Dave Barry

The lure of the wild

(This Dave Barry column was originally published Feb. 1, 1987)

The first time I taught my son, Robert, how to fish was in 1982, when he was 2. I did it the old-fashioned way: I took him to the K mart with Uncle Joe, our old friend and lawyer, to pick out a Complete Fishing Outfit for $12.97. Then we went to a pond, where Robert sat in the weeds and put pond muck in his hair while Uncle Joe and I tried to bait the hook with a living breathing thinking feeling caring earthworm. This is a very difficult thing, emotionally, and not just for the earthworm. It would be different if worms gave you some reason to feel hostile toward them, such as they had little faces that looked like Geraldo Rivera. That would be no problem. "Let's go bait some worms purely for amusement, " you would frequently hear me call out.

But the way worms are now, they make it very hard, writhing around and conveying, by means of body language and worm guts squirting out, the concept of: "Please please oh PLEASE Mr. Human Being don't stick this hook into me." For my money, worms are far better at this kind of non-verbal communication than those people called "mimes" who paint their faces all white and repeatedly attempt to entertain you at street festivals, although to be absolutely certain, we would have to run an experiment wherein we baited a hook with a live mime. (All those in favor of doing this, raise your hands. I thought so!)

I think it would be more humane if we just forgot about bait altogether and shot the fish directly with guns, the way we do with rabbits and deer. I saw Roy Scheider take this approach to angling in the movie Jaws I, and he got himself a real prize trophy shark using a rifle for a weapon and Richard Dreyfuss for bait. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a violation of our outmoded game laws, so Roy had to throw the shark back, which turned out to be highly fatal to several dozen teen-agers and a helicopter in Jaws II. This is a totally unnecessary outrage, if you ask me, especially when you consider that it is not illegal to catch deer with rod and reel in most states. (EDITOR'S NOTE: He's raving. Pay no attention.)

Nevertheless, Robert and Uncle Joe and I did manage to land a fish, the kind veteran anglers call a "bluegill." It was three to four ounces of well-contained fury, and it fought like a frozen bagel. Many times at airport newsstands I have examined sportsperson-oriented magazines with names like Tackle 'n' Bait, and I have noted that the covers often feature pictures of bold sportspersons struggling to land extremely muscular violent- looking fish the size of guest bathrooms whose expressions say: "Yes, you had better kill me, Mr. Sportsperson, because otherwise I will evolve legs and lungs and talons and fangs and come to your suburban home and wreck your riding mower and have my way with your women hahahahahaha."

But the fish we caught was a cute fish, a fish that would star in a Walt Disney animated cartoon feature called Billy Bluegill Learns the True Meaning of Christmas. Robby looked at it, then he looked at Uncle Joe and me with a look of great upsettedness in his 2-year-old eyes, and we realized, being responsible grown-ups, that it was time to lie.

"The fish doesn't feel it!" we announced brightly, almost in unison. "You see this sharp barbed metal hook going right though his lip?! It doesn't hurt a bit! Ha ha!!" Meanwhile Billy the Bluegill was of course edging out the worm for the Academy Award for Best Performance by a Cold-Blooded Animal Gasping and Writhing Around to Indicate Extreme Pain. And so Uncle Joe, being an attorney, got Billy off the hook (Get it?), and we put him (Billy) back into the pond.

After that Robert and I didn't go fishing for several years, until last Christmas, when we went up to New York and Uncle Phil -- who is not our attorney but Robert affectionately calls him "uncle" anyway because he is my brother -- bought Robert another fishing rod, meaning I had to teach him again. Fortunately, there were no worms available, as they had all formed up into characteristic "V"-shaped patterns and attempted to migrate South, getting as far as the toll booths on the New Jersey Turnpike.

So Robert and I used "lures, " which are these comical devices that veteran anglers instinctively buy from catalogs. You would think that, to be effective, lures would have to look like creatures that a fish might actually eat, but, in fact, they look like what you would expect to see crawling around on the Planet Zork during periods of intense radioactivity. For example, many lures have propellers, which you rarely see in the Animal Kingdom. In my opinion, the way lures actually work is that the fish see one go by, and they get to laughing so hard and thrashing around that occasionally one of them snags itself on the hooks. Back in the Pre-Puberty Era I used to spend hundreds of hours lure-fishing with my friend Tom Parker and his faithful dog Rip, and the only distinct memory I have of us catching anything besides giant submerged logs was the time Tom was using a lure called a "Lazy Ike" and it was attacked with stunning ferocity by his faithful dog Rip, resulting in a very depressing situation, veterinarianwise.

So, fortunately, Robert and I didn't catch anything the second time I taught him how to fish, and I think he's now old enough to remember it clearly and thus never ask me to teach him again. That's the good news. The bad news is, I am sure that one of these days he's going to want to have a "catch."

(c) Dave Barry

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