We carried our fishing poles across the railroad tracks and slid down the steep embankment that led right to the river with just enough flat space for us to set up a bucket to sit on. As always we were using the wrong type of bait. We had some shrimp bait because we were thinking about fishing off the pier but decided on the river because they were too many tourists tangled up in each other’s fishing wire there. We considered that shrimp might not be very good for freshwater fish who probably had never seen a crustacean before, but my brother suggested that we shouldn’t assume that fish were picky, or uncultured, eaters. I thought this was an unnecessarily progressive way too think about fish culture, but I also know you have to keep an open mind if you want to stay current in this day and age. I find myself agreeing with people on the most ridiculous subjects, all the while knowing five years ago I would have publicly humiliated someone for saying the same thing in my earshot. I now have a great relationship with my chiropractor due to the excessive amount of nodding in agreement. My brother, we call him Jupiter, got the hooks setup while I seasoned the shrimp with some old bay to the great delight of all of the river fish.
So we cast our lines in the water and sat back to back on the bucket eating sunflower seeds and waiting. I didn’t expect to catch anything because we never caught anything. But I still kept up my end of the fish conversation.
“You think the fish know we’re trying to catch them?”
“Yeah, that must be why we never can hook ’em.” Jupiter said.
“If fish are that smart and they are watching us now, what do we look like to them?”
“Like a couple rednecks sitting on a bucket.”
I don’t know why fish seem so judgmental, but we aren’t rednecks. I’m not sure what we are exactly. That’s why it’s annoying when these fish are trying to define me as something that I don’t think is accurate. If I could define myself, which I’m not sure that I can, would that be enough to know the truth of myself? Or, do I need to also portray that definition in how I look and act to the people and fish around me? I can just be whoever I want to be based on how I feel on a certain day and change the next day, but I’m not sure if that’s right.
“I think the fish can smell the shrimp, but they’re just still trying to find it, ya know?”
“I think the fish might prefer fried shrimp since we don’t have any cocktail sauce to go with the raw shrimp.” My brother pondered and spat out some sunflower seeds. I reeled in and cast out further. It doesn’t matter what I look like. I am the same person regardless of clothes. I can act different depending on who I’m with or where I am. People and fish are more complicated then just clothing or a dictionary definition.
“We should have gotten worms.” I said, even though I always have trouble getting their wriggling worm bodies onto the hook. I like to fish out here by the river so none of the fishermen on the pier are watching me drop multiple worms until I can get the courage to hold on to them long enough. Let alone what will happen when I actually catch a fish and have to wrangle it off the hook. Not that I’m not capable of making myself do it. And even my brother sitting beside me might not know that I have any worries about taking care of the potential fish. I just haven’t done it enough to be comfortable with it. I think I might be capable of even butchering an entire animal if I was shown how a few times. And I could be defined by making myself do tough things.
“I don’t think there are any fish here.” I reeled in, recast, and got my line wrapped around a tree branch. Wouldn’t that be a great joke? If I was doing this whole song and dance routine for an audience that wasn’t even there, or couldn’t care less. And isn’t that the most likely?