Escape by Fishing
I lined up my new olive green hip boots, Dad’s old straw creel, a net, and a new fishing rod with an actual reel. My old fishing pole was a long tree branch with a heavy string tied on the end of the stick. The new reel had actual fishing line. I was so excited! I felt like I was jumping out of my skin as I imagined the next day, the opening of fishing season. The new fishing gear was a birthday present in March, just in time for opening day. I had begged for a real fishing rod and other gear for years, and finally it happened.
I practiced telescoping the rod in and out of its three parts that made it shorter and longer. Dad explained that a drop of oil had to go on each of the three parts every time I fished. I unwound and rewound the line on the reel at least a dozen times. It was a reel that simply stored the line, not automatic take up and let out, so I had to unwind just enough line to extend the distance I wanted my bait to float downstream. If I caught a fish I’d pull the line in quickly by hand, and afterwards wind it on the reel.
My hip boots were so slippery and awkward as I practiced walking around my room. The rubber from one boot stuck a bit to the other as I tottered. Maybe I’d be stable in the water, I hoped. I reviewed my gear one more time before setting the alarm for 5:00 AM. The anticipation of catching trout on opening day made me so energized I couldn’t fall asleep for a long time. It seemed like my alarm rang the minute I fell asleep.
Light fringed the edges of the horizon as Dad and I strode through the wet reeds at the edge of Hahn’s Brook. The air was cold on my face, and my boots squished in the marsh grasses. The brook was about eight to ten feet wide and only about two feet deep, but very cold as temperatures went down to the 30’s and 40’s at night. Dark water gurgled over rocks, and bubbled over downed trees and branches on the edges of the water. It would be easier to walk in the middle of the stream than try to fish from the edge, I thought.
“So, you idiot, do you even remember how to bait a hook, or do I have to do everything for you, such a moron misfit. It was a mistake to take you with me. You better keep up—so stupid and slow. I don’t know why I even bother—you’ll just be in my way constantly whining and complaining.” Another car, headlights shining, pulled up near us so he quickly sneered, “I hope you drown! Maybe I’ll help!”
I knew there would be other people fishing nearby, so he wouldn’t continue to ridicule me. I focused on putting the slimy night crawler on my hook and stepped into the water as Dad moved about 100 feet downstream from me. I let out some line, and the worm disappeared into the clear water swirling quickly into the rushing stream. In anticipation of a bite, I pulled the line back in a jerky motion, striving to attract a fish. No luck. I pulled the worm in to make sure no part of the hook was visible and let it go again, this time throwing it out into a quiet pool on the opposite bank. I knew that fishes sometimes lurked in quiet pools lying in wait for a potential meal. No luck.
Dad moved ahead in the water from where he entered, so I shuffled a few yards downstream. I was determined that I would not catch up with him until it was time to go home. The rocks on the bottom of the stream were slippery with algae as I pushed ahead, cold water rippling and pressing the back of my boots, making it hard to take a firm step.
The worm looked good so I threw it out again, and this time the line tightened and the tip of the rod bowed. A fish! A thrill streamed through me. Heart raced, face flushed, hands worked feverishly to keep the line taut after a quick jerk to set the hook into the fish. It was swimming back and forth by my feet as I grabbed my net from its loop on my vest while holding the rod with my left hand keeping the line rigid.
And there it was, a silvery rainbow trout, scales seeming to glow from within, a pale pink “rainbow” flowing from head to tail. About seven inches long, a beauty. It was cold and slimy in my hands as I detached the hook from the edge of its mouth; and as it flapped and squirmed, I put it in the creel on my belt.
As I baited the hook with another night crawler, I noticed dawn was coloring the horizon the same rosy pink as the swath of color on my trout. Birds were singing, claiming their places in the world. I stepped gingerly, sliding over rocks in the stream bed and pushing back brush hanging over the bank into the water. I was eager to toss my worm out again when from the bank a voice I didn’t know called, “Any luck?”
“Yes, I just caught a rainbow!” I replied, bursting with joy at my accomplishment in spite of Dad’s nasty comments. No matter what happened to me at home, I knew I had this haven; the brook would always be there with fun fishing. I belonged to this natural world of flowing water, glowing sunrise, and singing birds. For all my childhood, fishing served as a great escape from my violent and chaotic home.