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The fishing lesson.


Over the years, I've introduced severaldozen people to the pleasures of outdoor sports. So what that some of them didn't want to be introduced! They might otherwise have ended up as criminals or drug addicts or golfers. I like to think I've had some small part in savings them from such dismal fates.

My neighbor Al Finley , the citycouncilperson, is a good example of what can be accomplished if you put your mind to it. Up until a few years ago, Finley had never been fishing in his life. One day he happened to mention that fact to me, and I couldn't help feeling sorry for him.

"Al," I said to him, "nobody'sperfect. All of us have our faults. Want to talk about it?"

"Talk about what?" he said.

"Your degeneracy," I said.

Then he called me one of those nastyanatomical names to popular with guys who like to pretend they're tough.

"Listen, you dirty, no-good elbow,"he said, "just because I don't fish doesn't mean I'm a degenerate!"

"Somebody call me?" said RetchSweeney, who had just walked in.

I explained to Retch that Finleyhad never been fishing. Retch, as a way of expressing amazement, has the irritating quirk of repeating the same rhetorical question over and over.

"You never been fishing, Al?" heasked.

"No," Finley said, irritably.

"I'll be darned, you never beenfishing, hunh?"


"That's really something! Younever been fishing?"

Finley's ey es looked as if they weregoing to pop out of his head.


"Well, that's probably what makesyou so irritable," Retch said.

After I had helped pry Finley'sthumbs off Retch's windpipe and they had both calmed down, I suggested that the three of us take a little fishing trip together. Neither one of them was too happy with the idea at first, but I eventually brought them around.

"Hell, Finley," I said, "take a fewdays off from City Hall. The taxpayers can use the rest. Besides, learning to fish will open up a whole new way of life to you."

Once he sets his mind to do something,Finley goes all the way. He rushed out and bought himself rods, reels, lines, leaders, hooks, creel, waders, fishing vest, etc. He practically cleaned out the local sporting-goods stors. What made me mad wasn't that he put together a better fishing outfit than mine but that the city's rate for garbage collection went up in direct proportion to what he spent. If I had suggested an African safari to him, we wouldn't have been able to afford garbage any more.

The night before we were to leaveon the fishing trip, Retch and I went over to Finley's place to make sure he was properly outfitted and to make last-minute arrangements. Finley was flitting about getting his stuff ready, and it was enough to make petrifled toad smile.

He had everything arranged in neatlittle piles according to function, size, color, etc. His tackle box alone was so neat and orderly it was pathetic.

Retch looked at it and grimmed. "Thiswill never do, Finley."

"Why not?" Finley growled.

"It just don't look right," Retchsaid. "It ain't got any character. What you need is a good snarl of leader in there with sinkers and hooks and maybe a dried worm still attached. And it ain't very efficient either. With my lures, I just keep them all dumped together down in the bottom of the box. Then all I got to do is grab one of them, and they all come out in a big clump. I just turn the big clump around till I find something that looks good and pluck it off. You gonna waste a lotta time pokin' around through all them compartments."

Finley was obviouslyembarrased by his own ineptness in organizing a tackle box. Still, that was no reason for him to refer to Retch as an "ingrown toenail." Retch may not be the smartest guy, but he has feelings just like anyone else.

Retch and I did everything wecould to help Finley get his stuff into some kind of respectable condition so we all wouldn't be embarrased if we ran into other anglers on the river. But Finley said he liked for his stuff to look near and clean and brand-new. He wouldn't even let me smear some salmon-egg clusters on his fishing vest or leak some dry-fly dressing on his shirt.

Finally, Retch could stand it nolonger. He grabbed Finley's hat, threw it on the floor, and jumped up and down on it.

"Now, that looks more like a fishinghat," he said, holding it up for approval.

"I can see that, you shinbone." Finleysaid. "Too bad it isn't my fishing hat!" Turned out it was his politicking hat.

Retch and I had a good chuckleover the little misunderstanding, and even Finley was mildly amused by it, although not until several years later.

To make amends, Retch offered tolet Finley stomp on his fishing hat. Finley said all right, but only if Retch would agreee to leave his head in it.

I could see that Finley was becomingirritated, since he had acquired a rather severe twitch in his left eye and was pacing back and forth popping his knuckles. It was apparent that all those years without fishing had taken their toll on his nervous system. I tried to be as gentle as I could in giving him the last few bits of essential information about our fishing trip.

"I've got some bad news and somegood news for you, Al," I said.

"What? Tell me. I can hardlywait."

"First, the bad news. The road intothe Big Muddy, which is where we're going to fish, is pretty treacherous--steep, winding, narrow, washouts, logging trucks, that sort of thing."

"The good news?"

"We're taking your car, and youget to drive."

"What's so good about that?"

"Well, there are several high oldwood bridges where Retch and I have to get out and walk across just to make sure they're safe for you to drive over. Then there's the stretch of road along the top of Bottomless Canyon, where we have to get out again and guide you along just to make sure your outside tires don't hang so far out in space they might slip off. Hell, all that walking would sap your energy, and we want you to save it for fishing."

"I see, I see," Finley said, twitchingand popping.

The plan we worked out wasfor Finley to pick us up at three in the morning. Finley, not knowing anything about fishing, expressed some amazement at the early hour for getting started. We explained that it was necessary if we were to catch the first feed on the Big Muddy.

"And don't be late," Retchsaid. "The one sin I can't forgive is for a guy to be late for a fishing trip."

The resulting foul-up wasprobably my fault. I should have taken into account the fact that Finley knew absolutely nothing about fishing and its practitioners, and I should have explained the nuances more thoroughly to him. Right in the middle of the night, I was awakened from a deep sleep by a horn blaring in my driveway. I got up and staggered over to a window to look out.

"What is it?" my wife mumbled.

"I don't know," I said. "Somemaniac is down in our driveway honking his fool horn off. What kind of a person honks his horn in front of your house at 3 a.m.?"

It was Finley, of course. As Istuffed my gear into the back of his station wagon, I tried to be as kind as possible.

"Al," I said, "when a fishermansays he is leaving on a fishing trip at exactly, absolutely, and positively 3 a.m., he means 5:30 at the earliest. If he's leaving at 3, he says midnight."

After we had honked Retch out ofbed, he staggered to the car looking like something put together by an inept taxidermist.

"Wha-what is it?" he said. "Thedam bust? We gonna be flooded?"

By four we were on the road andpumping hot coffee into our veins from the thermos Finley had had the good sense to bring along. In a little while, we felt good. There is nothing better than to be headed into the mountains on a clean, fresh day with the sun rising through the trees and good company and good talk and the sense of ease that comes from the knowledge that you are in somebody else' car and it is not your transmission that is going to get torn out on a big rock. Even Finley seemed to be enjoying himself. Then we came to the road that leads up to the headwaters of the Big Muddy.

"Hang a left there," I told Finley.

"A left where? All I see is that rockslide coming down off the mountain."

"That's it, buddy," I said.

We arrived at the Big Muddy withoutincident, and aside from the fact that Finley went about for some time afterward with his hands shaped as though they were still gripping a steering wheel, we were all in fine fettle and high spirits. Finley even commented that he didn't know how he had managed to get through 43 years of life without fishing, he was having to much fun.

"You ain't seen nothing yet,"Retch told him. "Just wait till you actually start fishing."

"I can hardly contain myself,"Finley said.

Retch and I helped Finley rig up histackle, and then we all cut down through the brush toward the Big Muddy. It was rough going, and the mosquitoes came at us like mess call at a fat farm. I led the way and did the best I could to point out the obstacles to the other two, but apparently I stepped right over one beaver hole without noticing it. Suddenly I heard a strange sound and turned around to see what it was. I was shocked. There was Finley's head resting on the ground, its eyes still blinking in disbelief! It was about as horrible a thing as I've ever seen. Then the head spoke to me.

"You gluteus maximus," it said. "Whydidn't you tell me about this hole?"

"I didn't see it, head," I replied. "Itlooks pretty deep though--we better warn Retch about it."

"Ha!" Finley said. "Whose shouldersdo you think I'm standing on?"

That was about the only real catastropheto befall us. The rest of the day was pretty much your routine fishing trip. Oh, Finley did lose his sack lunch and made quite a fuss about that, but it was nothing, really. As far as we could figure out, the lunch apparently washed out of the pocket in the back of his fishing vest. There was a pretty strong current at the place where he was trying to swim to the north bank of the Big Muddy, and that was probably when his lunch washed away. Actually, I had thought there were good odds that Finley would make it all the way across that high log over the river, even if he was running. But before Retch and I could shake hands on our bet, he ran right off into space and dropped like a shot into the river. Of course, I hadn't taken into account that he was holding up his pants with one hand and had all those yellowjackets swarming around him. I had told Finley that yellowjackets sometimes hole up in old brush piles and don't like to be disturbed, but he didn't listen. I won't go into how he was disturbing them or why he was holding up his pants with one hand, because it isn't especially interesting. Anyway, to hear Finley tell it, you would think he was the only fisherman to have such an experience. You would think Retch and I had personally put those yellowjackets under that brush pile.

"Look, Finley," I toldhim, "it's no big deal. Fishermen lose their lunches all the time."

I dug a sandwich out of myown fishing vest and gave it to him, and patted him on the shoulder. "Looks like peanut butter and jelly," he said.

I didn't have the heart to tell him itwas supposed to be just peanut butter, even though I could have put those salmon eggs to good use.

A difficult thing about introducinga guy to the sport of fishing is determining whether it has taken hold of him. As we were driving back into town, I decided to ask him.

"I'm of two minds about it," hereplied. "One bad and one good."

"What's the bad?"

"I won't be able to get out of bedfor a week."

"What's the good?"

"Next time we're taking his car."

"Whose car?" Retch said.

"Yours, armpit, that's whose," hesaid.

I could see Finley was hooked. Alreadyhe had picked up one of the most important techniques.
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Title Annotation:teaching a new fisherman old tricks
Author:McManus, Patrick F.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1986
Previous Article:Memo on Kathy O'Rourke.
Next Article:Lessons of the Hiss case.

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