So you can’t tell me that a guy spends that kind of money on a boat because he’s serious about fishing. No. It’s about more than that.

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he will come home late, severely dehydrated and malnourished, because the only thing he had in his cooler was Natural Light beer and a package of expired Oscar Mayer bologna.

I hate Natural Light beer. It tastes like something that has been passed through the system of a diabetic house cat. But long ago this was the beer we young fishermen bought because it was super cheap. We would stock our coolers with Natural Light, and whoever gagged first lost a substantial bet.

Today, I went fishing with my buddy because I haven’t fished with him in years. We didn’t bring any Natural Light. My friend had some medical troubles a few years back and decided to quit drinking.

I have to admit, it was a little weird, fishing with a cooler full of nothing but raspberry-flavored La Croix, but whatever.

Because fishing is not truly about fishing. It never has been. If a man ever looks you dead in the eye and tells you that fishing is actually about fishing, this man is the kind of man who will lie to his own mother.

Every fisherman knows that fishing is not really about fishing. It is about the outdoors, the sound of an outboard motor, the clicking of a baitcast reel, and most importantly, about raspberry-flavored La Croix.

Case in point: I have a friend who bought a very fancy boat. I’m talking a ridiculous superboat. It came with GPS, depth-finder, two trolling motors, and ten outboards that were powerful enough to blow the water out of the Baltic Sea.

When we asked how much he paid for the boat, he told us a price and I almost choked on my Oscar Mayer bologna.

That next weekend, he took several of us fishing. It was swanky. He had a cooler full of expensive craft beer, and Boar’s Head cold cuts. On his high-definition stereo was Debby Boone singing, “You Light Up My Life.” It was the worst fishing trip I have ever been on.

Afterward, I did some math and calculated that, considering the price of his boat, each fish we caught that day figured up to be roughly—not including sales tax—$13,210.08 per pound.

So you can’t tell me that a guy spends that kind of money on a boat because he’s serious about fishing. No. It’s about something more than that.

Take me, for instance. I love to fish, but I am not a good fisherman. I have never claimed to be. In fact, my wife often tells people that I am the most unlucky fisherman ever. And when she says this in public it embarrasses me so badly that we end up having a “conversation” about it on the ride home.

Married couples are always having “conversations” instead of “arguments.” Once my friend Ted and his wife had a serious “conversation” about when Ted slow danced with his ex-girlfriend at his twentieth high school reunion. This controlled, but heartfelt “conversation” eventually led to Ted’s “black eye.”

Maybe I like fishing because when I was younger, fishing was about all there was to do. But then, this was back in the days when nobody had ever heard of the internet, when school kids were still using typewriters, and Alexander Graham Bell had not yet invented the Graham cracker.

We basically had three choices when it came to leisure activities. Reading, blowing up mailboxes with barely legal fireworks, or fishing.

So we’d fish. I would always catch less than everyone else. In fact, I had a longstanding reputation as the worst fisherman around. Sometimes, we could fish for a whole day and I wouldn’t catch anything but a sunburn.

My friends would always tease me about my bad luck. They would laugh and act like a bunch of complete—pardon my French—têtes de noeud.

Still, I’ve never lost my love for fishing. And I don’t know how it’s even possible for a guy to love something he’s so bad at.

Anyway, I haven’t seen my old friend in decades. I met him at lunchtime. When we saw each other, it was like we’d never lost a beat. He let me borrow a rod and reel and we went to a pond on his neighbor’s land.

We fished for almost two hours, which is a far cry from the all-day trips of our youth. And I wish I could tell you that we did a lot of talking, but that’s not the way fishing works. Fishermen are not talkers. We barely said four words to each other. We just stood on shore, throwing spoon lures into the water, cranking reels.

But it was a good day. He caught a trout and a bream. I caught the remains of an old beaver carcass and a decomposing plastic diaper.

When we finished, we parted ways. I had a long drive home, and he had to go pick his kids up from school. We are adults now, not children. And it’s funny how old he looks and how very young I still look.

We said all the usual goodbye stuff. “Don’t be a stranger, man!” And “Gimme a call sometime!” And “Let’s do this again!” But of course we know we won’t. We’re different people now. With different lives. That’s just how adulthood works.

Before we left each other, he went to his truck and retrieved a tiny cooler. Inside were two Natural Lights on ice.

It tasted better than I remembered.

18 comments

  1. Elizabeth - November 8, 2019 11:24 am

    Oh, this is a good one!

    Reply
  2. Becky in Birmingham - November 8, 2019 12:00 pm

    I have a certain respect when a writer – yes, that is you – uses a word I have to google. When you wrote “têtes de noeud“, I learned a new word. Now I know what to call a person who is, ahem, an unintelligent person. I just need to hear how it is pronounced! LOL

    Reply
  3. Dee Thompson - November 8, 2019 1:50 pm

    This is a great column. My Type A workaholic dad loved to fish, and we loved to see him actually relax. It had nothing to do with fish. (However, he could also put on an incredible fish fry…) He had to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, though. No lite beer ever came into our house…

    Reply
  4. Connie Havard Ryland - November 8, 2019 1:53 pm

    Love it. I love to fish. But it’s really, truly not about catching fish, although I usually do. But I catch and release, so it’s literally not about catching fish. It’s being in a boat, no radio or tv or telephone. And no talking. Just the water, the birds and other critters. Wind in my hair. The freedom of just not caring whether my hands are dirty or my clothes would pass muster with the world. Just peace. Love and hugs to you and Jamie and the pups.

    Reply
  5. Phil S. - November 8, 2019 2:17 pm

    In life, serious choices must be made. For me, one of those is: expensive, good-tasting beer or fishing equipment/bait. Therefore, i still drink Natural Light, which tastes the same as Keystone Light. Funny, I never heard of a Keystone Heavy (I think they call it Coors). Anyway, Natural is not so bad when you’re dying of thirst out on the bounding main. Beats sea or pond water – or raspberry La Croix – but only by a nose.
    Yep, it’s not about what you catch so much as whether you catch more than the other guy, which ain’t very often for yours truly. It’s also about outspending the other guys. He who dies with the most plastic worms and the fewest “Nattie Lights” wins. Most of all, it’s about the camaraderie among a bunch of tetes de noued.
    Last but not least – in those “conversations” with Jamie, aka “the winner,” always have a white flag in your back pocket, ready to wave.

    Reply
  6. Lana Jones Barbaree - November 8, 2019 2:24 pm

    Another classic!

    Reply
  7. Shelton A. - November 8, 2019 2:43 pm

    My brother is the fisherman fanatic in the family and he’s good at it. My Dad liked to fish but was not the fanatic my brother is. When we went to the Outer Banks, they’d fish and I’d walk the beach and if the the dolphins were playing, I’d sit and watch them. I like to fish with just a cane pole and bobber. I could catch crappie and bream. It was fun except for cleaning the fish.

    Reply
  8. Shelton A. - November 8, 2019 2:48 pm

    p.s.-don’t have too many ”conversations’ with Jamie. I’d hate to hear you had to talk to an audience with a black eye.

    Reply
  9. Betsy - November 8, 2019 3:24 pm

    Loved the ending, remembering those Natural Lights when we were young and cheap!

    Reply
  10. Tammy Moody - November 8, 2019 4:18 pm

    That’s why they call it “fishing”, not “catching”!

    Reply
  11. Ann - November 8, 2019 4:20 pm

    … and so things change…. but comfort in earlier “ simpler” times

    Reply
  12. Linda Moon - November 8, 2019 4:46 pm

    I like La Croix….just thought I’d let you know that upfront. Our family boat and the many trips we took for water-skiing, tubing, and just hanging out together might add up to a little less than the fish you caught.The only “fishing” after a long day at the lake was eating at The Shrimp Basket in T-town. Meeting up with old friends seems to pick up just where we left off. Adulthood can work well, but remember Bette Davis once said “Growing old ain’t for sissies”. She was right, but there is an alternative to becoming old. You’re not a sissy, Sean, and you look very young with that gingerness and the way you share your life remembrances with us, often humorous and sometimes courageously profound. Keep on telling the stories!!

    Reply
  13. Steve - November 8, 2019 5:11 pm

    I know this guy who spent $700 on a rod & reel. Even though he has a house full of rods. Ironically he still calls them “fishing poles”. I saw him recently when I looked in the mirror.

    Reply
  14. Edna B. - November 8, 2019 6:36 pm

    I loved this story. I think that fishing is more about camaraderie, and the outdoors. Fishing alone is about being alone with God and nature. Well, anyway, that’s what I think. Sean, you have a great day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  15. Martha Black - November 8, 2019 6:56 pm

    This post means more to me than you can know. When my husband and I were first married he introduced to a couple he had been friends with since school. We became best friends and enjoyed many good times together. But time marches on an life happens. We had two babies and they moved further away and we somehow lost our weekly times together. Before we knew it, it our kids were grown & we had a two yr old granddaughter. We were still friends but from a distance. Then I awoke one morning & found my husband soundly & silently in a dream he would never awake from. In that time and the days to follow, our friends came to me and pulled me forward when I would have stopped. A friend is a friend for life even if it’s off & on in meeting together or over time & distance, or theyre not a friend at all.

    Reply
  16. Dawn Bratcher - November 8, 2019 7:34 pm

    This brought tears to my eyes remembering fishing with my daddy…minus the Natural Lights! I loved catching the alligator gar! He put up the biggest fight, even if he was a throw-back!

    Reply
  17. Chasity Davis Ritter - November 9, 2019 2:27 am

    This was so good to read today. I attended a friend’s funeral. He was 77. Saying friend isn’t quite right tho he was more like family. I’ve known him for most of my life. He was my adopted big brothers dad. A coworker. Just someone who was always a presence throughout my life. There was story shared about fishing. There was even a song. Your writing today made me smile through my tears and cry all over again. Fishing is about so much more than just fishing for sure. My dad loved to fish. Now their both up there fishing with Jesus. Jesus told his disciples who were at one time fishermen to “come with me and I will make you fishers of men”. Bill and my dad were both that way trying to lead others to Christ… because fishing is so much more than just trying to catch fish. Thanks again Sean you always know what I need

    Reply
  18. pat price - November 11, 2019 7:41 pm

    Hilarious!

    Reply

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