A Reluctant Angler by John Rayburn
This is an example that more often than not chance encounters during travel times can be more fun than planned get-togethers.
“If you’re gonna write this down, just call me Chet or somethin’, because if my wife was to find out what I’ve really been up to, I’m in big trouble from here to heck and gone and then some.”
The admonition came from a guy who claimed to be a non-fishing fisherman and his switch on the classic “tall tales” was that he never caught anything because he really didn’t want to. He always shared the catches of his buddies and took evidence home so his wife would be satisfied his idle hours had been gainfully used.
“Chet” was at a fishing camp in Perry, Maine and he looked the part of the near-professional angler with all the outdoor gear, fancy fishing rods, and tackle boxes filled with lures of every description.
“The only difference is I never use any of that stuff. Lemme tell ya, when I get me some time away from the office and just get my system all souped up again, you don’t actually think I want to waste a lot of time haulin’ in fish, do ya?”
When I pointed out the expensive gear seemed to be a pretty high priced way of pulling off a subterfuge, Chet had an answer for that.
“Kinda looks that way, don’t it? But, I got me them rods at a flea market at a pretty good price and a lot of the tackle is stuff these guys either got tired of or gave up on and I just stick ‘em in the box. I haven’t tied a fly or a lure on or put any bait on a hook for about four years now. I just kinda go along for the boat ride. I handle the boat or lean back and read or sometimes just talk. It’s okay to talk while you’re fishin’ because them fish can’t hear that, no matter what some experts will tell ya, Just don’t go bumpin’ your feet or anything around in the boat, though, because they’ll sure enough pick up on the vibrations. See, I’ve learned a lot of that stuff just bein’ along.”
“Well, aren’t those buddies serious enough about their fishing that your approach seems out of kilter with their activities?”
“Shoot, they’re so glad to have one ol’ boy along who ain’t sort of competin’ with ‘em they feel kind of lost if I don’t make the trip.”
It still seemed unusual enough to me that I wondered how the urge to join in was kept under control.
“There was a time,” came Chet’s reply, “that I did a little legitimate fishin’, but I’m one of those who can sit right next to somebody haulin’ ‘em in right and left and I never even get a nibble or a strike of any kind. So, I figured what’s the use, y’know? Probably if I was to try it I wouldn’t catch me nothin’ but a goosefish anyway.”
Figuring already that I was being “had” by a pretty canny storyteller, that clinched it. Goosefish, indeed! With a knowing look and tongue-in-cheek I asked what that was, implying as best I could that you couldn’t fool me and I knew there wasn’t any such thing.
“You mean to tell me you don’t know what a goosefish is? Now, this is not like one of them jackalopes you fellas got out west there. This is a real fish and it’s just gotta be one of the awfullest lookin’ things there is. A goosefish is uglier than a mud fence. First time I seen one I thought it was my mother-in-law. They’re kinda brown ol’ things, flattened out some, don’t have no scales, but their skin is loose like it’s just a’hangin’ on ‘em, ‘specially ‘round the jaws. They got a big ol’ mouth and the dadgumdest, miserablest lookin’ lips you can imagine. Now, I ain’t talkin’ little, either. These babies will get up to three feet or so and weigh up towards fifty pounds and they’ll eat lobsters or crabs, even a bird if one of ‘em gets too close in shallow water.”
Figuring Chet’s imagination was by now in full swing, I suggested next time anyone snagged a goosefish he should take it home, his wife would realize his fishing expeditions were on the up-and-up and the sheer ugliness of the fish would prompt her to tell him not to ever bring home any more fish of any kind. That way he would have his outings and not have to fabricate a scenario when he got home.
“Yeah, but that wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun, now would it?”
Of course, telling such tales to tenderfeet like me must be fun, too; I still wasn’t certain just how far my leg was being pulled so I checked in my handy-dandy, illustrated wildlife guide. There, much to my surprise, was a goosefish and just as described, it was ugly. Not just plain old everyday unsightly either, but out-and-out repulsive. We are talking top-level ugly here. But, wait a minute, if there is a goosefish, what about the rest of Chet’s story? Was that true, too?
I went back for more information, but the supposedly recalcitrant fisherman and friends had gone. I questioned some neighbors but all they’d do was grin at me when I told them about Chet. Just color me “hooked.”