“You ask me if I fish, but rather, you should ask if I know of fish.”
— Diatacleses, 22 A.D.
Woo-woooo! I totally made that up. Serious writers like to drop quotes like groupies drop band names, but I’m not a serious writer. Most people say I’m not any kind of writer at all, and I tend to jump around a lot, but I will say this: Brian Williams has perfect eyebrows for the evening news. No . . . wait. I know a lot of fish, and I shall start with the greatest fish of all, “Old Ned”.
“He is huge,” my dad would say. “His massive head is like the lure section of a sporting goods store, with every size and shape dangling from his lips. It would pull a smaller fish to the bottom. Maybe they should try casting a magnet out there.”
Minor detail: Dad used to drink tons of beer.
Every summer my family rented a cabin on Lake Alexandria in Minnesota, and our grandparents would join us. Every summer — without fail — gramps would go to the same fishing spot and hook a massive dog fish that blew its bowels all over the boat. After being thoroughly entertained yet grossed-out, gramps would unknowingly teach us several choice adult words and throw the monster back.
Minor detail: Gramps used to drink tons of beer.
One summer, a new visitor launched a boat slightly bigger than the Queen Mary and — lo and behold — he parked right over gramps’ favorite spot and hooked the notorious dog fish. He called some local press and posed with the scaly apparition, smiling mightily as cameras clicked and flashed.
“Could that thing be Old Ned?” I asked dad.
“No, son. Old Ned is a musky, and his teeth are legion.”
Another time, dad took me out on Bay Lake, and dark clouds appeared as we prepared to leave. After I stowed my fishing rig, dad handed his over so he could start our tiny 0.31 horsepower outboard. This usually required violent rope pulling and several choice adult words.
He said there were weeds tangled on his hook, but when the line seemed to wander, I reeled with all my might, exposing a huge musky-like fish hooked just beneath the weeds. Was it Old Ned?
“Maybe a cousin,” dad said, weighing the fish at seventeen pounds “This is a Northern Pike.”
Another time, I was out on Bay Lake with my brother Joe, and some guy fishing nearby had a terrific battle that went on for several minutes. His line suddenly went slack, and –yes! — those choice adult words drifted over the water (note an emerging pattern between fishing and choice adult words).
Things were quiet for a while, until my brother noticed a churning, bubbly wake heading slowly but steadily toward our boat.
We were stunned into silence by the sight of a monstrous musky cruising the surface like that shark in “Jaws”, a large silver lure dangling from his crocodile-like lip. He proceeded to pass just in front of the bow, and I frantically reeled my lure in so he wouldn’t notice me on the planet.
“Do you think?” my brother asked.
“Could it be?” I replied.
“#%&@!” yelled the nearby fisherman.
That musky was definitely a prime candidate for proving the existence of Old Ned. Over the years, other encounters would provide a possible brush with the legendary equivalent of Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, or a short wait at the DMV.
“You ask if the legend is true, but rather, you should ask for tuna with a little mayo.”
— Bond. James Bond.
And so it continues. I believe my daughter was only three when she held her first fishing rod on a dock up in Maine (similar to Minnesota, except for an overabundance of potatoes). “There is a fish out there that nobody can catch,” I told her, scanning the water. “He is a monster. His massive head is like the lure section of a sporting goods store, with every size and shape dangling from his lips. It would pull a smaller fish to the bottom. Maybe they should try casting a magnet out there.”
It was a benchmark moment. She looked at me with those big hazel eyes; a child’s pink fishing rod clasped tightly in her tiny hands, and said the words that still haunt me to this day:
“You drink tons of beer.”