For this post, I’m taking a trip down memory lane to the time when my then boyfriend taught me how to fish. It’s a tale of frustration and triumph. I can’t help but laugh every time I think back to how ridiculous we must’ve looked out there trying to fish in the dark.
To set the stage, I’ve only had two real fishing experiences growing up. The first was when I was 4 years old and we were using my dad’s super secret bait—beans and cheese. I’m sure you’re surprised to learn it didn’t work and we caught no fish. The second experience was when I was a 14 year old who wanted nothing to do with forced family bonding time. We spent a few hours at a lake, but no one caught a fish then either. This meant, I had never dealt with actually catching a fish.
Fast-forward to now. My boyfriend at the time tells me we’re going fishing this weekend. I was excited. I hadn’t been in over a decade and wanted to learn more about his favorite hobby. With the word “weekend,” I assumed we were going Saturday morning. He, however, had other ideas. Night fishing, his favorite. When we got to the lake, the sun was setting and I took in how pretty it was. We had a secluded lake out in the country all to ourselves. It seemed like it would be a good night of fishing. We started setting up our spot, getting out the lantern and spotlight for when the sun went down. We covered ourselves with bug spray since the bugs were out in swarms. Pro tip: Don’t get bug spray on your lips, they get all numb and tingly. Plus it tastes repulsive.
My first task was to learn how to bait the hook with worms. I’ve never had a problem with worms. Digging in the dirt at recess was pretty normal growing up. My friends and I heard if you cut them in half they’d grow back whole, so obviously we had to experiment. Young curious minds! This meant grabbing a worm to put on the hook wasn’t bad… until I stabbed it on the hook and the thing squirmed between my fingers. I’m sure I’d squirm too if someone was trying to poke me with a hook! But I had a job to do, and after a little bit of finagling the worm was securely on the hook.
The next lesson, how to cast the line. This I vaguely knew and was decent at, if memory served me right. Well… my memory was wrong, very wrong. My boyfriend said to cast it straight in front of me. I brought my arm back, then forward and let go of the line with my finger… and watched it as it veered far to the right, almost into a bunch of lily pads. I can’t tell you what happened, other than I wasn’t the best and my boyfriend really didn’t like the line being that close to the lily pads. I tried again, carefully focusing on what I needed to do. This time, the line actually went straight! And right smack dab in the water a mere three feet from my shoes. In a nutshell, I was awful. By this point, the sun had nearly set and the night sky was becoming our only light.
For some reason, I couldn’t grasp the concept of letting the line out slowly. I say it’s because I couldn’t see what I was doing. My boyfriend maintained he could see great in the dark, unfortunately I’m not equipped with the natural gift of night vision. My boyfriend was annoyed that I either let the line out too fast or wasn’t holding the reel correctly to let it out. I can’t tell you what I was doing because I couldn’t see the seemingly foreign object in my hand. The realization started to sink in—I knew nothing about fishing.
After many unsuccessful attempts on my end, my boyfriend caught a fish—a catfish to be exact. It was a little guy, not much longer than my hand. After binge watching River Monsters on Netflix, I knew a thing or two about catfish. One: They’re kinda ugly. Two: They can poke you—stay away from their heads. My boyfriend told me to put on the gloves because I was going to learn how to take the hook out. In the pitch black, I put the gloves on. Anytime we turned on a lantern, it was attack of the moths and mosquitoes. He grabbed the spotlight and shined it toward me as I went near the fish, “What are you doing?? The gloves are on backwards!”
It was the beginning of a rough night. After putting the gloves back on so the rough side was on the inside of my hands, he gave me the simple instruction—grab the fish. Easy, I thought, people grab fish all the time no problem. I reached out and put my hand around the catfish. As I tightened my grasp, it slid right out of my hand. Hell, this wasn’t going to be easy! A battle ensued of me trying to grab a hold of the fish, all while my boyfriend was yelling at me to “Just grab the fish… GRAB THE DAMN FISH!!” Between yells to grab the fish, he’d remind me not to grab the head and I avoided it like no tomorrow.
With tension now thick in the air, I grabbed around the middle of the fish, finally thinking I’ve got him. And then I felt a sharp pain in my finger. I let go of the fish, shrieked at an octave that probably scared off any critters nearby, and fell back. My boyfriend was a tiny bit annoyed to say the least. Truth be told, I was ready to give up. I don’t like being told what to do, especially when it’s by someone yelling. But giving up would be failing and that’s just not my style. He had the fish in the water, right near the bank, and told me to come over and grab it. Finally, with his help, I got a hold of the fish!
Now, for the last task, to remove the hook. I’ve seen them do it a bunch on TV, looks easy enough. I go to pull it out, and damn is that thing stuck in there! I tried my hardest but it wasn’t budging. I knew I had to do this, so I pulled and yanked, and by some miracle it came out. My boyfriend told me to hold the fish in the water, moving it back and forth to get some air back into the gills to make sure it was fine to swim away. After a couple of minutes, I let go and away it swam. My first experience dealing with a fish was in the books—and it was awful.
I like to be good at what I do, so I was annoyed I was having such a hard time. We both apologized for getting frustrated with each other. I did wonder why he thought me learning in the dark was a good idea (if you haven’t figured it out already, it’s not the best idea). He looked at my hand to see if I actually did get finned. My hand hurt a little bit and we found the tiniest dot on my finger where most of the pain was. It didn’t break the skin though, so fishing continued.
I became a pro worm baiter in the dark (okay, maybe average is more true than pro). I ended up catching my first fish—another small catfish. To my displeasure, catfish were all we were catching that night. Supposedly, trout are in the middle of the lake. I’ll believe it when I see it!
I still struggled with things here and there, but I slowly got better. My boyfriend caught three fish and I had my one. It was still difficult getting the hook out of the fish’s mouth but I was learning. And that’s what I told my boyfriend—you’re making me do something I’ve never done in the dark, you can’t expect me to just know how to do it… you have to give me time to learn. And he understood. Little did I know, he’d never had to teach anyone how to fish before. So I’m sure it was equally a new learning experience for both of us. Frustrations and all, I did have fun and couldn’t wait to get back out there and try again.
The next morning, I woke up raring to go and catch some fish! We gathered up the gear and headed back out to the lake. It was the sweltering heat of summer and already in the mid-80s by 10am. Knowing the trouble I had with casting, it was my goal to improve by the end of the day. We had five worms left from the night before. I helped my boyfriend bait his hook and decided I wouldn’t use bait since I was focused on practicing casting.
Everything was easier for me in the light of day, funny how that works, right? I was casting my line straighter and farther. I hooked several little green plants while practicing. I was reeling my line in when I felt a little snag. I reeled in slowly, but whatever I snagged seemed to be moving. A bit surprised, I mumbled I thought I had caught a fish. My boyfriend said it was probably just a plant since there wasn’t any bait on my hook. But sure enough, a small catfish appeared at the end of my line! I was ecstatic! Especially since I just caught a fish without using any bait. The night before, we had agreed that whoever didn’t catch the fish would have to take the hook out. Starting the day not needing to do that was a bonus for me!
We continued fishing under the scorching sun. My boyfriend decided to take a break and finish his now sun-warmed drink. He gave me his fishing pole to use since it had bait on it. I confidently casted the line. It nicely hit the water far from the bank and I slowly started reeling it back in. I felt pressure on the line but thought the hook was caught on another bunch of plants. As it got closer to the bank, I could still feel the pressure. The thought of another fish on the line had me so excited that I blurted out, “I think I caught a fish!” My boyfriend stopped mid-sip. “You’re kidding me! I’ve tried all morning and you get one on your first try?!” I kept reeling, and low and behold, another little catfish on the line.
I was giddy, two fish caught minutes from each other! I did a little happy dance. I was proud of myself for doing so much better than the night before. My boyfriend seemed slightly annoyed I was now catching fish and he wasn’t. Luckily, he caught a fish with our last worm. So we both had a successful day on the water. And this time around, the hook came out a lot easier for me too. Amazing what you can do when you’re able to see!
By noon, we were sweating in the near 100 degree heat. We decided to head back home, but would check out another spot later in the day when it had cooled off. On our drive back, we stopped by a gas station to buy more worms. Around 7pm, we drove to a small stream off a country highway.
That evening, I fell in love with night fishing. I was more relaxed and took in the beauty of watching the orange streaked sunset transition to the purple haze of twilight before the moon and stars blanketed the night sky. My boyfriend caught one small trout on his first try. This time, we only brought one fishing pole and decided to take turns, switching when the worm was no longer on the hook. No fish were biting, but we enjoyed the much less stressful night of fishing together.
It was quite the weekend full of highs and lows. But we made it through and I wound up with a love for fishing. I couldn’t wait to get out again! Learning anything new can be hard, especially in the dark. I think having a sense of humor about it all helped us get through the stressful parts. It’s likely why we didn’t entirely give up on the endeavor. And I’m glad we didn’t because now I’m looking forward to many more fishing stories to come!