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.