When I was young, before I discovered cars and girls and alcohol and rock-n-roll, and became the jaded, reprehensible dilettante that I am today, my main reason for living was fishing. I was an avid devotee, an angler of great passion and knowledge; I swear to you that I could smell a bed of bluegill from fifty paces.
My childhood environment was not urban, or even suburban. It was a landscape dotted with tobacco barns and farm ponds, a carpet of earth spread out with pine needles and buzzing with the brief vibrancy of insects. I started, as many Southern boys do, barefoot with a cane pole, digging worms from an old unplugged chest freezer full of soil that my grandfather kept specifically for fishing. He had a little pond whose still waters lay like smooth black opal; it sat at the bottom of the horse pasture and met the woods at a little spring-fed creek where we would cool our Pepsi bottles (glass, in those days). I would squat restless in the tall grass, watching a narrow orange cork floating, teasing; the backs of my thighs sweaty and itching from grass and little red ants and mosquito bites. Sometimes a dragonfly would buzz the cork, and land on it for a bit if the water was still enough.
Later, I became a magazine subscriber and read all about other types of fishing adventures far beyond the tiny farm ponds of Eastern North Carolina. I dreamed of a fly-in Northern lake in Minnesota or Canada, brimming with exotic steelhead, walleye, char, and pike; a cabin stocked with canned goods and meal. I bought my first rod and reel with my own money - a classic Zebco 33. I switched from earthworms and crickets to the fancy artificial lures that were advertised in Field and Stream, gaudy contraptions with spinner blades, treble hooks, fish-attracting scents, and propellor blades. My tackle box grew and grew; it acquired its own oily, fishy smell. I labelled it with a piece of thin, black tape with raised white letters from one of those old-fashioned labelmakers. Blaine's Tackle Box
I begged my parents to take me the big fishing expos at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds where I bought my first flyrod. I would practice my backcast in the old pasture by my grandfather's pond. On trips to the mountains, I would try my hand in tiny, clear trout streams and fail miserably while grizzled old locals (Philistines) caught their limits using canned corn Niblets and marshmallows.
As I got older, I regressed. My flyrod hangs unused in my father's toolshed, as does the spinning combo and the trusty Zebco. Now, if I fish, I grab the old cane pole and a jar of worms or crickets and sit lazily on the bank of some lake or river. I take my shoes off. I sit still. The fish I catch are never very big and sometimes not very plentiful. But I treat them as gently as I can and always put them back. If I fish today, it isn't for the catch, but rather for the sudden outcry of cicada in the evening, the slow rise of a turtle in midstream, and the precarious landing of a dragonfly on the bright orange tip of my cork.