by jkatejohnston

29 May 2017

Dear Max,

On Sunday Teresa dropped me and Enzo off at Gibson Ranch. We baited up with small hooks and our own home-grown red wigglers, which are almost too thin to thread even onto the finest hook, but we managed it. Then we waited, bobbers bobbing on the small ripples.

Enzo’s bobber went under. “Fish on!” He landed the little beauty—a baby bluegill—and released him into our bucket for later observation. “First fish of the day!” There were three other fishing parties around the lake, all dads with small kids, and I think Enzo wanted them to hear.

More fishing. Some turtles swam by and checked us out. I saw a Kingfisher. Enzo baited up with a Welch’s Fruit Snack doused in Bass Dynasty Extra Sticky Formula Night Crawler Slime. He got some nibbles but didn’t catch anything with it. Back to worms. He caught another bluegill. “Second fish of the day!”

After a while we packed up our stuff and poured our bucket back into the lake. The two little fish flashed away into the murk. Then we walked across the sports fields toward the creek. Enzo thought it was called Cherry Creek. I thought it was called something else, but I couldn’t  remember what—something dangerous. (I just looked it up. It’s called Dry Creek. I think my mistake came from the fact that, when I first learned the name Dry Creek, the water was brown and rushing almost up the bridge, and I thought it should have been called Flood Creek.)

As we walked toward the creek across green mowed fields, we passed a gathering that was hard to identify. A wedding? A school band setting up for an outdoor concert? Then we made our way down the steep bank to the creek, the water clear now, yellow-brown pebbles along the bottom, oaks almost meeting overhead in places, blackberry brambles, little scrubby pink roses, and a tree that I don’t know the name of with big thin leaves and bunches of white flowers. There’s something bewitching about a stream bed. You want to follow it, see what’s around the next bend. We waded slowly upstream through the clear water.

Then it started—the band we had passed struck up and played songs I didn’t know, full and rich and resonant, lots of brass. A chorus began (or possibly a choir)—mostly men’s voices. The assembly, whatever it was, must have been a couple of hundred yards from the creek, but the sound was fully present, like a private concert or a movie soundtrack.

After a while the music stopped and a man started preaching. The language wasn’t English, and I couldn’t tell what it was, not even what kind of language it was. But still, you know a preacher-man when you hear one. The ups and downs and pauses reminded me of a black preacher, but the gathering wasn’t of black people.

Enzo was walking ahead of me, trailing a fishing lure that looked like a little fish at the end of his pole. The lure’s movement, flashing through the water, was wonderfully realistic. I let him get far ahead. I wished he could come to places like this by himself.

Then Enzo saw them: Bass!

They were small, maybe four to six inches long, nearly invisible, suspended in the clear water, heads pointed upstream. We scrambled onto the bank, baited up again, one rod with a red wiggler, the other with plastic worm, crazy-rig.

(It’s occurring to me this moment—what if that was illegal? Of course I know you can’t keep a baby fish like that, but maybe you’re not even supposed to catch-and-release them. And maybe this diary could be used as evidence against us. It wouldn’t be the first time, for me.)

The baby bass seemed most interested in the plastic worm. They kept sort of nosing up to it, bumping it curiously, but the fake worm was almost as long as they were, and there was no way they could really bite it. There were four bass, I think, maybe five. We tried a flashing lure with a red feather that Enzo probably knows the name of. They were right there, so close. But we couldn’t catch them.

Teresa arrived to pick us up, and she came down the bank and fished with Enzo while I walked upstream. I could hear him saying to her, “I’m bumping them on the head with my bait!”

And then, “Fish on! Fish on!” Enzo reeled in the biggest of the little bass and netted him and held the net under the water while Teresa filled our five gallon bucket with cool creek water. We released the fish into the bucket and put it in the creek in the shade. The fish was brown and delicate-looking, about six inches long.

I just now asked Enzo what kind of bass it was. He said large-mouth or spotted, probably spotted. Anyway, it looked very pretty in the bottom of the bucket, this being from another world. We left soon after that, releasing the fish and promising to come back and catch him again when he gets bigger.