The allure of the lure
I NEVER HAD much luck fishing in Winnisquam Lake in New Hampshire, but when I heard the 11-year-old next door wanted to go, I figured misery loves company and said he could come along. He reacted as if he had won the lottery.
Michael and I got in my rickety, green canoe. It doesn't "leak," I correct people about the water that beads through the fiberglass, it "sweats." The difference might seem like splitting hairs, but it's important. For example, many people have heard this while in the middle of the lake and started to sweat, but no one has gotten scared enough to actually leak.
After paddling out 150 yards, I tossed some worms on our lines. His family was going out to dinner so we couldn't stay long. Michael didn't have much fishing experience, but he had the heart. Some people just don't get fishing. They call it boring. But even in a family where Dad would rather be jet-skiing and Mom does everything in her power to keep worms out of the fridge, some kids immediately see fishing for what it is: a continually exhilarating experience of almost painful anticipation that culminates - at intervals varied enough to keep it interesting - with pulling beautiful little monsters from the depths. Communing with another world and setting its unwilling diplomat free, fishing is like a more tranquil, if slightly lazier, order-in version of scuba diving. And certain children understand all this from day one, that a person fishing is like the water itself: it may be calm on top, but there's a buzzing world of excitement underneath.
On this evening, though, there wasn't much communing. No bites. I wasn't surprised. I had caught a few smallmouth and white perch, but none of the lake's prized trout or landlocked salmon. Still, it was a nice, quick trip.
Unfortunately, the evening was quiet enough to hear Michael's name being called from the dock. Time to head in. "The most important thing about fishing is that when they tell you it's time to go, you need to take as long as possible with your last cast," I joked. I had no idea why I was saying this. In fact, I'd never said this out loud before. I'd always just done it, reeling in a swiveling Rapala lure at speeds that drove my father crazy, thinking, "Now, fish! Attack! This is your last chance." It was the fear that I'd just miss the fish, that as I put my rod away a 10-pound largemouth was below the surface thinking, "What happened? If he just cast one more time I was going to bite. It's always the 248th cast of the exact same lure that I decide to go for . . ."
Either way, I said it and started paddling in backward so we wouldn't have to look at the person calling. Our lines were still out, dragging behind us and yet we looked, from a distance, like we were really trying to get back. But it was a lot of paddling without much progress, like a canoe version of the Running Man.
"I think I have something," he said.
Beginner's mistake, you feel your sinker's weight and convince yourself it's a tuna. Then Michael started struggling. The rod bent and its tip dipped in the water. I thought, "I think he has something."
"Loosen your drag," I yelled. The drag was set way too tight. Not his fault. It was an old, rusty reel and hard to use.
"Flip the bailer. Let out some line."
"The thing. Flip the thing!" I yelled.
"I think I need to stand up . . ."
"You do not need to stand up."
Eventually a 17-inch landlocked salmon appeared next to the boat. Paddling back, we approached the dock with a screaming, high-pitched voice yelling, "We caught a fish!" Michael was pretty excited, too.
After snapping a picture, we released the shining creature. Michael headed up to dinner, already retelling the story in epic terms, and I realized he had been corrupted. His poor parents - for the rest of his life he would reel in his last cast at the speed of a glacier. Appointments would be missed. Dinners would get cold, all because I had shared this silly bit of wisdom.
The thing was, I had never actually caught anything when I did it.
Steve Macone, an essayist and performer living in Medford, can be reached at email@example.com.