For those who may be blissfully ignorant of such matters, there are basically two types of fishing: serious fishing and family fishing.
Serious fishing occurs when a devoted angler ventures out into the wild alone, with no distractions, with only one quest in mind: to catch fish. It’s man vs. nature in an almost spiritual battle. It’s just you and the fish. And maybe a few crickets and reds.
Wondrous, magical things can happen while a sportsman is engaged in serious fishing. If he keeps quiet and still, Mother Earth will come alive around him. The breeze will blow, deer will bravely sip at the water’s edge, birds will sing Psalms to him, and the fish will leap into the air and bite topwater. The serious angler will soon find himself fighting gigantic fish after fish, the fish of his dreams, each one an adventure worth writing about. To be short, serious fishing is fun and truly fulfilling on many levels.
And then there is family fishing. If serious fishing is like the Sabbath in a sacred temple, then family fishing is like a Sunday on Omaha Beach during the early waves of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
Needless to say, family fishing ain’t for the faint of heart.
Many factors contribute to the nightmare known as family fishing. Fish are well known for their inconsiderate habit of congregating in the most inaccessible of places, thus making the family leader’s work more difficult and treacherous. You can’t always take your family in the swamps, rapids or depths where the insensitive boogers are hiding, especially if you have small children or elderly folks. Gators gather where the fishing is good. Hornets tend to hang around the honey holes. Snakes slither around the sweet spots. Dragons dwell near the drop-offs- well, you get the idea.
Family fishing is also made interesting by fierce competitiveness that often revives old family feuds. Once, Cousin Perry made the mistake of taking Granny and her older sister, Aunt Edna, fishing in the same boat. A fight broke out over possession of the last cricket. Soon, frocks and aprons were flying, someone lost their good, Sunday-go-to-meeting dentures, one accused the other of taking the last piece of chocolate sometime during the World War II ration days, and there some mention of “boyfriend poaching” in an ongoing dispute over a handsome suitor, despite the fact that the man had been buried in Live Oak Cemetery for 45 years.
Fishing with your kinfolk also leads to powerful but petty jealousy. The family member that will not hesitate to give you a kidney or two to save your life will do unspeakably evil things to you if you attempt to encroach on their favored fishing spot. For example, let’s consider a traumatic incident that occurred years ago while I was fishing with my little brother.
It was just a typical day at our favorite childhood fishing hole, a little half-acre cow pond near our family cemetery and clandestine distillery. The younger sibling was on one side of the dock, and I on the other, bamboo cane poles in hand. It could have been the setting of a delightful childhood memory, until this horrible thing happened, an event I only talk about with my therapists - until now.
Suddenly, my brother got a heck of a good strike. Something large and wicked this way comes!
At this point, there is a dispute as to what actually occurred. I say that while trying to swat a mosquito I accidently swung my line 14 feet over to my brother’s side of the dock, just inches from his bobbing cork and the hungry strike. He claims that I was engaged in a highly unethical form of fishing long ago outlawed by the Geneva Convention.
At any rate, I quickly landed the largest, most magnificent bluegill either of us had ever seen. Shaking with excitement, I placed the thick slab of a fish on the dock, where it lay glittering like wet diamonds in the sun. Even as an old man, I can still remember it clearly. Looking back now, I still say it was more beautiful than my new bride in her white dress. Not to get all mushy and sentimental, but that fish was more beautiful than both of my newborn babies the first time I held them in my arms.
And then my brother, my own flesh-and-blood, in a fit of jealous rage, kicked it back into the water.
Alexander Pope once wrote: “A family is but too often a commonwealth of malignants.”
Now there was a man who knew a little something about family fishing. Poor fellow.
Michael M. DeWitt Jr. is the managing editor of The Hampton County Guardian newspaper in South Carolina. He is an award-winning humorist, journalist and outdoor writer and the author of two books.