Chartrand…

For fishermen, the dream never ends

David Chartrand

David Chartrand

My friends Steve and Tracy are bass fishing addicts, although that term is too weak to describe the level of their interest.

Steve and Tracy enjoy bass fishing more than life itself. They certainly love it more than eating or sleeping. They loved it so much they often convinced me, sometimes at gunpoint, to join their week-long fishing trips to Lake Fork Texas.  The child-like excitement — theirs — was palpable. After checking into our cabin Steve said good night but never went to bed. Like a child counting the hours to Christmas morning, Steve never sleeps on fishing trips. He remains upright all night in the cabin recliner, one eye on “The Fugitive” video — which we watch seven or eight times every trip. After the rest of us fall asleep sleep Steve steels himself staring at a test pattern from Nova Scotia, standing vigil over his tackle box.

Steve and Tracy have tackle boxes the size of a Weber grill. Open the hood of these behemoths and behold a sprawling, multi-level, bait condominium consisting of little round lead things (“line weights”) and hooks (“rigs”) and bait (“lures”). Tracy always brings an empty Gerber’s jar filled with bull semen, one whiff of which reportedly causes a wide-mouth bass swoon with desire and which I hereby submit as evidence that there are creatures with eating habits more repulsive than dogs.

Steve arms himself for fishing the way a golfer packs his clubs. There is a rod for large-mouth, one for small-mouth bass, one for fish that vote Republican, one for odd-numbered days of the month, and so on. When nothing is biting for me, I just caddie for Steve (“Sir, I believe this shot calls for the 20-pound test line with the Texas rig-caster hunchie spinner three wood.”)

My own tackle box is an antique Sucrets throat lozenge container that holds my guitar picks. My official duty for the week is bringing the boat food rations based on an itemized grocery list submitted by Steve and stipulating nothing but Dr. Pepper and Peanut M&Ms.
From Steve and Tracy, I have learned two fundamentals techniques of bass fishing, three if you count the jar of bull semen.

Technique #1 — Stand in a $30,000 bass boat all day without catching anything, OR
Technique #2 — Stand on a mosquito-infested bank of weeds and cattails all day without catching anything, returning occasionally to the boat for more M&Ms.

Regardless of technique, the fish always stayed clear of my lines and lures, laughing hysterically at the ridiculous gizmos I stole from Steve’s tackle box. Trust me, a five-pound bass has been around long enough to know out that a purple-and-white plastic “worm” with spinning metal blades and a POWERBAIT logo is not a naturally occurring organism.

I also learned that it never hurts to spend $150 a day for a professional fishing guide.  It never helps, either, which is why most fishing addicts develop their own tricks and techniques.  Sometimes Tracy fishes for hours with nothing but a squirt of WD-40 on his hook. At Lake Fork, one of the nation’s most revered fishing venues, Tracy’s name is inscribed on the wall at Val’s Marina Cafe as the only person in Lake Fork history to watch the same well-lubricated largemouth bass slither off his hook 17 times in the same day. We had some biochemical engineers run the numbers and, according to their computer, the aquatic life of Lake Fork should have been wiped out by 1997.

I should not give the impression that Steve and Tracy and I fish all day without catching or eating anything.  Usually we fish all morning and afternoon without catching or eating anything.  Then, just before sunset our luck changes. We are rescued from dehydration by an unopened, mud-crusted bottle of Dr. Pepper that floats up from the seawood.  Moments later, someone whips his line backward. The air cracks with a sharp swoosh. A hook has been set into the mouth of a big one. A very big one.

The battle begins. Hearts pump, muscles tense. The rod whips to and fro like a rubber band. Someone lunges for the hand net. Peanut M&Ms tumble and scatter across the boat like loose marbles.  Within seconds, Tracy is holding a defiant large-mouth bass, lips smeared with WD-40. Poses are struck, snapshots taken; lies told.

This is what fishing addicts live for. At least it is what Steve and Tracy live for. The jubilation of a trophy catch is no less than the euphoria of a newborn infant: Long hours of anticipation following by a few orgiastic minutes of pushing and pulling. At last, a small, squirmy, slimy miracle is held aloft for all to admire. It is measured, weighed, baptized, circumcised and given an appropriate Old Testament name. Then it is tossed back into the water in the hope of landing something with more promise. It should be noted that, in most states, this cannot be done with real children, though God knows I’ve tried.

I have since retired from fishing but I understand why Steve and Tracy never will: They cannot.  They talk about fishing and dream about it; they watch it on television. As the snow falls and the swallows fly, the fishing zealot hunts for new ponds. Or old ponds; or a knee-high puddle of dirty rainwater.  One man’s pothole is another man’s shot at the cover of Field & Stream.

My pals will continue to fish whether I am there or not, though they keep asking me to return. They remind me of the good times at Lake Fork, three men in a small boat on a large lake. They remind me that someone has to bring the M&Ms.

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