Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The First Fish

TigerBlog has spent countless hours riding countless miles on his bike with author John McPhee.

It's given the two plenty of time to talk. The subjects of their conversations have run the gamut of pretty much every conceivable topic, though there have been some recurring themes.

You know. Like Princeton sports, both contemporary - usually from TigerBlog's perspective - and historic - usually Mr. McPhee put a personal spin on coaches, teams, players and games that are from before TB's time.

And writing. And books, especially the ones that Mr. McPhee has written. And places around the world that one or both of them have visited.

Oh, and fishing. There's been a lot of talk about fishing.

A lot of that talk has focused on McPhee's decades and decades of being a successful, knowledgeable fisherman literally all over the world and all of the writing he's done about it through the years. And a lot of that talk has focused on the fact that TigerBlog had never, ever caught a fish.

It's not that he hadn't been fishing. He even knew what it was like to hook something on his line.

One time he reeled in a wooden plank. Another time he actually saw the fish on the end of the line and was about to get him out of the water when he got loose. TB is pretty sure the fish rolled his eyes at him as he swam away.

One day, TigerBlog always vowed, he'd catch one. One day, Mr. McPhee said, he'd take him out on the water and see for himself.

That day was supposed to be more than a year ago, except a hurricane wiped out that plan. An actual hurricane.

It led to more miles on the bike where the subject was fish, and the hope that one day, the big one wouldn't get away. Or even the little one.

That day was last Thursday.

Mr. McPhee arranged for a guide, the extremely affable Captain Dieter, to take him and TB out on the Delaware, fishing for shad. If you're a McPhee fan - and Captain Dieter definitely is - perhaps you've read his book "The Founding Fish," about the history of the American shad.

TigerBlog read it. He learned a lot from it. The storytelling was, of course, fascinating. As with everything else TB read of McPhee's about fishing, it made him wonder what it would be like to be out there with him.

And then he got to find out.

It was really windy out on the river, but it wasn't cold, though it would have been freezing had it been about five or 10 degrees cooler. Captain Dieter found a spot he liked, and then it was time to drop lines into the water.

TigerBlog of course had no idea what he was doing. He was just hoping to find some wandering shad that happened to swim onto the end of his line.

Shad apparently don't eat in the river, so they aren't drawn to bait. Instead, they snap at the hook because it's annoying them as they swim. In other words, TigerBlog was going to nab his first fish by annoying it.

Mr. McPhee got one first. Then it was TB's turn. The line in the water snapped back and forth. "Fish On," Captain Dieter yelled.

And so TigerBlog gingerly started to reel him in. The fish put up quite a struggle, something that shad are known for doing. TB figured this one was going to get away too, but he kept reeling anyway.

Then he could see it, the shad, coming closer to the boat. This was it. A lifetime of wondering what it was like to actually catch a fish, and it was just seconds away.

Now it was up to TigerBlog not to lose this one. He kept figuring something would happen, that the fish was just toying with him.

Only this time, that wouldn't be the case. Eventually TB got him out of the water, and Captain Dieter scooped him up in the net.

Or her, actually. TigerBlog figured the fish was about 20 pounds or so. Okay, so it turned out to be about three pounds.

But it was TB's fish. His first fish. Captain Dieter took a picture of TB and Mr. McPhee with the fish - and then he tossed her back in the river.
At one point, there was a big lull, with nobody who was biting. Mr. McPhee explained that at that time, they were waiting for "the 6:14 from shadville to come by." And it did.

By the time they were done, TigerBlog had caught 14 shad, all of whom were released back into the Delaware. Mr. McPhee and Captain Dieter assured him he hadn't caught the same fish 14 times.

Mr. McPhee caught 11 of his own. He could have caught twice that many if he wanted, TB presumes.

It was a mesmerizing afternoon on the river. The boat stayed anchored just above the rapids, no matter how fierce the wind. Had TB just stat on the boat that entire time it would have been worth it, just for the scenic beauty all around him. It was really relaxing, even as the river churned furiously.

Throw in the fact that he also managed to do something he'd always wanted to do, and, well, it was an even better Thursday evening. And to do so with someone who knew how much TB wanted to do this, and who is so accomplished with a rod and reel, made it even better.

Eventually it was back to the dock and the parking lot where they'd started.

As TB started to get into his car, he heard Mr. McPhee call to him from behind.

"Hey," he said. "Have you ever caught a fish?"

TigerBlog just looked back and smiled.

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