net, rod, and reel.

Net fishing seems like cheating, really. Or maybe all fishing is cheating because we're people and they're fish, and fish have three thoughts over and over: swim, swim, hungry. But net fishing is not very sporting.

For years I went net fishing with my Uncle Freeman and my dad. Freeman would take us out on the Pamlico Sound in his boat, us and his lab Blacky. I'm not sure if Blacky was a single dog or a series of dogs that all looked the same. Freeman would drive us out to some spot on the sound, usually near a smallish island. All the sound looked the same to me, and so I never had any idea where we were. Clearly, Freeman knew, because he was able to get us back to the dock where his old pickup waited to haul us back home. When I was a kid, before I started driving, riding in a car was like that, too. Everything looked the same and the fact that we ever managed to get to a destination was amazing. How did the grown-ups know the way? But it was even more like that on the sound, where there were no roads to limit your direction, and every shore looked exactly the same.

Here's how net fishing works. You have a net, maybe five feet wide and 100 feet long. You put the net in the water, creating a big circle of net. One edge has buoys on it to keep it at the top, and the other side has weights to drop it to the bottom. Then you wade around in the circle, waiting for some great splashing racket to happen. Then you go to the great splashing racket and untangle the fish from the net. I didn't like to untangle, so I waded around with a metal bucket floating behind me on a scratchy twine leash. I would collect the fish as Freeman and Daddy got them out. If I couldn't get the bucket over there fast enough, they'd walk around with a fish hanging by the gills from each of several fingers. Another thing I would have been amazed at if it had occurred to me was how comfortable Freeman was with fish.

I suppose there is skill in net fishing. You have to know where to put the net. But still it seems like cheating, because as soon as you pick the place, pretty much every fish there is already trapped. Maybe some of them didn't try to swim into the net, and so when we took it up again, they remained. It would be like shooting them in a really huge barrel. Still, when we went net fishing, it was to catch food. After we got back, my dad and uncle would spend the afternoon cleaning what we caught, and then we'd fry them all up. We'd take home a cooler full of fish to eat at home. Net fishing is what you do to catch food. We're not trying to be sporting, we're trying to eat.

I've been fishing the regular way, too, with a rod and a reel and some worms. A friend used to take me to local lakes and rivers and we'd sit and wait for a nibble while eating soggy sandwiches and sodas. I could bait my own hook, because I was a tomboy. We used live worms that we'd bought in a plastic container at the same gas station where we got the sandwiches. I like to see gas stations that sell bait, because it means I'm in the country. Even if it's not the same neck of the woods that I grew up in, it's still the same kind of place, just one where I don't know any of the people.

To bait a worm, you have to throw it down on the ground forcefully. That stuns them so they won't struggle when you're poking the hook through. It sounds like a bad time for the worm - being stunned, impaled, and then drowned, unless of course, you're eaten first. I took a sense of pride in baiting my own hook. But I wouldn't take the fish off the hook. Maybe if we'd caught more or I'd gone more often, I would have gotten used to that part, but I never got to that point. This kind of fishing seems to be much less about the fish and more about sitting outside quietly.

It is only recently that I've been introduced to fly fishing. Josh's dad loves to fish, just like Uncle Freeman, but he loves the activity more than the eating. He catches the fish, and then lets it go. As the comic once said, he doesn't want to eat the fish, he just wants to make it late for something. He is careful to always wet his hands in the water before touching the fish, so that the natural oils on his hands don't mess up the fish's scales and leave it open to fish infections.

Fly fishing is mystifying to watch. It is a solitary activity, a man alone out in the water. Sure, you can go with people, but each is on his own. It's not like net fishing, where you almost need someone to help pull in the nets, nor is it like regular fishing, where you can sit for hours with a friend and talk or not talk. With fly fishing, you can't even get that close to each other, because you'll just get your lines tangled up.

Fly fishing is done in the river. You wade out in the water, and you cast upstream. You wave the rod back and forth like a whip, drying out the fly before you cast again. Each cast buys you five or ten seconds as your fly floats back downstream. You have to watch it, this tiny fly on a river full of rocks and leaves and bubbles, which I found so difficult that I began to question my eyesight. Either the fish take it or they don't, and then you try again. After you've cast a few times in the same place, you wade upstream. It is a much more active kind of fishing. You cast more frequently, and you have to be aware or you'll end up with your fly in a tree. Still, I imagine that a fisherman who has been going for years gets into a kind of zone where he can cast and recast, wade and whip while thinking about whatever fishermen think about.

I like fishing, all kinds. I like being outside and I like developing random skills that are mostly useless to my lifestyle. I like the sense of a friendly relationship with nature. Way back when, these net, rod, and reel skills were developed so that man, an animal with a extra large head, could live off the sound, the lake, and the river. Some might say that comparing sport fishing to fishing to eat cheapens nature, and maybe it does. But I just don't feel that way when I do it. I feel respectful and reverant of the water, the land, the fish. It gives me hope that people can have a healthy relationship with the planet after all.


Anonymous said...

Just need to say if you haven't seen A River Runs Through It, you should. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105265/

Sandra said...

I have not. Seems like I tried to read the book when I was way too young to get it.