Monday, January 30, 2012

Catfish

As a Texan by birth, the two fish of choice are catfish and bass.  Yes, there are other fish in the waters, but catfish and bass are the real reasons a Texan fishes.  I personally never really cared what I caught as long as it had fins, until I learned to scuba dive. 

I had a long running contest with a friend where one would issue a challenge, and the other would accept or forfeit.  Oh, and there was a sizeable bet along with this contest.  The rules were relatively simple.  If one refused, the contest was over.  If both participated to completion, the contest went on to another challenge.  It went on for years, and through it I learned among other things to kayak, mountain climb, scuba dive, and sky dive.  Ultimately I lost the contest on the sky dive, but that’s another story.

Hank and I had just returned from a kayak adventure in the Grand Canyon when he challenged me to learn scuba diving.  It sounded interesting, plus there was that big ten-dollar bet I didn’t wish to loose, not to mention bragging rights.  We headed to a sporting goods store to find out about the process, and in a couple of weeks we were sitting in a small class learning the process and safety guidelines.  Soon we were in wet suits in a tank learning to breath underwater.  And soon after that we were certified, which ended this round of the challenge.

We had gone on several lake dives in the certification process, and we had found that it was very interesting as long as the waters were not too murky.  One week in the late summer I mentioned to Hank that I would like to dive at a lake west of Fort Worth known as Possum Kingdom.  He agreed that it would be fun, and off we went. 

We arrived near the dam area and realized the water was a bit dark, but we suited up anyway and jumped in.  It was more than dark, it was black.  I had no idea where Hank was and had no hope of finding him.  Just then I felt a bump, and I turned my light in that direction expecting to see Hank.  All I saw were two eyes about eighteen inches apart and one big mouth—one very big mouth.  The catfish swam by me and its head was out of sight before its tail came into view.  I shot straight up out of the water and ran to shore about four feet above the waves.  By the time I had stripped out of the wet suit, I knew I was coming back next week with a boat and some heavy fishing gear.

Hank couldn’t join me for the catfish hunt the next week, so I went alone.  I hooked up the biggest boat in the collection of fishing boats at my grandparents lake home, borrowed my Uncle Sam’s big saltwater rod and reel, bought a few huge hooks, and drove back to Possum Kingdom.  I stopped on the way to fill the cooler with sodas, ice, and a couple of fresh chickens.  After arriving and launching the boat, I motored out onto the lake about where I had encountered the giant catfish, tied on one of the big hooks to that heavy saltwater outfit, and skewered half of one of those chickens onto the hook.  Into the water it went.  And I waited. 

Two hours went by, and I noticed a small boat drifting about 50 yards away with an older man and a young boy in it fishing.  I had fun watching them realizing that the boy’s grandpa was teaching him how to fish.  I could hear some of the conversation they were having and was reminded of some of the things my Uncle Sam had taught me about fishing in the past few years.  Sam was a very good fisherman, and for about two years he taught me everything he could before he suddenly quit fishing.  I never really understood why he quit, but I had grown to really enjoy our outings together, and listening to the conversation in the other boat brought back those memories.

Then the boy got a strike—a hard strike.  He pulled hard, but the fish pulled harder.  Back and forth they went for about half a minute, then the boy was pulled overboard.  I retrieved my line as fast as I could, but before I could start my motor, the boy popped up to the surface.  This is the reason for a lifejacket.  His grandpa pulled him back into the boat, and I powered over to them anyway to see if they needed any help.

The boy was wet but just fine otherwise.  He was upset about losing the fish and his rod and reel, but he had tried to hang onto it as long as he could.  It took some work to convince him that it would be easier to replace the rod and reel than him.  Still he was mad about losing the fish.  In some ways I can’t blame him for that one.  As they headed back up the lake to their launch, I went back to fishing.  I know the boy hooked that big catfish, or one of its cousins.  I replaced the chicken half with a fresh one and I waited.  And I waited. 
 
I made it back to Possum Kingdom only a handful of times over the next 3 years, and I never did catch that catfish.  Oh, I caught many catfish, just not that catfish.  I didn’t lose interest in catching other fish, I simply wanted that fish.  But it was never to be.  Sometimes I wonder just how big that fish really was.  The mind plays tricks on perception when in a strange environment, and that catfish may have been a little smaller than I remember.  Still, I remember that mouth—that very big mouth.

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