Hook, Line & Sinker

by jkatejohnston

19 February 2014

On Saturday morning, we drove way out to Orangevale to meet Jesse, who was going to advise us on a new fishing rod for Enzo. As we drove and drove, I felt more and more guilty for taking up what would amount to Jesse’s entire Saturday morning. We arrived only a little late, having got only a little lost. Jesse and Nico were there, and Jesse picked out a few rods for Enzo to try. We went for the more sensitive one. Then we picked a reel, a nicer one with all-metal housing, durable, because we’re hard on things. (I forgot at the time the precise way we’re hard on things.)

Enzo showed me some wonderfully realistic crawdad lures. We checked out the tubes of garlic blood and other stink baits. Enzo had often asked me how to put blood on a hook, as his Fishing Basics book mentions blood as a bait. I’ve always said I don’t know. Now we know that blood comes in a little tube, a sort of gel, though I still don’t get how it stays on the hook.

Jesse and Nico had to go, and Enzo and I went fishing at Lake Natoma, for catfish. The line in the new reel kept getting twisted, and as I reeled it in the twists became tangled on the reel so that when we cast, the line would stop at the knot. I kept having to pull out more and more line and cut off the tangled part and re-tie-on the hook and weights. We had garlic chicken livers for bait.

I pulled out so much line that I thought I might have to put on new line, which we had in Enzo’s tackle box. I couldn’t read the directions without my glasses, and there was garlic chicken liver juice smeared on those, but they still worked well enough for me to read, “IMPORTANT: The line must come off its storage spool and onto the reel spool in the same direction that the pickup housing is turning in order to avoid line-twist.” Oh.

“We were there most of the day and didn’t get a nibble, which Enzo kept bringing up, and I kept saying, “But we’re out in Nature. And we’re together.” I also read him a lot of The Great Brain. The problem with fishing is it’s extremely boring—yet stressful!—so you read.

On Sunday we went fishing again, first thing. “Mom, can I bring this?” He showed me a toy crocodile, boat and net. “It’s not for water, it’s for science. To see—if we catch a catfish—we can see how it reacts to danger.” I said okay, and we left the house in the dark.

“Is that a planet?”


“Is that a planet?”


“How come there’s no moon?”

“Maybe it set already.”

Across town, few cars, city lights. When we parked we saw the almost-full moon starting to go down across the river. We were under an old railroad bridge where the American flows into the Sacramento. Upstream about a hundred yards, I-5 crosses the American. No sun yet. Light in the tops of bare cottonwoods. The water was low and clear. A big rig crossing the river honked two short blasts. And we caught no fish.

A few hours into it, Enzo was practicing his casting, playing with the rod, whipping it about, and the lead fishing weight hit him on the cheek close to his eye at high speed. He dropped to the ground and cried for a few minutes, then cheered up quickly as we made a plan to go to a gas station and get an Otter Pop to put on his injury and a Push-Up to eat. As we drove he said, “That is on my top list of hard blows.” And later, “A baby could cry for hours. I am taking my first steps to being a man.” We went to Southside Park and fished in the stocked pond. Some guys there had caught catfish and trout earlier that morning, and they shared their bait. We didn’t catch anything.

The next morning (yesterday) we left the house again in the dark, this time stopping at Marie’s Donuts on the way to the stocked pond at Land Park. The Fish and Game website said it was stocked with trout on February 14. “I hope we get a nibble,” said Enzo. “I have almost forgotten what it feels like to have a fish on my line.” It was cold and just barely light enough for me to read. Every once in a while, I would stop reading for a minute and reel in our line and change the bait. We tried night crawlers, salmon eggs and power bait in turn. I must have seemed discouraged. Enzo said, “The day is young. Things could change in just a few minutes.” And a few minutes later, “A donut is the only thing to calm my nerves.”

Just sitting together outside in the early morning, reading, with donuts, would once have been everything in the world I wanted. But little by little the desire to catch a fish has infected me. Disappointment rose. We had to leave around nine so Teresa could take Duncan to the vet. As I gathered our stuff, Enzo was practicing his casting again. This time there was no weight on the line. His cast is low on finesse, high on power. Cast, reel. Cast, reel. Cast…

“Mom!” He had cast his new fishing rod into the pond, and it disappeared in the murk.

“Oh shit! Oh no!” I whipped off my shoes and socks ready to go after it, but the pond is like a swimming pool, deep right to the edge. The bobber still bobbed on the surface. It was right there. But how to get to it? “Your brand new rod! Not again! God damn it!” (The faithful reader will recall that last summer I lost Enzo’s new fishing rod overboard the first day he owned it.) I grabbed his long-handled fishing net and scooped up great net-fulls of sludgy algae.

Enzo looked grave. “Shit,” he said quietly. As we walked to the car he said, “I can make a lot of money fast and get a new rod. I will pay for it.” As we drove home, he kept coming up with plans. “Plan A: Make two Chinese lanterns and sell them.” Then he thought for a while. “Plan B: Catch crawdads and sell them for a quarter a piece or $15.99 a pound.” And by the time we were home he’d got through Plan C: pick lettuce from the garden and sell it; Plan D:  sell copies of his croc diary for ten dollars a piece. I lost track of the plans, but I do have a note that says, “Plan H. I can’t believe I have a plan H!”

“What is Plan H?”

“I forgot.”

My feeling at the time was: I will fish no more forever. But Teresa pointed out that we went fishing three days in a row and didn’t get a nibble and he still wants to fish, so he must be pretty serious. I’ll getting him a cheap rod and reel on Amazon. And next weekend—Fish On!