It was dusk overlooking the pond. Paul and I were just sitting and reminiscing about our last short fishing trip, and kicking back with a beer or three. We both knew from experience that the night would grow darker, our vision would begin to fail us, and the size of the day’s catch would expand greatly. “It was this big…” with hands stretched wide, describing a thrown-back perch. Paul was the one who had introduced me to hand fishing, and it became a meditation practice we could both get into.
The idea is similar to tickling trout, which I learned from a rig hand while working on an oil rig in the Rockies. He had me wade into an incredibly cold stream and wait patiently for the fish to return after the shock of a human foot or two invading the realm. When the trout started swimming again, I leaned over and dipped my hands into the water, oh so slowly. As they began to freeze and I felt myself entering hypothermic shock, I would slide my hands under a trout. With fingertips just barely moving, I would stroke the belly of the fish. After hypnotizing the little bugger, I could flip it out of the water and hopefully onto the bank of the stream.
Well, down here on flat land, Paul and I had no ice cold Rocky Mountain trout stream, but we did have this great big shallow pond. Just for a hoot, we would wade out into the shallows and stand there waiting for anything wet to move by us. It was usually a fish, but there was the odd crawdad and the occasional mayfly larva. The rule was, if it moved, it was fair game. Size won out for fish, but weirdness won out for everything else. Today had been perch. Little perch. That made it a good day for beer.
I pulled another one from the cooler, and began to spin a tale of fish fighting back with sucker-laden heads and weight that would pull you under if you were the unbalanced type. At one point, I had beer spraying out of Pauls nose with a story about a fish with green eyes and eyelashes that would blink seductively as I stood in the water over it, hands extended and back bent. “Honest to God,” I said. “She blinked at me with those lashes, and blew me a fish kiss that came out as a bubble that made it to the surface. I think it might have actually been a proto-mermaid. You know, not yet fully evolved. Eyes and lips, yes, but no arms or hair yet. I’ll have to get back there some day to see if she remembers me, or has grown any bigger.”
An empty can came sailing over the space between us, and Paul scored a direct hit on my forehead. “You’re a lying bastard,” he said. “That was no proto-mermaid. You’re daft enough to have stayed right there and tried to seduce a fish if it had blinked up at you and blown you a kiss. There is no way you would have left that there without trying to marry it. It’s probably the only thing that’s blown you a kiss in the last five years.”
Impugning my character and dismissing my manner with the womens was definitely a breach of fishing etiquette. I reached up and over into the cooler for another beer, getting ready to spray my fishing partner with a sacrificial beer, when we heard a distinct plop from the pond. Both of us sat up in our haze and peered into the shallows. There before us was a school of our little perch cuties, mouths working and bubbles bubbling. There must have been a couple of dozen of them, none of them bigger than your hand, but all with the most distinctive green eyes you could possibly imagine. They were lined up, all facing the shore of the pond, as if they had listened to what we were saying.
I looked at Paul, he looked at me, and we both burst out laughing as hard as we could. Tears in eyes and all. It was loud enough to scare our fish away from the edge, and we collapsed back onto the grass. “Okay,” I said, “you can never use this in a story from now on. This one’s done, and you can only top it at the next fishing party.”
Paul agreed to the rule, and so it became our job to outdo each other in the tall tales after fishing. I came up with the sewer gator that I caught on a ten-pound test line, and Paul eventually beat me with a story about using his brand new baby girl as bait in fishing for catfish on the Missouri River. We still stopped by to harass the perch in our favorite pond, but the green-eyed lovelies never reappeared.