Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Gone fishin'

I always liked an old saying that said "Time spent fishing can not be deducted from a man's life." (I probably read it on a bumper sticker.) And even though I didn't go fishing very often as a kid - usually just when we visited Grandpa Jay - I always enjoyed it. Not only was it sort of relaxing and a chance to get out in the country but there's a thrilling sort of adrenaline rush from that feeling of a fish on the other end of the line, the way it pulls and fights. Even just having a pole and a small tackle box filled with hooks and sinkers and lures and bait always brought a strange sense of satisfaction. And I loved reading the fishing column in the old Boy's Life magazine that was so full of tips and information (the new Boy's Life has no such columns - it's more interested in selling stuff).

So, as a city kid I always kind of envied the kids in books who lived in small towns and could just go camping and fishing when their chores were finished. And I thought of it when I read a new book called Fishtale by Hans Bauer and Catherine Masciola (which I received from Amazon Vine). Twelve-year old Sawyer Brown's father was killed in Vietnam and he has to step up and help his mother run the family catfish farm. But when she loses her wedding ring and subsequently becomes ill, Sawyer sets out to find it thinking it will make her well again. Together with his best friend "Nose," his hippie cousin Truman, and his little sister "Virus" (Elvira) who sneaks into their boat, they look for Ol’ One Eye, the “biggest, oldest, smartest, and meanest durn cat that ever swum the Yazoo.” Following a map they get from old Moses (Nose's grandfather), they have an adventure paddling around the Mississippi swamps and bayous looking for the giant catfish, which might just be a legend... or maybe just one of Moses' tall tales. And although the book was a little weak on how Sawyer decided Ol' One Eye had the ring, it's a fun read as they face poachers and find flooded mansions and old paddle boats forgotten and rotting in the swamp.

Cover of: It started with old man Bean by David KherdianBut it also reminded me of a book I read as a kid that is mostly forgotten called It Started With Old Man Bean by David Kherdian. (I found it at the library a few years ago and re-read it with my son.) It's the story of Ted and Joe, who plan not just a camping trip by themselves, but an "adventure" where they'll "live off the land." They save their money and order a tent and gear from the L. L. Bean catalog and tell their parents they'll be camping just outside of town near the Snake River, which is slow-moving and brown. But they actually hike several miles beyond to the McCable River which, from the stories they've heard, is full of huge black bass. And they're having the time of their lives, catching bigger fish than they'd ever dreamed of, until trouble strikes. This isn't one of those fast-paced thrill-a-minute books for kids who can't sit still, but it still appeals to the desire for adventure in boys and you can easily relate to Ted and Joe. (Reading it as a parent, however, I was surprised at the kids smoking at what they felt were "special" moments - not something I remembered from when I read it the first time!)

But maybe it's just as well I didn't grow up where fishing was close at hand because - honestly! - I don't even like to eat trout! (I only recently gained a taste for seafood.)  The only river near my house was slow and muddy and brown, and although some kids said it had catfish the only fish anyone caught was carp - which I imagine I'd like even less than trout. Plus, once you catch the fish you have to kill it, and that always made me a little squeamish. I was fine with gutting and cleaning it, but I never liked hitting the poor thing with a stick or whacking its head on a rock like Grandpa showed us. So maybe wimps like me should just stick to reading, and enjoy the life the city has to offer (although I'm seriously looking forward to going fishing with the boy scouts in March!).

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