Years ago, I went on a fishing trip on the Atlantic where my only fishing success involved catching a starfish, then accidentally ripping one of its arms off (for all of you ready to hate me, I was about five years old. So congratulations; you hate children). The purpose of the excursion, as far as I can remember, was to test how long I could go out on a boat without vomiting. The secondary purpose had something to do with catching bluefish, which is a really boring fish with an equally boring name. I don’t know anything about bluefish beyond the fact that they’re fish, and they’re blueish.
I don’t remember catching a bluefish myself. I do, however, have a vivid memory of my uncle catching one, then bludgeoning it to death with a wooden club. I wondered why he needed to do that in the first place since it was going to suffocate anyway (or whatever it’s called when fish are out of water).
Either way, the fish died, and we ate it (and others like it) later. I don’t remember disliking its flavor, but I also don’t remember eating it. In the end, it was one of those experiences I’m not sure if I actually had. If Freud was still around I’d track him down and pay him an exorbitant sum to dissect (gut) my repressed fishing memories.
That was the last of fishing until several years later when my dad took our family fishing at a lake, which was not the sort of thing I envisioned as fun. I was an eccentric child and much more content to stare at faraway objects to give strangers the sense that I was contemplating something important (and that’s still about 98% of my facial expressions). I questioned my dad as to whether or not a club would be necessary, but he said we were just going to throw the fish back.
Still, fishing is supposed to help us commune with nature, and many people (two people) have told me about a variety of spiritual experiences they had while fishing. I’ll grant that they were telling the truth since my fishing experience elicited a strong spiritual urge to commune with a comfy bed.
Anyway, on that family fishing trip I learned how to harpoon an earthworm, which is a bizarre creature that looks like a piece of living spaghetti that’s been crossbred with a sewer pipe. As a bonus, they’re blind and very easy to catch (like influenza).
Such experiences no doubt haunt their nightmares, and I imagine that if earthworms made horror movies, they would be almost entirely about fishing. Or lawnmowers. Or lawnmowers that go fishing.
After successfully affixing the squirming invertebrate to the hook (the earthworm suffering what I imagine to be a fairly severe existential crisis), I hurled the unfortunate worm into the water via a fishing line.
Now here comes the most vital part of fishing: sitting around for hours on end waiting for a fish dumb enough to believe that large earthworms hang out (literally) in the water. Fortunately, fish really are that dumb, which is why their greatest technological achievement has been becoming professional food.
Since I was too young to drink beer, I did what I assumed every kid who went fishing did: I got really bored and began to suspect that spiritual experiences were more likely to occur while playing Mortal Kombat.
After several casts of my line, I felt a slight tug. Having seen numerous fishing shows, I knew that this meant I’d caught a sailfish or a great white shark, and lots of strangers would line up to congratulate me.
I reeled the line in, and attached to the end of the line was a piece of undernourished plankton disguised as a smallmouth bass.
It’s very difficult to be impressed upon catching a fish that looks like the embodiment of anti-steroids. Indeed, its puny body was so pathetic that I felt my excitement turn into blind rage. How dare this moronic fish take up my precious time. I catapulted the offending fish back into the lake in the hopes that it would swim off and contemplate its own lack of intelligence.
A few minutes later, my line tugged again. Encouraged, I brought this one in as well only to realize that I’d hooked the same stupid bass a second time. Were I to have been more familiar with natural selection at that age, I would have kept the fish out of the lake and eliminated the possibility of it contributing to a line of intellectually compromised fish. Although I suspect it had been rejected by female fish so many times that becoming a human’s dinner was a more desirable alternative. Whatever the case, I threw it back hoping it would find fish love.
When I caught the same fish a third time, I was starting to wonder how it hadn’t accidentally swum into a boat propeller thinking it was a Ferris wheel. Right around this time of scientific reflection, my sister, six years my junior, reeled in a fish several times larger than mine.
Barely having time to process how a six-year-old could out-fish me, I saw an osprey fly overhead and head for the middle of the lake. It hovered high above the water, then dove head first into the lake, emerging with a fish the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. I finally had my spiritual experience: Fishing is best left to six-year-olds and birds.