My rod tip bent, straightened, bent again as the 1 1⁄2-ounce sinker grabbed bottom, lost it, grabbed it, the big nightcrawler rolling with the current on the main Missouri River, looking for a channel cat or a walleye. The river was running high and muddy, and almost every species of fish in it was feeding on the banquet of the flood.
My daughter held the big budget-model spinning rig we call the River Cat, and she slowly cranked up on some heavy thrashing creature, careful not to set the circle hook, just tighten and keep the pressure on. A flash of gunmetal silver in dark water and a river drum, two pounds or so, came to the surface. My son helped her get the fish off and back to the water, his Christmas-present Pflueger spinning outfit already starting to bow with what we hoped was the first sturgeon of the day (it turned out to be a giant sucker). A shower of minnows in a little patch of flooded willows caught my eye, and I picked up a lighter outfit rigged with a Rapala floater-diver, and cast out where a long ripple of shoal water led into the flooded thickets. First cast, a smallmouth, 1⁄2 pound or so.
My wife would take three more from the same place, each bigger than the last. A big school of goldeyes moved in and chomped away our precious worm supply. We made artistic, fluttery cut baits out of a few goldeye fillets but nothing hit them, and the spinning of the bait in the current twisted the line something awful.
We reeled up and took a break, as the heat of the day came on and the children lay in the shallows and pulled themselves, frog-like, along the gumbo-mud bottom. The early-morning stringer of cats and smallmouth was tethered to a clump of willow. Our creaky one-eyed bulldog Molly, scarred veteran of porcupine fights, coyote snares, and 12 years of generally poor decisions, splashed out and pawed at them until we yelled at her to stop. This was our June 21st, the longest day of the year. The sound and furious sadness of oil spills and places threatened, or lost and mourned, can stop for a few of these light-filled days. Summertime is laid out like a feast on a table. Go get lost in it. Luxurious light, for hours of fishing after work, or before work, or after the garage is roofed and the corn hoed. Hours for sitting on the bank with a line out and watching the whirling constellations of lightning bugs as the dark finally settles down on the green earth. Shellcrackers are popping around the cypress stumps at Dead Lakes in Florida, and the first hoppers are misjudging the wind and falling to big rainbows on Wyoming’s Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone. From 3 weights and glitter midges to jug lines and tobby (catalpa) worms, now is the time.
Go alone, quiet and focused, and then take somebody from your office, neighborhood, or jobsite who doesn’t know how to fish, or doesn’t know where to go, or what to throw. Take your kids, and your friends’ kids, and that kid down the block whose mother works a double shift at the mini-mart where you get your morning coffee.
Baba Dioum, the Senegalese poet, said it right, back in 1968: “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”