A Fish Tale

 

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. 

Mudbug

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.

Antique Whopper-Stopper Popper

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.

Shimmy Lizard

Desperate, I switched to a deep-running Spoon with a Nasty Skirt, a Hawg Frawg, a Shimmy Lizard. No dice.

But then…

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. 

Man holding fishing rod

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 connectsolli25@gmail.com.  And Bob will be reading the story that you’ve shared.

 

22 Replies to “A Fish Tale”

  1. Hooray – another delightful Bob Strozier story! Thank you for giving us another one, Bob – every one you write for us is a real gem. You took me along with you with your entertaining descriptions of the fishing trips most of us have in our own memories. I read it twice so far, and I’m still laughing. You have a wonderful talent for storytelling!

  2. Great story and wonderful writing as usual Bob. I come from a family of wanna-be, would-be fisher-people, so this was fun.

  3. Hi Bob, thanks for another one of your top-rated, deliciously composed, hilarious stories! What a happy-pill it was for a day that started cloudy inside and outside me! I’ve enjoyed your detailed descriptions (and funny country names) of the baits. And the crowding inside the little boat. The word combinations you’ve chosen are fantastic!
    I’ve also read the story several times. It brought to me memories of my boys searching in the mud for worms as baits. Their delight to hold them wiggling in their palms, and with an expression of triumph on their sunny faces.

  4. What a wonderful story, Bob! You certainly paint the picture of the day. And speaking of pictures,
    the photo is hilarious considering the plans for the day. I bet that Karen asked to cover the unrest in Sarajevo after this experience!

  5. Just one random sentence, Bob, shows your fantastic imagery: “The lake, which had dimpled and puckered with the promise of great things to come when we set forth, was a morgue. ” WOW!

    1. Thank you Junia. You have expressed so beautifully In your comments what I would’ve like to say to Bob about his piece. And that sentence you highlighted was poetry in the innocence of a sentence.
      Adagio

  6. Hilarious, Bob! I especially like the names of your lures and the image of a morose and resentful Karen. She may tell this story differently — as the worst assignment of her life.

  7. Thank you Bob. I could totally relate to Karen as I am patiently waited for my brother and cousins on Wisconsin lakes and Indiana lakes but I was always intrigued by the lures Iridescent and exotic goth jewelry of the mermaids.

  8. Delightful to imagine, it takes the pressure off of all of us who try to do what really is just the luck of the draw….the fish draw.

  9. I could relate to your fishing story but can’t say anyone ever wanted a photo. We grew up threading worms found in a pile of dark dirt, on hooks at a lake in Ft. Loramie Ohio and for two weeks every summer in Michigan where Dad could hopefully catch a few fish. I remember those little blue gills and croppies (spelling?) always fried with cornmeal and worrying about the little bones that Dad missed when he fileted them. Happy memories! Do you still fish?

  10. I fished off the dock when my sister and her hubby had a house on the Hillsborough River, and caught five species of fish, including a six-pound bass, …and (true story) an…alligator. I teasingly cast behind him, but he suddenly spun around and grabbed the lure, and I had the dubious pleasure of reeling him in, wondering how exactly I was going to unhook the lure, but fortunately he spit it out at the last minute and went his way. Moral: Don’t tease an alligator.

  11. As an avid fisherwoman , I can really relate to this story. My finest catches have been when nobody is looking,….

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