Subject To De-bait

July 9, 2010

The other day I drove past a gas station that advertised fishing bait, including worms, and it brought back memories of summer days spent fishing. Except I can’t believe it was ever as idyllic as I remember, or that I ever really enjoyed it. I had an extremely short attention span and somehow sitting on a muddy bank or even in a boat watching a small red and white plastic ball float around hoping the worm hanging a couple of feet below it would eventually be grabbed by a fish seems like the last thing I’d want to do. I’m convinced that if parents still take their kids fishing the only reason they do it is so they–the parents–can have a few minutes of silence. In fact I’m convinced that the only reason adults tell kids to be quiet and that talking will scare the fish away is to make the kids shut up. Why would fish be scared away by people talking? Maybe they’d even be attracted by the right kind of conversation. Maybe a fish will hear something and think, "Hey, this guy’s talking about investing in the stock market. Maybe he’s got some good tips." And if you can bring them in with the right kind of conversation maybe they’ll grab that worm on a hook. It works in advertising, although usually in advertising the worm is a supermodel and the hook is body spray or a new soft drink or dog food, but that’s another story.

As a kid I didn’t understand the point of going to a store and buying worms and thought maybe it was for people who considered going out to their backyard and lifting up rocks to be too much of an effort. Then I saw the worms at the store, worms that looked like they’d spent a lot of time at the gym taking steroids, and I understood the allure. And using worms for bait did make a certain sense, even though worms spend a lot of time underground and fish spend a lot of time underwater and there’s not a lot of chance for them to meet. Fish eat bugs, and worms are just basically bugs with all the inedible parts stripped away. To a fish a bug is like a cow, while a worm is like filet mignon. What never made sense to me were the fishing lures. My grandfather, for reasons I’ve never understood, since he didn’t spend that much time fishing, had an enormous collection of fishing lures. Some of them looked sort of like small fish, and I supposed they were designed to catch bigger fish who prey on small fish that just happen to swim around covered with fourteen metal hooks. And then there were the rubber worms, which came in all sorts of colors. Most of the rubber worms were long and narrow and had a bulbous tip on the end, and fortunately I’d stopped fishing long before I started reading Freud, because I could just see myself holding a pink rubber worm in one hand and a hook in the other saying to myself, "Sometimes a fishing lure is just a fishing lure." I never did find out why the dern things came in so many colors. I realize fish aren’t that bright, but how could something filled with green and gold glitter really look tasty to them? Or maybe that’s the fish equivalent of a supermodel.

And then there was the time I made the mistake of asking one of my uncles if he knew anything about fly fishing. This was at a funeral, and, while the uncle was an expert on fly fishing, I should have realized that I could have had a more stimulating conversation with whoever was in the coffin. For four hours my uncle told me everything there was to know about fly fishing, including how important it is to "match the hatch". This means the fly you’re using has to match whatever the fish are eating, which makes no sense to me. For one thing I haven’t seen a fishing fly yet that looks anything like the actual insect it’s supposed to represent. For another maybe the fish would like some variety, so maybe you should throw out something they’re not expecting. Besides, fish aren’t that bright. I can’t believe a fish is going to look up and say, "Hey, it isn’t mayfly season." We’re talking about creatures that will bite rubber worms or plastic lures with hooks sticking out of them or, for that matter, fishing flies, which are basically just feathers with hooks sticking out of them. By the time my uncle was done talking I thought I knew everything there was to know about fly fishing, including the fact that I would never have to do it. I could just take my uncle on any fishing trip and let him talk the fish to death.

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