One eye opens, and I’m facing the clock. I’d set the alarm for five thirty, but I was so excited, I’d been waking up with one eye every hour since two. The comforter was snug up against my neck, and it was warm and cozy. Of all the mornings for everything to be warm and cozy, why did it have to be this one? I had an appointment to hunt for Ol’ Blue!
I slid one leg out from under the covers to test the air. It was cool but doable. I have to do this or call it off. Ok! Here we go!
Hit the floor, cold, cold, cold! It was five steps to the bathroom and turn on the light. Gees it’s bright. Done.
I’d laid out my clothes on the chair because I know how slow my brain is the first thing in the morning. First, put on the socks, to get rid of the floor contact. Now, on with all the rest of the stuff and pull my Vikings sweatshirt over my head. Done.
I went down the stairs along the wall edge because the steps didn’t creak on that side. I don’t need to wake the whole family at this hour! Next, I had to go into the kitchen, to retrieve the stuff I had packed for breakfast and lunch, from the fridge. Oh gees, bright light. Close the door, quick! I put a note on the fridge that told everyone where I was going, signed it “Little Jack” and stuck it on the door with a smiling broccoli magnet. Now, onward!
The door to the garage is to the right. Slowly and quietly I turned the handle and managed the two steps, down into the garage, without making a sound. I opened the door to the old Chevy pickup my dad let me drive. The truck smelled like burned oil mixed with other odors collected from a lifetime of hard work. These were good smells, all of them!
In the box were my fishing rods, tackle, a coffee can of night crawlers, and an old cooler I use to throw the fish in when I’m heading home. That smell we don’t need in the pickup. With myself and my lunch in the cab, I started the truck. It started on the first turn. That worked well. Clutch, out of reverse, into first, and I was on my way. Here I come pond. I let out a low, slow breath. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Five miles out of town and I had to turn right on the gravel road with the silhouette of the flying goose on it. I drove another mile to the crossroad and then straight over the cattle guard for another half mile.
I’d arrive at the end of the lake where there was a pool at the bottom of a spillway that controlled the outgoing lake water. This was my favorite fishing spot in the whole world. Only a few of us fished here because most people wanted the fancy paved roads and boat dock next to the store.
I’d worn out the seat of many a pair of perfectly good cutoffs sliding down the slime on the spillway in the late summer. That’s when the water speed is just right, and the slime builds up from the warm of the summer sun. Those of us, who know and were familiar with the pond, knew of the fish that came over the dam above the spillway in the spring. Some of us knew about the fish that would wait at the bottom of the spillway for their dinner. One of these critters was a huge catfish we named Ol’ Blue.
You could see him from up on the dam. He would make a slow patrol past the rocks in the spillway wash. We’d sneak up on him with nets or baited hooks, but it seemed like he’d feel us coming. He’d turn and slowly swim toward the middle of the pond and disappear, ghostlike. Today, I was going to get him.
As I drove up to the woven wire fence that kept cars and trucks away from the spillway, I turned my headlights off. The sun had not appeared yet, but there was a glow. It created a strange light. Even though the horizon was bright, fluorescent pink-orange, the light down on the pond was misty black-blue. It was unearthly quiet. There was not even a breeze. Quietly, I opened the door to the Chevy. The light did not come on because it had burned out years ago and dad had not bothered to replace it. I didn’t even fully close the door. I let it latch only to the first click.
To start with, I only took one fishing rod. I put a night crawler on the hook at the top of the spillway because I didn’t want to fumble around down there in the dark. I am so clever and smart; a fish doesn’t have a chance. I would come back up the hill later for the rest of the stuff. I slowly felt my way down the path and then went through the little zigzag gate. I hit the reel on my pole on one of the gate posts, and it caused a little “ting”. In the silence of the morning, it sounded like a church bell to me. I stopped. All was quiet.
I proceeded down the path into the mist and the darkness. A chill rushed up my back. I didn’t know whether it was the excitement or the cold that had settled down at the bottom of the spillway.
The path leveled out a little. I was still five feet above the surface of the pond. The mist hung to within two feet of the still water. I climbed down closer to the pond and sat on a rock at the water’s edge, waited and listened. All was quiet!
Birds startled above me as they awoke and discovered I was there. The sky above was turning to light, and mist began to move with the little breeze that was kicked up by the sun.
The mist had risen to about four feet above the water when I saw it. There was a wake cutting across the almost still water, sideways to me. My stomach knotted, but I shakily half-stood, moved the click button on my old bait casting reel and let it fly. There was a “wiz” and then a plop. The bait landed ahead of the ‘V’ being cut in the water as the mighty fish swam. The tension on the line changed because the bait was sinking to the bottom. Then it suddenly straightened out!
The reel went “sizzzzz”! I had him. I had Ol’ Blue. I set the hook like my dad taught me and felt the pull and the tail beating. This was going to be good. This was going to be really good. The fish headed for the other end of the pond and then turned left. He went as far as he could go, and then turned back. I reeled the line in only to have him take it back out again. Ten minutes we fought. I began to wonder whether I was man enough to chew what I’d bitten off. Then I realized, I didn’t have a net!
“Sizzzzz” went the line again. This time it was to the right. I started walking up the path that way, gaining line all the way. Closer and closer I came. I felt the fish getting tired, and I knew I had him. I walked across the rocks to the water’s edge. The line was straight down from the tip of the pole. A couple more cranks and I might be able to grab him by the lip or gills, like I’d seen my dad do so many times. I lifted the rod to the full length of my arm, and the fish remained below the surface, invisible.
Just a little more, a little more, I see him. Splash! Snap! I ended up on my seat. Dazed a little bit, I slowly began to realize what had happened. I never had Ol’ Blue. A three-foot carp had taken the bait before Blue could even get to it. Exhausted, I just sat there for a long time.
The sun had fully risen, and the mist had gone away from the pond’s surface. I sat quietly on the bank for so long, the birds had forgotten I was there. The water babbled over the edge of the spillway, and then a ghostly figure started cutting a ‘V’ along the rocks at the edge of the spillway. As it got close enough to spit on, Ol’ Blue lifted one eye and a whisker out of the water, studied me for a moment, turned, and disappeared into the dark depths of the pond.
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