Saturday, August 14, 2010

No Angle At All



As part of an ongoing effort to balance my incredibly urban New Orleans life, I am turning to fishing. But without a car here, that takes some effort. Luckily there's backyard fishing, a concept suggested to me by the husband portion of my new friends and neighbors, Matt and Amanda, also recent transplants. Matt tipped me off to where he's spotted local fishermen around town, such as Lake Pontchartrain and the Riverbend, the latter of which is just a few blocks from our very apartment building. On my own I did some recon via bicycle, and confirmed his intel. Armed with this information I approached Matt and Amanda and we made a pact to gear up at a sports store in the nearby town of Jefferson.

Preparations
A few days later, Matt and I do the shopping at Academy Sports, meandering through the isles and isles of rods. As luck would have it, Matt is even less of an angler than myself, and though I have caught my fair share of salmon and trout in the rivers and streams of Alaska, most credit is due to one of my ex-boyfriends who was a former fishing guide. Thus, I was familiar with but not fluent in the technological aspects of fishing. Matt and Amanda recently lived in Montana, where he began learning how to flyfish, but with zero bounty. Between the two of us in the sports store, it was the blind leading the blind.

Matt and I wander around, making jokes about our ignorance. Spying a fellow shopper, I ask,
"Excuse me, you look like a local angler...what type of rod should we be using to catch catfish from the banks of the Riverbend?" My victim looks knowledgeable but incredibly unenthusiastic in aiding us. After a minute (and no more) of consultation, he walks away from us saying,
"You need someone to take you out, really, and show you what to do."

I recognized the condescension in his voice. I have just moved here from Alaska, a place where gear was the primary topic of discussion at most dinner parties. Though I came to appreciate the convenience and necessity of certain types of outdoor recreational gear, by the time I left I was ready to leave behind that flavor of elitism.

Watching him walk away, I say to myself, No. No more techie crap in my life. I can do this. After all, it's not like I was asking for information about a complicated river or unusual location, or where I could find a pot of gold. People have been fishing for thousands of years without fancy rods and spiffy rigging systems and the like. Hell, Vietnamese people have been fisherman for thousands of years without this snobbery crapola.

Both of us determined to embrace this hobby, Matt and I look at eachother and shrug our shoulders. I beeline it to the customer counter where I happen upon Louis, the customer service representative who I've decided to cling onto until I obtain the information in question. I give Louis a synopsis of Matt and my fishing resumes, making it very clear that most of the fish I caught was by the grace of God, and also Mark, my ex-boyfriend. I talk about my internet-based suspicions that I need a Carolina rig, which includes swivels, beads, a cork, lures, and a few other toys.

Louis responds,
"Sure, you could do that..." but he doesn't look sold on the idea.
"What do you use?" I ask.
He looks hesitant but confesses,
"I go simple. A cork, fresh bait, some weights. That's about it."
I'm stunned.
"No swivel? No separate leader line? For real?"
He looks at me. Louis is clearly local, but is young, has all of his teeth, and is not wearing overalls.
"Look, I was born and raised here, lived in East New Orleans up until Katrina. The way my family fished was simple. Sure, what you're talking about works, but I'm just too simple to bother with that," he confesses.

It's at that moment that I conclude that maybe this is the next step in my fishing career. Maybe the meaning of fishing for me here will involve drinking daiquiris with my line out. Louis tells us that he is a recent college-grad from LSU, hanging out before grad school. He's no dummy and is a local boy who loves to fish on a regular basis.
"Sounds like a good day to me," he says after hearing the plan for fishing and daiquiris.

Matt and I both projected a bill of $70.00-$100.00. But Louis directs us to $25.00 set-ups.
"Where you guys are going, this is more than enough of a set-up. I'll show you the lures and the frozen bait, but hell, no sh****g you, once when I was a kid, I put a glazed donut hole on the end of my line and caught a cat-fish. They're bottom feeders, you know?"

Matt and I start laughing hilariously, and he reiterates,
"Crazy but it's true!"
Matt offers,
"How about a piece of cheese?"
Louis responds,
"Sure! The stinkier the better. Hell, make it sharp cheddar! It's been done before!"

Matt and I leave the shop with extremely tolerable tabs. While I am not about to pick up a box of krispy kremes to bait my line, I am appreciative of Louis' candor and thanks to him, I feel okay about going simple. It's a new style of recreational life for me, and already I am loving it. Now all I need is some fish.

Next stop...the riverbank.

At the Muddy Mississippi
There we were, about a week later, standing on the riverbank: the rear tire of the Blue Bayou Bomber (my bike) totally flat, having hit a broken bottle in the sand; my foam daiquiri cup with a hole in the bottom after bouncing around on the back of my rig; Matt and I standing on the riverbank, both befuddled by our tangled fishing lines. We could have made a good photograph for a fishing magazine of what NOT to do.

Amongst all this angling glamour, I have a flashback to last summer, spending my weekends with a handsome fishing guide, my boyfriend at the time, on the banks of the Russian River, or waist deep in the Kenai, salmon at the end of my line, which he set up for me. Where oh where is a fishing guide boyfriend when I need one? All I've got today is a married neighbor who has flat out told me that he's never pulled in a fish in his adult life.

I suppose I could have benefited from approaching the matter
more seriously. Maybe if we had left out the daiquiris, maybe if we had hired a guide, maybe if we had picked a less polluted spot on the riverbank to set up shop. Maybe if Matt hadn't loaded his hook with a miniature rubber chicken...

Maybe...maybe...maybe...

Resembling Calamity Jane, my first cast was my most ghastly. Having threaded my line over instead of under the clip, when I cast the rod, nothing, absolutely nothing, happened. I look over at Matt who's not faring much better than myself. But at least he has that rubber chicken.

I'm laughing comparing in my head this summer with my last, and reset my rod after some amount of deduction. Eventually, I re-cast and voila! There it was, that lightness of being that comes with the sound of a fiberglass stick and fishing line whipping through the air; that satisfaction that sets in when the cork, weight, bait and hook, dive into the water right at my desired target spot. And at that I am reminded of the benefits of fishing with a friend and equal, instead of a pro with whom I have an intimate relationship.

Matt and I cast and sip daiquiris for about an hour. As the 95 degree rays of sunlight beat down on us, we talk in fake southern accents about baseball (which I make up as I go along), and then revert our normal voices, discussing topics we do know about, like the upcoming film festival in town, the best place to get ribs and hear a brass band, and about him and his wife Amanda buying a house in New Orleans. Eventually the tide comes in, informing us that it is time to go home. We walk the Blue Bayou Bomber home, and call it a day.

As I cool down in the shower, I take mental stock of the days events. No fish. No bike tire. Good casting practice. Good getting outside. Good getting used to New Orleans heat. Glad I did it. Will do again.

So, I now fish, with no complicated gear and no pretense of knowing what I'm doing. No longer am I obsessed with catching my limit. Now I am an angler with no angle at all.

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