We went fishing yesterday, Dad and I, at a dead man's lake. It was almost eerie standing, fishing rod in hand, in the short grass of his lawn, well-maintained by his son over a year after the accident, while Dad sorted out lures in the tackle box and lit a cigarette, explaining that we'd need the yellow rope called a stringer to bring the caught fish home. I almost felt like we were trespassing.
But I also felt welcome there. I knew the man. I had been at this same house many years ago for a Christmas party. This was the guy who, in front of the gas station/bus stop, gave me the first fig I'd ever eaten that wasn't in a Fig Newton. He had fished with Dad in his lake just days before the accident, had told him to come whenever he wanted and take as many fish with him as he could. After, his son had renewed the offer. So off we took yesterday, in Dad's white third-hand pickup bouncing down the backroads, which I recognized from my old bus route when I was in high school.
There in the yard, I held my rod and reel, fishing line already prepped with hook and neon pink rubber worm wiggling in the breeze, and I watched Dad, cigarette dangling, hunkered over the telescoping box with its three tiers reaching up, offering every type of sure-fire lure imaginable: worms, crickets, minnows, centipedes. All species, all colors, all synthetic materials represented. He selected his first bait of choice, a white underdeveloped-looking grub, and clicked it onto the line, and together, we headed for the weeds. The grass around the bank of the water had not, apparently, been a landscaping priority for the son, as it had been for the father.
As we tromped around the lake's perimeter, looking for a nice starting point, I just followed Dad and watched my feet as they lay down little walls of weeds with each step, like how one cable television show that I once saw described the making of crop circles. We saw a mud turtle, making her own crop cirlces, apparently laying her eggs, Dad said. I wouldn't know. We found a spot that was close enough to some cattails -- "structure is good," he explained -- and far enough away from the shallow edge so that I wouldn't spend the afternoon dragging up hookful after hookful of algae.
Now, I'm no angler, but it seems to me that I go fishing to cast the line and that Dad goes fishing to change the lures. Essentially, I have no idea what I'm doing, but if I have any theory at all about the catching of fish, it is to stay in the same spot, to use the same lure, and to throw it out there over and over. Let the fish come to me if they want to be caught. If I don't get a bite after three casts, no problem. Keep casting until something happens. Wait and see, as foolish as it might be, works for me.
Not Dad, though. I think he used fifteen different lures in the two hours we were there. He was, of course, just trying to figure out what the fish wanted. I, on the other hand, am able to convince myself that if I keep giving my set-up second chances, it'll work out. Either that, or I'm just too lazy to try new things. That's more likely. But let me put it this way, I caught four fish, two of them just as we were giving up on our spot, two of them while Dad was picking out a new spinny, shiny contraption to tempt the fish with, all four of them with that unrealistically pink version of an earthworm. Dad caught one. We threw all of them back and watched as each one happily wove itself back into the lake water.
Right after my fourth bass, Mom called to see if we wanted to meet her and Wade and Day to eat. I told her yeah, that I was getting tired of catching fish. Dad laughed and told me not to tell anyone that I put a hurt on him. He threw out three more casts just in case, and I wished that he'd get something. He didn't, but I knew he was as happy for me as if he'd caught a hundred himself.
We went back through the weeds and up the hill, and I let him put my fishing rod, with the half-eaten worm with the Eagle Eye hook poking through its rubber belly, in the bed of the truck, next to the empty bucket for bringing fish home. Dad put the stringer, still in its package, back in the tackle box. I slid in the passenger side and popped open the half-hot can of Mountain Dew that he put in the truck for me before we left the house, when it was still cold. As we navigated the blind curves and hilltops on our way to Dixon to meet Mom, I pointed out all the houses and who lived in them, names I still remembered from riding the bus to school, and Dad drove and smoked and listened with the windows rolled down.