"Nymphs and Caddis"
By Stephen Schrum
Fred typically worked a 60-hour work week. It was expected of him. But the weekends were his and his alone. So every Saturday afternoon, he would descend into his basement workshop and, squinting through a magnifying lens, lit from all around by fluorescent lights, he would spend hours tying new flies for his weekly Sunday fishing trip. Wielding his whip finishing tools with concentration and precision, manipulating his hair stackers and hackle pliers with the intense control of a doctor performing delicate brain surgery, he created nymphs, caddis and hellgramites, small works of insect-shaped art he hoped would indeed lure a lake-dwelling victim into biting his hook. He'd weave with a clinch knot here and a surgeon's knot there, and finish with that Albright's knot he could never get quite right, no matter how much his tongue curved out of his mouth and around his cheek, emulating the fishhook he imagined would pierce his target. At the end of his labors he had a series of lures, each ready to be sent out on their underwater recon mission, each like a female Russian spy of the Cold War seeking to seduce her James Bond.
On Sunday, he would rise early--earlier even than during the work-week, making Monday seem like sleeping in--and whisper-sang (so as not to disturb his still-sleeping wife) a shaman song of his own devising, dealing with early birds and worms, to influence the fish to come to him. Dried off and dressed, he packed his car, and headed to the nearby lake.
He would then stand and sit all morning, making overhead backcasts and practicing his cast into the wind, to deliver the feathered Mata Hari and the line of death thread to the unsuspecting fish. Each time his hook, adorned with a new-made, day-old lure, dove into the water, the floater following, plopping and bobbing, sending ripples out from not quite where he wanted. But he tugged his rod right and left, and pulled the line in closer, to simulate life on the end of his rod. And he waited.
His anticipation is palpable. He considers, he dreams, he fantasizes about the future fish that will find his lure attractive enough to bite into the hidden hook. The hit--and the struggle, he hopes not too easy, because that would mean a small, weak, fish. He wants to prove himself by getting the bigger fish, the fighter, to overcome that resistance that only nature can provide in the outdoors. Then he'll reel it in, and drop it into his net, ensuring his victory. Taking home his kill like the men of old, he will cut it and prepare it in the time-tested way, and cook it for his wife on the outdoor gas grill, the modern equivalent of the cave fires of primitive man. They will partake of the feast; he will feed his mate with the fish-flesh of an animal he caught, conquered and served, with a slice of lemon and some potatoes on the side.
Yet every week he ends the day with his cooler empty of packed sandwiches, beer and fresh-caught fish. Sometimes he almost despairs that there are no fish in this pristine lake, but can never bring himself to ever ask anyone who would know if they exist. That knowledge would spoil his dream, a dream that would be shattered except for his unending, eternal optimism, his belief that next time his preparation and anticipation will pay off. On his drive home, the dream continues; at a future date he will win, and the fish will be his.
* * *
As for me--I'll drive to the supermarket, and choose fresh fish, or frozen if no one is working the counter. I'll take it home, broil it, and serve it flanked with some cheesy rice dish and a vegetable, perhaps... asparagus spears. I don't need the dreams. I use my debit card instead.