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August 13, 2012

Father's Day gift prompted my first fish story


Daily Star

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My family has given me a lot of interesting Father's Day gifts over the years. This year the wisenheimer 15-year-old in the house decided to bestow a special present to me on "my day."

Joey gave me a fishing pole.

Why? I have no idea.

So now I have to fish. Well, I am always ready for a new adventure, so why not? In my youth, all of the dads in the neighborhood went out on weekends with their sons to fish in the rivers, lakes and ponds around my hometown.

My own father never had a fishing pole in his hand. And the same goes for me. But the idea of it intrigued me, I must admit.

I remember seeing these huge wall calendars in the Rexall Drug Store that depicted fishing themes. My favorite calendar showed a large, Faustian gentleman standing in the middle of the stream, loaded down with fishing gear. He had a large wicker creel around his neck, he was wearing a cross-stitched plaid vest with a dozen little pockets on it, and his crushed fedora was festooned with elaborately hand-tied fishing ties. He was wearing brown rubber pants and was hip-deep in the cold water.

He smiled out of the 1960 Rexall calendar as if to say: "Come on in, boy. The fish are really biting today." That's what I wanted to do someday.

Joey bought me a nice fishing pole, and off we went on our first adventure. After about an hour of digging my hooks out of dead logs and hidden underwater weeds, I finally "plunked one down" right in the deepest part of the pond.

I remembered my instructions well. Slowly, I danced the lure across the water's brim, always keeping it taut and at a right angle. Slowly, I urged the lure to the shore. And then it happened.

Snap! I had my first bite.

The fish put up a Melvillian struggle against my determination. It went on for about 10 minutes (it seemed). Onlookers gathered to give me tips on how to land what they called "a mighty purty lookin' bass." The look on Joey's face was either a look that said, "I am so proud of you" or "Dear God, please make this end."

Finally I landed the creature from the center of the Earth (oh, all right, from the center of the pond). I got down on my knees and gently lifted it from the water. It was confirmed that it was a largemouth bass. I think it really was a large-eyed bass.

The woeful fish stayed perfectly silent in my hands. The metal hook was cleanly piercing his upper lip (who knew fish had lips?). Somebody handed me a pair of pliers, and I gingerly tried to work the hook out of the now-bleeding fish lip. The fish never moved in my hands, but his large, round black unblinking eye stared deep into my soul as if to say, "Make this quick, buster."

Finally I unhooked the fish, whispered something totally unmanly ("there you go, little buddy") and let him slither away back to the center of the ... well, you know.

Holding that fish in my hands was an epiphany. I really began to understand the romance of fishing. I recently visited the Catskill Fly Fishing Museum in Livingston Manor. Director Jim Krul and I spent the afternoon talking about the lure of fishing. "We had a group from Japan here last week," he told me. "We watched as they pulled one trout after another out of the Willowemoc. They'd hold each one up in the air and say some prayers in Japanese and let it slip back in the water. It was awesome to see their love for the sport and the fish itself."

This reminded me of my many talks with Roy Bartoo, who is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of fishermen in our area. Roy almost never eats what he catches. "I lean over and give the fish a kiss and let him go," he told me.

This guy gets about as close to the Zen-like love of fishing as the Japanese in Livingston Manor did. I think I understand it all now.

No, I am not getting cocky (I don't pack tartar sauce when I go fishing yet). And I am not ready to trade fishing lies with Frank and the boys at Mac's Barber Shop yet. But someday.

Next stop for me? The rubber pants store ...

I'll catch you in two ...

"Big Chuck" D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.