I come from a long line of people who loved to fish. My Granddaddy Moore could stand for hours on end in the brutal Arkansas heat and tirelessly cast his “minner”-baited line into a little old farm pond that didn’t have enough decent fish in it to fill half a stringer. He wore long khaki britches tucked into his socks to ward off ticks and chiggers, a long-sleeved shirt and a floppy-brimmed hat because, he told me, he already had enough freckles to last a lifetime.
It didn’t matter one whit to Granddaddy whether he got a single nibble. Having a hook in the water was all that mattered.
My grandmother preferred fishing from a jon boat in a body of water where there was at least some hope of catching fish enough for supper. Crickets were Grandmother’s bait of choice. After thrusting her hand into the wire cricket cage and grabbing hold of a big one, she would carefully poke the barbed fishing hook through the exact right spot between its head and body so that it would be securely snagged but not killed because anybody knows that a fish will go after a live cricket way quicker than it’ll go after a dead one.
My daddy, their only child, loved to fish, too. He was good at it, but what he really excelled at was telling fish stories. Over the course of his 68 years, Daddy told enough fishing tales to fill a book, which I’m exceedingly sorry to say he never wrote. My favorite involved a tangle of water moccasins falling from a low-lying tree limb into his boat, which he leapt out of and capsized, causing the loss of both his well-stocked tackle box and an almost-new Zebco rod but escaping, thank goodness, with his life.
I do not know if even one word of that story is true but I do know that it got better every time he told it.
I failed to inherit the fishing gene but my kinfolk accepted me anyway. Without comment, or at least without much comment, they’d let me simply sit in the boat and sip on a cold Nehi Grape and read Archie and Veronica comic books or count turtles sunning on a log or beg my daddy to tell just one more fishing story.
The people I’ve written about in this column passed away long before my granddaughter Josephine, who is seven years old, was born. It fell to me to figure out whether she has what it takes to be a fisherwoman. Along with her Kentucky cousins, she attended day camp at Shaker Village in Harrodsburg this past summer. One of the activities was fishing. Though Jo never caught a fish, she got to keep her bamboo pole, which was outfitted with a long strand of nylon line, a small sinker and a red-and-white bobber.
She brought that pole to my house when camp was over and announced that she wanted to fish in City Lake, located but a stone’s throw from where I live. We dug around in my compost pile for some red wigglers, which Jo was not—at first—enthusiastic about picking up and even less enthusiastic about threading onto the hook, but together we made that happen. Standing beneath the shade of a weeping willow, she cast her line into the lake and waited. Five minutes passed. Ten. Fifteen. When it became apparent that the day was too hot and the water too shallow and even the hungriest of fish totally uninterested in the dearly departed worm, we gave up. I only wish I’d had a cold Nehi Grape to offer her in consolation.
But Jo declared the outing to have been an adventure nonetheless. And I’m certain that, especially on Grandparents Day, her ancestors would have been delighted to hear this little fish story.
(September 10, 2022)