[September 15, 2023] I found the bamboo fishing pole sticking out of the water back along a hidden dirt bank. I was really young, maybe seven years old, when my good friend Albert was going to show me a great fishing hole in the Bayou Bonne Idee just east of town. It was Saturday morning as we agreed to meet up with my friend’s older brother to drive us the ten minutes to get there by pickup truck. We rode in the back standing up and looking over the cab and trying not to get smacked in the face by tree branches. Along the way, we stopped to dig for the worms we’d planned to use for bait. We didn’t have a real float so we used a dry piece of wood and a small, longish rock was the sinker. We were ready. Fortunately, we had extra hooks I brought from my dad’s fishing bait box.
The sun was already up and warming up fast. The banks of the bayou were cool and peaceful, the wind calm, the insects buzzing, which means the fish would be biting. Any fish we caught would be a trophy but the deal we made with our dads was we had to bring our catch home, clean, and help cook them to help feed our families. We had been taught that “fishing” did not mean just pulling fish from the water, real fishing was a comprehensive experience, from getting ourselves ready all the way to cleaning and eating the fish we caught. And we would also walk the six miles home, so that meant leaving at least three hours early to arrive before sunset. Naturally, we had no wristwatch, so we relied on local fishermen to tell us the time. We laughed and rolled around mock fighting, threw dirt clods and sticks in the bayou, gave our woop woop secret Indian war yells whenever we saw people in a fishing boat going by, and napped in the grass. All the fish got away. We had failed but we had fun anyway. It would be a long walk home. We were failures at fishing that day but a success at firming up our friendship. Walking home, we got lucky, a Mer Rouge High School boy was driving by and saw us. He took us home.
Sunday morning was church services and it gave me a chance to tell my friends from school and church about the great fishing spot we had “discovered.” An older girl from Sunday School class showed interest in our fishing, much to my surprise. I told her about the worms and after a long ewwww sound, she said we should show her. We made an agreement to meet up Monday morning after I finished my search of the town dump for resalable items (my weekend job). Mondays were best. The girl’s cousin agreed to take us to the bayou. I arranged to bring the gear and maybe I overcommitted on what I could bring. I was happy but anxious to have a girl seeing our secret fishing spot but Albert didn’t care. We did little fishing that day. Mostly I tried to show off by balancing on an old log in the water next to the bank. I fell off and got my shoes and pants wet. Why did I do that? There was something compelling me to show off, my behavior must have looked foolish. My dad laughed when I told him the story, mom smiled, I was confused but I think we all had a fun day. Again, we caught nothing.
We were luckier a week later when we caught at least a dozen fish – crappie and bream – rather small but I cleaned them with my Mom’s help and then she showed me how to make a flour-based batter and then fry them in her grease pan for supper. “Dinner” was the noon meal, “supper” the evening meal and we always ate supper sharply at 5:30 PM, just as dad got home from work during. Finally, we could say we were “fishing.” That was a real accomplishment, not to be treated lightly and our dads, who were serious fishermen, and they finally agreed we had actually done it. The fact that this fishing was done with very little adult help and by a group of seven year olds, was one small step toward becoming a young man. It was the summer of 1960 and I had made that first step and I felt pretty good about it.
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