Beauty and the Bait

We begin on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee, at the end of a long-gone day in the summer of our boyhoods, when a whispered promise at supper from Dad to “go out later and catch a few” was always the beginning of a great adventure. As a son-kid, any post-bedtime secret mission with Pop was tantamount to forbidden fruit-picking, and having him as a co-conspirator in whatever maternally subversive enterprise was to follow meant that the world had just better bolt the doors and hide its daughters in the fruit cellar. Night fishing in New Hampshire is the best father & son guy-thing ever invented. First, the bait: leeches, angle worms, wax worms, shiners, fathead chubs, suckers, dead minnows, live mousie grubs, perch eyes and night crawlers. Great guy stuff. Then, what we had to do to the bait: pinch off their tails, stick ’em on metal barbs and get greasy grimy wormy guts under our fingernails that would last for days. Radical guy-speak. Later, Dad and I would squat on milk crates off the back porch and clean the hornpout by the light of a camp lantern and a full moon in an ancient visceral ritual, as fish heads, innards, skins and fins plopped into buckets and onto newspapers, and we told and re-told the night’s catfish conquests to each other until the embellishments far outweighed the catch itself. Careful of the horns! (One of my proudest scars.) Glorious. On one celebrated fishing trip with Dad (clandestine because it was a truancy treat), I reared back in the boat attempting to out-cast him and the line let go prematurely, landing high in an onshore tree branch. When I reeled it in, there was a squirrel on the end of it, snagged by its caudal appendage. I don’t believe a better father & son bond has ever been registered and it was our many-more-than-twice-told “tall tail” for years. Fishing anytime, in general, is inherently masculine, and for many reasons. Oh, it’s not that women don’t fish, but they go fishing with us in the same spirit that we go shopping with them. Why would any woman care to partake of any activity where the shoptalk revolves around “jigging for crappies?” What reluctant female wants to sit with her inert husband & son in a cloud of unrepelled mosquitoes, unmoving for hours in a rowboat deck chair except to hand her big man another brewski and her little man another Yoo-Hoo, as big man hiss-belches the finer points of “twitching a Swedish Pimple” and little man says: “Way cool, Dad!” 614 times? Even if she does partake, here’s what happens: When man & boy have been out at the ol’ fishing hole all day or night, chasing their elusive wall trophies with a sonar pack, power wigglers, graphite rods and nary a nibble — wife/mother will arrive and, after five minutes into it, snag a world-record denizen of the deep, armed only with a handline and doughball bait. Oh, she’ll struggle a little with the catch (when the fish can’t accept her for what she is). But then, because no beast on the high seas or dry land can out-brawn beauty’s finesse, she’ll reel in the only freshwater whale in Winnipesaukee history, look around innocently at her dumbfounded male animals and ask, “Hey, guys, is this a good one?” Before it’s over, electronic detectors, power baits and space technology fishing tackle have been retired, and man & boy are taking careful note of the doughball recipe for their next outing. We’ve got to face it, fellas: We have all the right anglers, but all the wrong curves. See you in ye olde bait shoppe bread line. NH Humorist B. Elwin Sherman’s stories appear online at His latest book is based on the works of one of his own favorite humorists: “George W. Bush, On the Trips of His Tongue.”
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