You Can Give a Man a Fish…Oh Hell, Just Give Him a Fish!

(Animal rights activist warning: animals were harmed in the making of this post, but not nearly to the degree I was.)

My youngest son is home for the summer, a rising junior at the United States Military Academy.  He took me by surprise recently asking me to take him fishing.  I didn’t think he was big on fishing: he’s probably the son I have taken the least, paralleling my decreasing passion for the sport over the years.  But his request renewed my old enthusiasm, presenting a great opportunity for us to spend time together and deepen our bond.

I haven’t had great fishing success since we move to the Atlanta area from Savannah in 1990.  Lake Lanier has proven to be a mystery to me, mostly like fishing in a bathtub.  So driven by the desire for Matt to have a great fishing experience, I decided we would try the nearest PFA (Public Fishing Area) in Mansfield, Georgia.  It was less than 90 minutes away, and had 20 different ponds managed by the state with a variety of game fish depending on the pond.  I purchased our relatively inexpensive passes on-line, got the tackle and the bait ready to go.  We set out at 5:30 AM for the Marben PFA, hoping to time our arrival with sunrise, which was when it opened.  The weather was overcast, relatively breezy and cool for a Georgia July day, but also with a low chance of rain.  I could smell the catfish frying even before we had our first hook in the water!

We chose Fox Lake, the largest of the Marben PFA ponds, and the little peninsula we set up on looked marvelously fishy, with lots of standing vegetation in the water, veritable fish condominiums.  I soon came to realize to my chagrin one area of fatherly failure:  my 6’7” 260 lb son was squeamish putting a worm on a hook, absolutely refused to put a cricket on a hook (Eeeewww!!! They give me the willies!), and wanted me to take the fish he caught off the hook.  Let’s flashback to the early 1960s: my mother’s parents – strict, booming-voiced Germans – lived on a large lake in central Ohio, and we visited them as a family every 2-3 weeks.  Now Grandma and Grandpa had no tolerance for kid shenanigans: if you didn’t fish off the dock you had to sit inside on a chair, only getting to leave it when it was time to eat dinner or practice goose-step marching.  And the rule was you couldn’t fish unless you baited your own hook and took the fish you caught off the hook.  Not far beyond toddler-dom I got with a program my younger siblings never could.  They would try to fish but get bored quickly, finding sitting with my grandparents watching Archbishop Sheen expound on Life is Worth Living preferable.  I was a weird kid who could sit for hours staring at a bobber waiting for the tell-tale twitching that signaled a perch or a bluegill was ready to strike; Asperger syndrome apparently is good for something after all.  Anyway I failed to impart the stern German fishing ethic in my children.  It was in one of these moments – reaching for a bait to re-rig my son – that things started to go squirrely,

I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt that when I tried it on at Kohl’s I was probably 25 lbs less….muscular.  As I twisted my torso in reaching for a worm, I heard a loud ripping sound.  My shirt had a major tear down one side.  It continued to tear as the day wore on, so that pretty much my entire right side was exposed.   Not the stuff of which great human problems were made; would have been a bigger deal on a job interview or lectoring at Mass.  Thus I soldiered on.

After 10 AM the cloud cover dispersed and the breeze died, and it became quite hot.  Now my whole life is a struggle to stay cool.  I sweat like a frosty mug.  We brought plenty of fluids, but I was sweating them out faster than I could replace them.  Anyway by noon I was a bedraggled, soaked mess – footsore and limping – my hair plastered to my forehead.  We caught about a dozen fish, nothing memorable for five hours of effort, so we decided to call it a trip.  But since we came all that way, I wanted to do a quick survey of the other ponds, just to see what they looked liked if we ever came back.  So we packed up, got in the Soul, and sojourned about the PFA.

Our last stop was a pond named Bennett’s Lake, and at Bennett’s Lake you couldn’t see the water from the parking area.  At the sign that said “Bennett’s Lake” with a pointing arrow, there was a barricaded gravel road that ran to the right, and a bush-hogged path leading upward into the forest.  Calling on my best Lewis and Clark instincts, I led Matt up the forest path.  After walking about 100 yards, our path dead-ended at a bluff, and from there we could see the lake, but also see I’d made the wrong choice: we should have taken the gravel road to access the lake.  But instead of retracing our steps, we had the choice of going down the 30-foot slope to the road; to me it was dauntingly steep, but the intrepid cadet at my side said “I’m not walking all the way back!” and he plunged down the slope, sticking his landing on the gravel road.  I told myself prudence dictates I walk the long way around.  But I decided to keep my man-card, gulped, and followed him down.  The first 10 feet or so I was under control, but the laws of physics took over and I was running down that cliff.  When I hit the gravel road I realized I didn’t have the leg strength to stop, so I instantly resolved to hit the clay embankment on the other side of the road with my shoulder, like an NFL defensive back trying to break up a pass.  Only we tailor this analogy so that the NFL defensive back is Woody Allen in pads hitting Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons.  Just like Tony wouldn’t, that embankment didn’t even vibrate.  As the tweeting parakeets swirled in my vision, I heard Bob Costas in the back of my mind announcing “That’s gotta hurt!” I was on my back stunned and breathless, the whole right side of my body clay-orange.  It took Matt several attempts to get me back on my feet.  It could have been worse, as nothing was broken or even bruised.  But that was a clear signal to get back in the car and just go home.

As we drove I realized how dehydrated I was.  We stopped at the first QuikTrip we encountered on I-20, and I sauntered up to the counter with the largest fountain cup of sugar-free peach iced tea they sold.  Naturally facing dirty, sweating, wardrobe-malfunctioning me from behind the register was an attractive blonde in her early 30s.  She eyed me as she rang up my drink and asked me “Whatcha been doin’?”  “Doing some fishing” was my witty reply.  She eyed me for a few seconds more and smiled wryly “Looks like the fish won.”

So anyone out there who wants me to go with them do something outdoorsy, let’s do something less strenuous than fishing, say like barehanded boar hunting.  Or golfing 9 holes at a par 3, one that has carts.  Thanks.

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One Comment on “You Can Give a Man a Fish…Oh Hell, Just Give Him a Fish!”


  1. Good one! Marlin Perkins can keep his day job!


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