Appetite

Friday, I took my two sons fishing on the banks of the the White River in Indianapolis. Although signs caution against eating the fish, and although the banks are littered with bits of refuse from the nearby sewer gates, the tail waters of the 16th street, Emricksville’s dam are a very popular place to fish. On this warm spring evening, we joined by six people at the east foot of the dam. Nearly an equal number had lines in the water off the west bank. Due to the crowd, were were a bit downstream of the best fishing, the place where the water turns back against the current and gives the fish a deep hole, an easy swim, and plenty of churned up food.

The boys were, more or less, constantly hung up on the bottom. One exclaimed “A bass!” and set the hook well into the snag. The other fared better, but wound in his bait far too quickly. Retrieving more than fishing. All-in-all, we did manage to catch a dull looking bluegill (hand-sized) and two smallmouths (fingerlings). The first fish of 2010.

I started fishing in farm ponds in my sixth or seventh year of life. I feared cattle, horses (sometimes), stray dogs, and (mostly) the neighbors. My mother feared that I would drown. Although I have had fishing buddies, and although fishing with the kids beats trying to hold a conversation, I still prefer it as a mostly solitary activity, banks and wading. Light gear, big fish, tiny fish, good weather, bad weather, fishing.

Large fish can be a challenge and a thrill (they’re usually “smarter”, after all, they’ve been around long enough to get fat), but tiny fish are jewels. The fingerlings we caught were streamlined to a size slightly larger than their gaping mouths. They were little more than shiny appetites with a slime coat. All three fish were caught with minimal tackle, just a hook and a wiggler on four pound test. We tossed the bait five meters out and let the current wash the offering downstream. A catch was marked by a pause and a strike by the tiniest tick on the line. The boys wanted to hold each fish, but I only let them touch with a single finger tip. There’s only so much handling a tiny fish can take. Released, I hope the fish are finding plenty to eat or are becoming plenty to eat for some other creature.

As for us, we went to a local Chinese restaurant. After trying to scrub the river sewage off our hands, we took advantage of the buffet. I ate some, but mostly watched as my new teenagers each shoveled in four heaping plates of noodles, egg rolls, and fried won-tons. They topped off this deathly mix of greasy, simple carbohydrates with a heaping bowls of soft-serve ice cream. Full, they had very little to say during the drive home. At this age, they are still, very much appetites. For much of our lives, it seems, we are more appetite than a self. Or do we ever cross over? My sons are what they eat; I am what I have eaten?

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