The Boy walked through rows of old helmets and racks of ancient jerseys, memorabilia
recalling seasons and spectacular athletes come and gone. There were stations with video clips, looping images of grainy film replaying inhuman, jerky motion in black and white. It made him think of memories captured by other
souvenirs of moments that had passed in the outdoors.
“There should be a hall of fame for the things we’ve done fishing and hunting,” he said to the Old Man, which drew a smile.
“I could make a good display out of that snarl of trotline you brought home yesterday,” the Old Man said, and the Boy grinned.
The Boy had learned all of his fishing knowledge and most of his views on life at the heels of a collection of Old Men, all of whom approached fishing with the same fervor they applied to work – which was appropriate, because that’s what their fishing most closely resembled.
Fishing was something they enjoyed, but it wasn’t undertaken simply for enjoyment.
Trotlines were hand-built from great lengths of waxed nylon line. Individual drops for hooks were tied to hang below the main line, usually by way of barrel swivels spaced even distances apart. Each apparatus stretched scores of yards long and wielded at least as many hooks. The main line was tied to a fixed object at either end, generally a tree stump, and kept submerged at a preferred depth by the skillful addition of scrap metal attached here and there along the way.
The term “recreation” never entered into the deal, and “catch and release” meant a dreadful mishap had come to pass. The only thing that separated them from commercial fishermen was the fact they never sold a fish. The product of each day’s effort was carefully cleaned, packaged and frozen. Every bite and morsel was eaten joyfully at regular fish fries conducted periodically all year long.
Trotlines are best run in the peak of the summer’s heat. They’re put in place to be baited and run regularly, and they stay put until they’re taken up at the end of the summer, before fall influxes of water send damaging jetsam their way. They may also be removed to a different location if the first is unproductive.
The third reason one might be brought home is if some tragedy has struck, such as their fatal entanglement with a drifting, submerged log, or an encounter with some sort of man-made destruction. It was this last the Boy had recently affected by way of a trolling motor prop. The spinning propeller had grabbed a slack bit of trotline and, by the time the Boy shut the motor off, the resulting bird’s nest was big enough for a bald eagle.
“I could make a display to go next to it from the drain plug you always forget to put back in,” he said, and the Old Man laughed.
“I don’t always forget to put it back in,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I remembered it one time.”
There’s probably something more exhilarating than scrambling to stuff a drain plug into a one-inch aluminum hole with water gushing through it, but whatever it is doesn’t come to mind right now. The moments that follow narrowly averting a sinking at the dock are ideal for quiet reflection, lots of deep breaths and wondering if you remembered to bring any extra dry clothes.
“I could pile up all the empty shells you and your buddies created trying to shoot a dove last year,” the Old Man said. “I could put a sign with it that said, ‘No animals were harmed in the making of this display.’”
“I wonder if I could dig up a length of that ditch you backed into next to the Tallahatchie River last fall?” the Boy said. “How many other trucks got stuck trying to get you out? Four? Five?”
“It doesn’t matter,” the Old Man said. “They’re all out now aren’t they?”
“Shouldn’t an outdoors hall of fame have lots of record book animals mounted?” the Boy asked.
“If we put up displays of the biggest fish we ever caught or the nicest deer we ever shot, that would be bragging,” the Old Man said. “A few of those are fine, I guess, but the best memories rarely yield the kind of trophies anyone would pay to see. For me, I’d rather hear the story behind a straightened-out hook, a broken motor or a pair of waders with a hole in the seat than listen to some windbag go on about a big buck that had the bad luck to get himself shot. Anyway, I hope the people you meet every day see the best trophy I’ve gotten from all the hours we’ve spent together.”
This embarrassed the Boy quite a bit. The Old Man dispensed praise as sparingly as a miser doles out charity.
“That’s a lot to live up to,” he said quietly, and the Old Man smiled.
“You don’t have to be perfect,” he said, “just be as honest as you can and that will do.”