Getting a keeper has so many meanings for me. Initially, it was a hot guy. Later, as my alcoholism progressed, I was looking for a keeper literally: a man who could take care of me financially. Emotional and spiritual support took a backseat to keeping up the appearance that all was well. My determination to look great on the outside was in direct relation to the rot that was progressing on the inside of my life.
I’d been sober for twelve years when I found a real keeper. I stopped looking because I didn’t trust my motives in my early years of sobriety; later, it became easier raising Jack on my own as a single mom. Bob started out as an acquaintance and became a text buddy. We blew up text world in the early days, sending 40-50 texts to one another daily, because phone and FxF conversations seemed too scary for me. It was months before we dated. Today, I enjoy the friendship I have with Bob, basking in the warmth of his love and sharing a relationship with the God of our understanding. Sober intimacy on all levels is a blessing I hadn’t thought I’d experience.
Sunday was Father’s Day and we started the day with uneventful fishing. We have a great fishing hole on the north side of Corpus Christi Bay. Bob considered its location a well-kept secret. Recently, he found specific directions and a map to our super secret fishing hole on several internet sites so it lost its mystique.
I like it because it’s close to home, has easy access, and doesn’t involve fishing with Jaws. We’ve caught speckled trout, redfish, and black drum there as well as skipjack, mullet, hardheads, and lady fish. There are probably scientific names for the trash fish, but I’ve hooked so many of them that I know how they hit my baited line, which one I’m probably hauling in, what they weigh, and what their fish friends call them.
There were plenty of other folks fishing, but nobody was catching a keeper. We could see people using cut bait, live bait, dead shrimp, and soft plastic lures. Nobody was hauling in a fish and tossing it into their ice chest or adding it to their stringer. After a couple of hours, we headed to breakfast with Bob’s daughter and her fiancée.
About 5-ish, Bob and I waded out and cast our lines into the bay. We were the only ones out on the water except for a fellow tossing fake ducks for his labs to retrieve a couple of hundred yards east of us. “You’re going to catch a keeper,” Bob said confidently. “I am sure of it.” He always says this because Bob hunts and fishes with optimism. I answered brightly, “I hope so!” and thought, “Yeah. Sure I will.”
Bob got the first fish, a black drum that was legal sized to take home. “You’ll be next!” (Uh huh.) Bob changed me from fishing on top with a soft lure to fishing on top with dead shrimp. After he caught his fish, he shifted me to fishing on bottom with dead shrimp. That was when I got a hit on my line. I am getting better at jerking the line up to set the hook, but I wasn’t prepared for the fish to jerk back.
My rod curved dangerously. “Let up, let up! Don’t try to reel in! Let him exhaust himself!” (Bob! Take the pole. It’s going to break. I can’t do this!) The rod bent, slapped around, went slack, then jerked to the left.
“You’re doing great! The pole’s made to bend. Let up, let up! See he’s getting tired. Reel in when he stops pulling. Don’t reel in if he’s dragging you. DON’T LET HIM GET UNDER THE DOCK. WATCH IT. HE’S HEADING FOR OPEN WATERS!” (I CAN’T DO THIS! YOU TAKE THE POLE!) “I’m not taking the pole. This is your fish. You’ve got him. Just reel him in. Easy, easy. You’ve got him.”
In the end, I got the fish in with Bob’s encouragement and help. He was so much bigger than fish I’d caught in the past. I feel like I can really fish. Really! The truth is that I’ve barely scraped the top of the fishing iceberg. I’ve learned a few things, though.
- Just like in life, a positive attitude and patience make all the difference. I like fishing because I can stay in the present moment as I fish. Sunlight on my back, water smoothing around my legs, no time, no worries. Sometimes, I’m just feeding the fish. I notice the wind and the clouds as I wait for unsuspecting fish to check out my bait du jour. There’s no rush. Bob and I might exchange a few words, a joke or a smile. For the most part, we are pretty quiet.
- The more you fish, the more likely you are to catch a fish. The odds are with you the more often you put a hook in the water. It helps to have a mentor like Bob, but people who fish are usually generous with their knowledge. When Jack wanted to learn how to fish, we got plenty of help from strangers who saw us struggling. Skills get sharper if you practice them often. Go figure, huh? I’ve learned how to cast about 85% effectively.
- Read the fishing reports. Know what phase of the moon we are in. Fish feed all night when the moon’s full. Night fishing’s better during a full moon; morning fishing’s not that good since they’ve eaten all night.
- Have several alternate baits available. Be ready to change. Spoiled 3 year olds are less picky than fish and just as nutritionally arbitrary. Be able to float the bait or sink it. I am judgmental without knowing anything at all and thought Bob was over-preparing when he packed his fishing bag for all kinds of contingencies.
I still don’t know how to get a hook out of a hardhead. It looks difficult and the consequences of getting poked by their spiny whiskers are dire. I also haven’t a clue how Bob manages the knots that he does with a fishing pole under his arm, waves lapping his legs, and the wind whipping his hair in all directions. I told Bob I wanted to learn how to gut and fillet a fish, but I’m not sure if I can do that.
We had a great-aunt, Aunt Gladys, whose form of senility came out in an intense affinity to all living things whether insect or bird, mammal or fish. Stepping on an ant resulted in being banished to the porch. She had chickens nesting in her bed and referred to web spinning spiders as “honey.” I feel myself channelling Aunt Gladys when I make eye contact with a hooked fish.