Woodrow and I loaded up a couple of kids to fish his pond in east Texas last weekend. Zoey and Zack, not related, were excited to do something beside burn sticks in the campfire.
I didnt understand that, because Ive always been a confirmed fire poker. I love to nudge burning logs with the toe of my boot, and use a stick to worry the coals. But late in the afternoon, I told Woodrow it was time to go fishing and the kids jumped at the chance.
He and I piled into the cab of his truck, while the younguns, their parents and the War Department loaded up in the back. After a fifteen minute ride through the pines, we all de-trucked at the pond. The kids boiled out and did the Happy Dance, waiting on the adults to rig up rods and reels.
Since the youngsters werent mine, I took the opportunity to assemble a fly rod. Id been in the mood to catch a catfish on the thin wand, and it seemed like the perfect time. The kids ran frenetically around the truck, burning off energy until their own spinning gear was ready.
Zoey knocked over my rod while I was threading the line through nine feet of guides. "Hey, theres about two thousand acres of open space behind me," I said. "Exactly why did you have to squeeze between me and the tailgate?"
Her response was a blank look, as if the question were faulty.
I ignored her, tied on a fly, and suddenly found thirty feet of monofilament and a worm hook tangled around my rod. A fresh worm dangled inches from my eyes. I followed the line back to Zack, who looked annoyed that Id been in the way of his backcast, twenty yards from the pond.
"Thats my worm."
"Im tangled around your fly rod."
He waited expectantly for a quick resolution. I thought about taking his rod and pitching the whole thing into the pond, but instead I untangled the line and nudged him toward the water with the toe of my ashy boot.
Soon they were standing ankle-deep in the mud, but their bobbers sitting quietly in the stained water. I prudently walked to the other side of the pond to get away from runaway casts and dropped a wooly booger beside a lily pad.
I made a backcast and hooked up with a pine tree. While I was untangling the leader, Zoey caught a fat bream, dark and rich from the stained water. The crowd on shore applauded and Zacks mom marked a big number one on the side of Woodrows white truck with mud.
"Kids one, Outdoor Writer zero!" she called.
I ignored the Peanut Gallery and finally made another fruitless cast.
Zack caught a fish.
I changed lures.
Zoey caught one of the biggest red ears Ive ever seen.
The score changed on the truck.
Jeers and catcalls.
Those were from the kids.
In response, I stuck my tongue out at them and cast again, after I untangled the leader from weeds growing thick on the shore.
My next cast finally resulted in a fish, not much bigger than the Wooly Booger on the end of my leader. Instead of announcing my catch, I quietly released it back into the water as the score added up on the other side.
"This is not a contest!" I called, just so theyd understand.
"Kids six, Outdoor Writer point zero five!"
Theyd seen my fish.
It seemed like every time one of the kids made a cast, a fish splashed to the surface. They were getting so good at removing them from the hooks, the remaining adults retreated to the trucks tailgate to watch. It felt like I was on some sports program.
I glanced up and noticed the kids watching.
Zack spoke up. "Hey, you should put that rod down and come over here and catch fish with us."
"Why would I want to do that?"
"Because its more productive," he said.
"You dont know that word."
"I just looked it up on my Iphone."
"Did I ever tell any of yall that I hate kids?"
"No you dont," the War Department said. "Hurry up. Theres a baby back at camp we need to hold."
In the truck, on the way back, I posed a question to Woodrow. "What happened to our lives? We were once young, carefree fishermen that lied about what we pulled out of the water. We were footloose and just the two of us traveled this entire state together, creating legends and having experiences that we cant write about."
He looked across the cab at me. "Life happened. And dont write about the things we used to do. Well get arrested, or at least sued."
I glanced over my shoulder at the assemblage in the truck bed. "I remember when we used to haul partygoers."
"Its our new party."
"Thats life its ownself."
"So this is where we need to be?"
"Yep. Its perfect."
"All right," I said, settling back. "Lets take these kids back to camp. Zacks dad wants to show us how to make an explosive device with toilet bowl cleaner, a piece of aluminum foil and one of those two thousand empty water bottles back there."