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Caste Cast Cats Class

Jeff Ell SmallI believe all fishermen are created equal.  That all anglers are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. I believe fishermen should be able to wet their lines free from the cast system that has plagued the sport for too long.

The average citizen has probably been unaware of the class struggle and elitism that plagues the fishing community.  Most folks are unaware of the prejudices that boil to the surface like a Mesozoic sea monster. An ignorant monster inside those who believe that certain ways of casting are nobler than others, and that certain types of fishermen are at the bottom of an angling totem carved by their own imaginations.

But with water temperatures rising and the heat and humidity of mid-summer pressing down upon us, this is the best time of year to champion the nobility of the meekest of all fishermen, anglers who deserve our respect, and who have earned their place at the table.

This is cat fishing season. Thunderstorms wash bugs, worms, and mud into the rivers and lakes. When the sun goes down, big catfish move in from the deep and cruise close to shore and smell the shallows for things to eat. Fishing for these summer giants is angling in its most elemental form.

No flicking nymphs and nematodes on investment grade fly rods by catch and release dandies bedecked in regal vests. No stick baits being tossed by men with Buddha bellies perched in leather chairs from the prows of lithe boats. No burning of barrels of fuel in search of ego stroking blue water trophies that are to be hung over the mantles of leathery skinned CEO types. Just common men sitting on buckets watching poles.

If you would like to see one of these fishermen for yourself, look along the banks of a lake or river just after dark this time of year. Look for a place where the current slows and the water runs deep. There, you might see a lantern burning in the twilight. A comfortable place where an old man in a straw hat is sitting on a bucket in the weeds listening to the frogs sing on a muggy night.

Perhaps, bank fishermen are the untouchables of the fishing pyramid because they are stranded on banks and can only wait for the fish to come to them. This is where they keep vigil; watching and hoping. No gadgets, no motors; just hooks, sinkers, and a couple of discount store poles resting in the crotch of sticks stuck into the mud.

Sometimes I think, being anchored to the earth is the proper way to catch a fish. The fisherman connected to the unseen under world by nothing more than strands of thick monofilament; non-optical fiber that disappears beneath the muddy waters and sends back messages to those who are still able to read the code.

Tap tap . . .  tap, tap tap tap. The tip of the pole comes to life in a series of impulses telegraphed down the line. The old man doesn’t move, he tilts his head and scratches his whiskers, carefully ciphering the message from the deep. The story of an ugly fish he wants his wife to deep fry in peanut oil.

To the educated eye, that twitching of the rod tip means the big cat is only sniffing the chicken liver with its whiskers. Sometime, big cats will even swat the bait with their tails, and then swim through the area to get a better whiff. They are connoisseurs of fleshy delicacies, with olfactory’s trained to detect even the slightest hint of barbed bronze in a baits bouquet. This is the moment a greenhorn will jump to their feet, yank on the line, and then wonder aloud where the fish went.

Rap rap . . . rap, rap rap rap. The pole bows deep toward the water, he picks it up carefully, holds the tip high, and lets the fish impale itself on the hook.

Make no mistake about it, a big cat is not a fish to be trifled with. It can pull your pole into the river, or break off by tangling itself on whatever garbage is on the bottom. They will make long runs for open water, stripping off yards of line that will make the reel drag sing its high pitched song.

Eventually, it will tire, and be eased into the circle of lantern light where the water will roil, and the fish will be seen for the first time. In the end, a tattered bandanna will be draped over the tail, so the big fish can be dragged far from the waters edge to die.

The next evening, if you go by that old man’s house, you’ll smell fish, coleslaw, and hushpuppies, and see heaping plates of golden brown comfort on the kitchen table.

Ahhh summer.

–  Jeff Ell

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