.
"Hey, Dad," I said. "Can I have a cigar?"
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