September 25, 2009

Que Sera Sera

On the bend by the waterfall, just past sight, stood a young man in puke-green waders casting his line out and reeling it back with an occasional jerk of the hand. He was using a spinner today, silver and feathered, glittering in the summer sun like a little minnow. That's why they work so well, he explained when he was teaching me how to fish. The artificial bait was separated into two parts, double-jointed and able to spin when being pulled through the water. Both were metal, shiny, and scale-patterned. You could feel the spinner working as you reeled your line back, it was a steady tug and vibrating motion.

"You pull the bail back, see?" He wedged his forefinger in between the silver half-ring and the fishing pole, pulling it back until it clicked into place. He had nimble hands and a lop-sided grin, enthusiastic to share his trade knowledge with someone curious.

"You give a man a fish and feed him for a day. But you teach a man to fish and--"

"Yes, I know." I interjected with an impatient cast of my line. "You've told me before--God dammit!"

My line snagged on a hidden log. Without hesitation, he took the pole from me and walked away from me, bending his body in half so he wouldn't hit the bottom of the bridge. With a patient, rhythmic tugging of the pole, he managed to free it, reeling it in and inspecting the spinner with meticulous eyes. It was bent, he told me, and straightened out the joint so the two parts could spin once again.

Known by local fishermen as Cold Creek, the place he fishes is just behind Margaritaville in Sandusky, OH. The water is always around sixty-degrees or so, even in the winter. Too cold to swim, but perfect for trout.

"My mom loves trout," He said with a wide grin, "Whenever I catch one, I grill it and give my mom a taste."

"You can cook fish?"

He gives me a quizzical look, one that says, "Duh." Then he sits down, rests his pole against the rocks, and waits. He can wait for hours at a time. The fisherman becomes great through understanding, intensive study, and patience. Ask him a question about migration patterns of King Salmon, and he'll say they are found in the Huron River when fall comes around. Ask him what kind of bait is good for catching catfish, and he'll say live bait, crawl worms. They eat about anything, but they like the smell of blood.

"Why did you drop out of college?" I ask. I want to know. He seems so bright and passionate, why wasn't he pursuing his dream of becoming a Geologist?

His eyes cloud over. The creek melts behind him and he is remembering the anarchy of his younger days. The depression he felt. The apathy.

"I don't really want to talk about it." He says, returning to the present and adjusting the length of his line so the spinner could spin against the current of the creek. He set his pole down and didn't talk for a while.

He was a handsome man who had his fair share of women. His light brown hair fell haphazard around his head, the protest of young age, and he draped a black leather jacket around him, sagging pockets with loose change, bait, and his wallet. His face was smooth and cream-colored, most definitely half-Spanish. He had hazel eyes, though a brown, gray, green hazel, the color of some undiscovered stone. His body was lithe from an active lifestyle of fishing, running, and biking, but his manner, the way he walked and talked, was calm and sometimes nervous. He parted his lips, showing crooked, alcohol-stained teeth and said, almost a whisper,

"I made some mistakes and I regret it to this day."

I set my pole down by my side and rested my hand on his back, urging him to continue. He sighed and relaxed, looking up at the low bridge. His eyes were a foot away from cement but reflected the college freshman year where he had no friends, the sophomore year where he didn't pay attention to studies and goofed off by drinking and pursuing women or porn. Then the painful ending during his junior year, when he just didn't care anymore and didn't fill out the right paperwork in time. So, his scholarship was revoked and he was forced to leave school. His mom, who loved trout, was now stuck with paying the $14,000 loan that she had planned to pay for a year later. A loan he would have been delighted to help her with.

But he had no job now. Just fishing.

"Don't worry." I said, kissing him on the cheek, "You'll find a job and pay off your bills someday. I know it. You're too smart and handsome to be a bum!"

I was teasing, trying to make him feel better. He gave me a weak smile, then faded away again. I sighed and let my hand slip from his back, picking up my pole again. A thick, depressed mood had settled over us. We were both worrying about something too big and distant to face right now, but the thought of eventually having to face it was so terrifying that we couldn't help but dwell on it for a while. It was mental preparation.

Then, I felt a jerk on my line and I instinctively pulled back. Mine. But then it danced away and took my line with it. A fish! I was speechless when I turned to tell him the miracle, so I just handed the pole over to him and let him feel it. He shot up and skimmed his head against the bridge, hastily moving over to my left side, he had been sitting on my right.

"Holy hell! This is a trout! See how it's fighting and tugging. Look!"

I saw the line jerk to the left, and then to the right. I heard the whine of friction as the fishing line spun off the reel, crazy with the euphoria of catching a fish. He was smiling and laughing, the worry gone. He was here, in this moment, and he was about to catch a trout. Pulling back the pole, he set the hook firmly and then let the fish run a little.

"Tire it out and it won't fight as hard when you reel it in."

I nodded, fascinated at the miracle one man could do. He could catch his own food, cook his own meal, and if all technology was erased from the world he would be one of the survivors, shrugging it off and walking down to Cold Creek with his Ugly Stick and tackle box.

With a final tug, he steadily reeled the fish in, asking me to hand him his stringer from his fishing bag. It was a red string with a small metal ring at one end and a sharp metal rod at the other. Puncturing the fish's mouth and threading the rod through the loop, he tightened it and wedged the metal rod between two large boulders. Looking over the edge, I saw a grayish fish with a vibrant red strip across it's sides. It was about fourteen inches long and fat.

"A rainbow trout." He laughed and grabbed my by the shoulders, kissing me, "You caught your first fish. You did it!"

"You helped me."

He pushed my comment away with a wave of his hand, "You caught it though. Now, I'm going to catch a couple more and we can head back, okay?"

I smiled, still flushed with excitement. The fish, helpless, was my captured prey, and I knelt over it, staring at it while he put on his waders and trudged over to the waterfall around the bend, out of sight. A water snake came by, twisting it's black body through the creek. It was going for the fish. I quickly grabbed the stringer and moved it to the other side of the bridge. The fish tried to get free, thrashing about wildly, but I kept a firm grip on it. Me against the fish. Him against himself. Us against the world.

Me, him, and us will come out victorious. Yo sé.

1 comment:

  1. My boyfriend Austin teaching me how to fish. I don't say his name for a reason, because he remains a symbol for all those men out there stuck in unemployment when they have admirable skills already, but can't make any money off them. If it were only a couple hundred years ago, fishermen would have pretty stable jobs.