Here is the promised post about catching a catfish.
My favorite kind of early morning for fishing lacks even the hint of a breeze. The lake's surface is smooth and black, broken only by reflections of the moon and stars. The halo of my headlamp attracts swarms of tiny insects that threaten to fly up my nose and under my glasses, into my eyes. I wave them away and bait my hook quickly, so that I can turn off the light as soon as possible. Giving my eyes a few seconds to adjust to the darkness, I cast out to one of the good spots that I know by heart. The splash of my bait and bobber makes ripples that widen until they come all the way back to me. I settle into my chair to watch and wait. Sometimes the excitement starts right away, sometimes it never comes at all.
There is much to see and hear, while waiting for catfish to bite. Clouds drift across the face of the moon. Fish jump. Muskrats make silver V's as they swim. Ducks and herons squawk and splash, disturbed by unseen intruders. Owls hoot, coyotes howl, raccoons and opossums lurk in the rustling foliage. The voices of other early-rising anglers carry across the still water, making them sound eerily close. I watch for the tiny light of my bobber to twitch and bounce in the darkness.
When the moment finally comes I feel a jolt of adrenaline. I wait for the fish to drag the bobber across the surface or pull it under water. I gently lift my pole and check for the resistance that indicates a hooked catfish. If the muscular struggle of a fish is telegraphed through the taut line and up into my hands, my knees shake, and I begin reeling. Every fight with a good fish seems epic. My pole bends to the fish's strength, as I crank the reel handle with all my might. Sometimes, the line breaks, and I am left with nothing but slack.
Other times, I reel and reel and am rewarded by a large, thrashing creature right at the edge of the dock. Carefully, I slip my net under the fish and pull it out of the water, still hooked. Frequently, the fish has brought a large clump of weeds with it, which I have to clear away to get a good look at what I have caught. Most fish thrash about on the dock, thumping against the boards with their strong tails until I unhook them. I try not to hurt them and rarely sentence them to death in the ice-filled cooler. Usually, I grip the fish's lower jaw between my finger and thumb, to lift and release it. Catfish don't really have "teeth" but they have rough, spiky protrusions in their mouths. In their efforts to escape, they often take a a bit of my skin with them. I wipe my wet, bloody hands on my pants, re-bait my hook, cast out again, and wait for the next battle.
Can you understand why I cherish my sore, scabby, masticated thumb, when you think of me sitting down in my cubicle on Monday morning, after a weekend of fishing?