Many years ago I sold a piece about bass fishing to the New York Times Magazine, describing my never-ending quest—along with fishing buddy Geoff Ward—to outwit the wily denizens of the deep.
The Times wanted a photo of me fishing to run with the piece—the expectation clearly being that I would catch a fish—so a photographer named Karen joined us one day on an angling expedition. The pressure was on big time—I now answered to untold millions of readers.
Karen was not given to smiling much, and seeing our boat didn’t brighten her spirits: a small three-seat aluminum affair with a battery-run trolling motor that—for some reason—went into reverse when you shifted into forward, and vice versa.
Somehow we managed to cram ourselves and gear into the pint-sized vessel—tackle boxes and rods and reels and jackets and cameras and oars and legs—a motley melange, indeed—and off we went (fortunately not in reverse) to conquer the lake.
Permit me a brief digression: Our family spent summers in Wisconsin near a long lake called Long Lake, and I was about eight when first I threaded an invertebrate onto a hook, took up station at Smitty’s dock or whatever it was called, tossed the old cork out there, and experienced the extraordinary thrill of watch it dance and then vanish.
We mostly caught bluegills (sunfish) —usually 30-40 per outing—and my father would dutifully fry them up with a batch of hush puppies. How weary my parents must have grown of these dinky offerings, however—sweet of meat yet tiny of body and many of bone. Years later, my brother told me he’d always resented our role as food-gathers, assuming Dad, a university professor, was too poor to provide for the family.
Anyway, I gave it my all that day. Geoff and I arrogantly considered ourselves “purists,” and we used only artificial lures—beady-eyed beasts, creepy crawlies, and dipsy doodles of every kind and description, with names like Sassy Dads, Mud Bugs, Scally Wags, Wiggle Warts, and Ripple Rats. After careful thought, I went with my bread-and-butter plug, the Whopper-Stopper Popper, known to drive bass wild.
We checked out our favorite “holes.” I worked the shoreline, shady hideaways, lily pads, you name it; the day wore on. My nervousness increased, I began to perspire, my arm became a ten-pound log. The lake, which had dimpled and puckered with the promise of great things to come when we set forth, was a morgue. I wanted to hurt it.
Karen’s mood also darkened as the day progressed, and—although never exactly saying “why aren’t you catching anything?”—she conveyed her impatience by way of pointed fidgeting and heavy sighing and “do-you-have-the-time?” questions.
Desperate, I switched to a deep-running Spoon with a Nasty Skirt, a Hawg Frawg, a Shimmy Lizard. No dice.
…as the Golden Chariot slowly sunk from view, announcing the arrival of night…
…I CAUGHT A FISH!
With extreme care and applying techniques learned from long experience, I reeled in slowly—trying to avoid Karen who kept crowding in for a close-up—and brought to the side of the boat a largemouth bass…the size of a spoon.
Karen stopped clicking, while I—contrary to customary protocol—held off hoisting the wee thing into the boat. My heart sank, the jig was up.
But not so fast—the story ends happily, after all. The photo that eventually ran with the piece shows me battling a fish that can’t be seen—and who knew how much that bronze-backed beauty must have weighed.
Robert Strozier’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications including Atlantic, Esquire, The New Times Magazine, and The NYT Book Review. He’s had plays produced in NYC, and a musical he wrote (book and lyrics) has had five concert readings. He also helped launch five national magazines, then served as Editor-in-Chief of two and a senior editor at the others.
Bob is an excellent writer, and OLLI Connects appreciates the stories he’s contributed. But OLLI Connects isn’t about sharing the stories of just a few writers. We’d like to share the stories of more of OLLI-USF’s members. To be blunt, we’d like to share one of your stories. You’ve led an interesting life. You’ve been places. You’ve done things. You have stories to tell. And where will you find a better audience than here? The people you’ve taken face-to-face classes with and now see in Zoom sessions? A few minutes at your word processor. An email to email@example.com. And Bob will be reading the story that you’ve shared.