Fishing with the right person

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher.

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Fishing. I just never got hooked on it.

My uncle, Freddie Scott, loved it. My mother’s brother-in-law from Hazard, Kentucky lived his life in West Texas as a teacher and a coach honored by halls of fame for his tennis coaching. He was also at times a comedian and a philosopher. He was always a guy I was proud to call my uncle.

That said, I’m pretty sure there was little he liked better than fishing. He spent most of his life in classrooms, gyms, and on tennis courts in Texas communities like Happy, Hart, Nazareth, and Sweetwater. But when it was time to wet a hook, he was often headed for places like the Carolinas, Kentucky, or even Mexico.

Therefore, it seemed odd that day in the late 70s living in Abilene when I told him I was headed home to East Texas for the weekend, and he said he had wanted to fish that new lake over in East Texas. Toledo Bend.

“What,” I responded. “You’ve fished half the states in the union and a few in Mexico, but you’ve never fished Toledo Bend?”

“So, how ’bout we make the trip together,” he said. “We’ll take my truck, pull my boat, and I’ll fish while you visit. Unless you want to fish with me.”

“I don’t do fishing,” I replied.

“You just haven’t fished with the right person,” he offered. “I’ll teach you how to enjoy it.” So, with plans to squeeze a road trip halfway across the state into a weekend, he picked me up at my office in downtown Abilene Friday at 5. Around midnight, the pickup’s headlights were casting shadows on our destination down between Possum Trot and Goober Hill in southern Shelby County. The porch light came on, and after exchanging hellos, how was the trip, and glad you’re here, it was time to grab some sleep.

Falling into deep slumber was easy. But the bed in which I was curled up was not even warm yet when I heard this voice. “You ready to go find those fish?”

“What a vivid dream,” I thought as I fluffed the pillow and rolled over.

“The fish are already up,” the voice in the darkness added.

“Are you serious,” I replied. “The clock says 4 a.m. I just got in bed.”

“Gotta go early to get the big ones,” Uncle Freddie said.

“I just got out of this truck, and I’m right back in it,” I thought as this time, the headlights were bouncing off the dirt county roads and tall pines deep in the Sabine National Forest.

Shades of rosy pink and warm orange on the horizon were diluting the darkness as the boat’s wake painted a pattern of rhythmic ripples across the early morning smooth water. Finally, Freddie brought the boat to a stop in a spot he liked. The fishing games were about to begin.

Providing me with what he deemed the best rod and reel complemented by a box of baits, Uncle Freddie shared some basics of casting with me. “It’s in the wrist,” he said, slicing the air with a pop in the fishing rod that put the bait right where he intended for it to go.

Positioned at opposite ends of the boat with coffee from the thermos in hand, the newbie and the pro were finally doing it together. Fishing the waters of Toledo Bend for the first time.

While working on casting skills, I began to notice little things. Fish popped the top of the water. Several birds sang morning melodies from the lifeless limbs of partially submerged trees while others swooped low over the water, looking for breakfast. Turtle heads bobbed up for a moment here and there, then disappeared.

A couple of hours into daylight, Uncle Freddie asked, “How’s it going? Any bites?”

 “Oh, a couple,” I responded. Then, just as I let go with another reel ringing cast, Freddie exclaimed, “You don’t have a lure on your line.”

“Yeah, I know,” I drawled. “Just a weight. But I’ve been practicing, and I can hit that big stump over there just about every time, now.”

“You won’t catch any fish like that,” he chuckled.

“That’ll come later,” I said, cranking on the reel. “Right now, I’m just enjoying casting practice. And taking in the early morning sounds of nature while marveling at the serenity of it all.”

“See,” he said, letting go with another long cast. “I told you I’d teach you how to enjoy fishing.”

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and the Naples Monitor.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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