JEFF ELL: The Four Seasons: Fishing, Girls, Cars, Fishing

“When I was a kid I was into fishing, then I got into cars, then I got into girls, now I’m back to fishing.” Joe B.

Joe was no philosopher. He was just a guy who wanted to go bullhead fishing with us that night more than he wanted to work on his car or canoodle with his girlfriend. And I’m pretty sure the only reason I remember his words so clearly is because I was just at the age when fishing wasn’t the only thing I was thinking about. But still too young to understand why a guy with a black Firebird Trans Am and girlfriend who waterskied in a bikini would ever want to spend a warm spring night fishing with an old man and a kid.

Joe’s face was silhouetted in the dull glow of far off street lights as he spoke. He inhaled a big last drag off his Marlboro and flicked it off the bridge as far as he could. The orange tip tumbled through the night until it was swallowed by the black water below. My dad grunted a knowing grunt as the sound of peepers filled the damp spring air.

There are no calendar dates or circles of stone that mark the passing of these seasons. Car season and girl season are often jumbled together like spring and summer in the deep south, so it’s hard to know when one starts and the other ends. But fishing seasons are easier to observe.

The first fishing season happens in the cool early spring of youth when the first hairs of adolescence push through the skin in unfamiliar places, and the buds of one’s manhood are but the size of a squirrels ear. An innocent and awkward season when legs are strong enough to pedal bikes to far off ponds and streams, but eyes and noses are still too young to be intoxication by the rumble of exhaust or hypnotized by the bounce of halter tops.

This is perhaps the greatest season of one’s life.

The warm days and chilly nights before the trickle of testosterone melts into a flooded hormonal river that floats tackle boxes and fishing poles into the basements and garage where they languish in dark corners while their prodigal owner swims in the swirling waters of going steady and going too fast.

Those were the days my friends. Warm Sunday mornings would find us pedaling our ten-speed through sleeping neighborhoods with knapsacks of worms and pull-tab sodas slung on our backs. Days, when a dog was the only friend you ever needed and rainy evenings, were spent collecting nightcrawlers in the glow of a flashlight with red cellophane rubber-banded over the lens.

In the late spring before school let out I would drop my books on a desk near an open window to fish-dream, not wanting to be distracted by things like prepositions and whole numbers. I still don’t know exactly what either of those two things are, except that I’m sure their important to some writers and all accountants. But I did learn important lessons in those years that have served me well the rest of my life.

Like how you can know you’ve hooked a big pickerel if the fish begins to spiral down deep after it’s been hooked, and how to tie a barrel knot while holding one end of the line that still had a fish on it. I also learned that you and your buddy should always have a prearranged plan about which way your going to run if the owner of the pond starts yelling or the security guys at the reservoir start chasing you.

But alas, my own pituitary clock was also ticking. Big boy things bash down the door of every soul. Cool springs turn into sweaty summers of part-time jobs and full-time infatuations. Matriculations, examinations, crashes, crushes, interviews, and interludes.

But fear not tackle box and fishing pole, the dark corner of your exile will not last forever. Your owner will return. He’ll come home and unsnap your hasp and wiggle your tip soon enough. He will find you when his heart has been broken and the chrome has lost its shine and will again cast his line into the dark spring waters.

Jeff Ell is pretty good at catching, killing, picking, and growing things to eat. He regularly finds bemusement in the outdoors and enjoys telling his stories to anyone who will listen. Jeff’s the author of Ruth Uncensored and Saul’s Spear, and can be contacted via Facebook or smoke signal.