Dangerspouse Rides Again

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Garage - Track

Feb. 16, 2006 - 9:49 a.m.


You are reading the diary of perhaps the world's worst fisherman.

No, seriously. No one you know, not even that Down's Syndrome kid with the Fisher-Price pole dunked in his empty wading pool, is as bad a fisherman as me.

I even have trouble buying fish. Whichever species I point out to the fishmonger, by the time he reaches for it it's gone. Dove down deep under the shaved ice. Gone.

In fact I don't think I've EVER caught a fish, and I've been trying since I was a little kid. From the time I was 4 my dad would tote me along to his motorcycle races, many of which had nearby streams or ponds. After the race he would drop a spool of twine into those waters with a hook and unlucky worm on the end. Invariably there would be a tug on the line within seconds, and after a half hour or so we'd be back at our camper frying up cornmeal coated sunnies, blue gill or perch in our ancient cast iron pan over an open fire.

Every time he handed me the line to try, it pulled up empty. Even the worm was gone.

Nothing has changed in the decades since.

The funny thing is, despite having a batting average of exactly 0.00, I absolutely LOVE to fish. I've got the fancy wound glass/carbon fiber/kevlar pole, a bright yellow multi-tiered deluxe tackle box holding a selection of different hooks, spinners, spoons, lead shot, attractant sprays ("fish find them irresistable!") and my overwhelming favorite: a collection of Rapala lures. (Aren't they the cutest? They look and - I assume, never having seen one - swim just like the real things!)

I can tie all the fancy knots so that when a fish DOES strike, my lure won't be yanked off the leader. I know which fish seek the shaded shallows during hot weather, and which dive to the cooler depths. I own olive green neck-high waders so I can wander out mid-stream to the faster currents where my line would be swept away if I cast from shore. I can drop a Royd 6 gram holographic spinner attached to 8 pound test line onto the back of a painter turtle sitting on a rock 30 yards away, cast after cast after cast.

But I never catch anything.

And I couldn't be happier.

See, I hate the thought of dragging some poor creature along by its lip.

I know, I know. It's just a stupid fish. They don't have pain sensing nerves. They have 8 second memory spans. (I keep imagining a hooked fish thinking, "Oh my god, I'm being dragged upstream by my lip!...Oh my god, I'm being dragged upstream by my lip!...Oh my god, I'm being dragged upstream by my lip!...Oh my god, I'm being dragged upstream by my lip!..." every 8 seconds until the filet knife silences him.) They eat bugs. They poop in their bedroom.

But I cringe at the prospect anyway, even if I let it go afterwards. Considering how little practice I have removing hooks, "Catch and Release" would more likely be "Kill and Release".

Regardless, I've become the consumate Fishing Geek. I have the latest penis-swelling high tech gadgets, I read all the books, and I drink the requisite amount of beer. I love, love, love that part of it. And every Spring I go down to Town Hall to purchase my fishing license, happily plunking down the extra bucks for a Trout Stamp while I'm at it.

Then I sit on the bank of the Rockaway River or Wawayanda Lake and hope like hell that no fish is stupid enough to be fooled by a sparkly bit of metal with some neon green plastic feathers waving around.

So far, none have disappointed me. I get to relax, throw my replica bait fish out to an imaginary target, and laugh as it "swims" back to me while I reel. Over...and over...and over...again. It never gets old.


Interestingly, as bad a fresh water fisherman as I am, I actually have had a modicum of sucess with catching ocean prey. New Jersey, a coastal state, has a thriving saltwater sport-fishing contingent. On any given day from April through October you can drive down to the shore and hop on a party boat for around 30 bucks, or charter one for a couple hundred.

Because of financial considerations I usually opt for the party boat, where for your money you are provided a pole, all the bait you can use, and a spot along the rail among 50 or 60 other "sportsmen". (I actually don't consider fishing - or hunting for that matter - a "sport". To quote somebody or other, "It's not a sport if your opponent doesn't realise he's playing".)

The most popular party boat quarry is Flounder and Bluefish, both of which are almost impossible not to catch. Flounder are the Hoover vacuum cleaners of the sea, gliding along the bottom, sucking up sand and nutrients as they go. When they accidentally glide over your hook...snap! You reel in a fish flavored hubcap. And Bluefish are the cartoon Tasmanian Devils of the finny set. They rush along in frothing packs with their mouths open, snapping at anything that doesn't look like water. You just keep your boat slightly ahead of the roiling school and toss empty hooks off the back. Almost instantly you are clubbing an angry, snapping Blue into submission on the deck.

(Notice that I am not wracked with guilt over lip-pulling when it comes to salt water fish. That's because I regard them as "food", not "cute". A subtle but important distinction.)

A couple of Summers ago I also went shark fishing. A few buddies and I each chipped in a hundred bucks to charter a boat and set sail out of Atlantic Highlands early one Sunday morning. On board were us five, the Captain, First Mate, and a sawed off shotgun. It took about 2 hours under full steam to reach the shark grounds, after which we took turns manning the chum bucket, and grabbing our pole if it showed a strike.

Each of my buddies had bagged a Grey shark before my own pole snapped over, the tip almost bowing below the surface of the sea. I thought I'd hooked a Peterbilt semi. I'm not kidding, I thought I was gonna be catapulted over the rail and into the briny filth (this still being technically New Jersey waters). Whatever was on the other end of my line was pulling out 7-million pound test so fast that the First Mate was spraying WD-40 on the reel to keep it from bursting into flames.

That fish dove to within probably 20 feet of the Earth's molten core, then shot back up towards the beam of our boat at full throttle. My forearm cramped as I tried to reel the slack in before impact, but he veered under and headed out ahead of us at Mach-3 instead. The Captain careened around to keep my line from crossing over the bow, and at that point the First Mate bellowed for me to sit and strap into the chair so I really wouldn't get yanked overboard.

From then until the shark finally exhausted himself and was pulled alongside - so the First Mate could lean over and blast his primordial brain out with the shotgun - was just over 45 minutes. My arms felt like two strands of over-done ziti. When we hauled it on deck I could see why it fought so much harder than my friends' quarry. I had bagged a Mako, a much more fierce competitor than the relatively docile Greys.

That sucker was only just over 7 feet long, small for a Mako, but was able to somehow generate the energy of a medium sized thermonuclear power station.

Had I hooked a mature adult, I would have needed the strength of a wild Panda Bear if I were to have any chance at all. (By the way, who the hell Photoshops things like that, anyway?)

Here's a couple of pics from that trip. This first one shows me sobbing from the effort of holding onto the pole. To my left is the buff, shirtless First Mate turning from my shame, and the shotgun on the cooler that he's gonna use on me if I break the line:



And here's the monster that, despite years of boxing and wrist-strengthening porn, made me feel like I had the arms of the fat Olsen twin. Each of those coolers is 3 feet wide:



One more. After the First Mate gutted and cut into steaks all of the sharks, he also cut out their jaws and we each got the one we caught. Here's mine after I cleaned it, just before being a complete Guido and making a necklace pendant from one of the teeth.

It did not help me get laid for some reason:



That ends the Rambling Side Story, other than to note that there were enough Mako steaks to last me for three weeks - grilled, sauteed, steamed and broiled - and was still the best tasting seafood I've ever had.

Back to the MAIN rambling story....

So there's the setup. I love to fish, am a complete geek about gear and all things ichthyological, but I live in fear of ever actually catching anything. Except in the ocean.

Now, this past Wednesday (yesterday,as I write this) I was sitting downstairs in the incipient "Professor Higgens Library" that I wrote about in my previous entry. NewWifey(tm) is in the last days of her enforced hiatus, her head staples due to be removed this coming week. (True to form, she has already proclaimed she won't waste time going to the doctor. She'll be removing all 374,000 staples herself with a pair of needle nose pliers.)

Because she still has terrific bronchial irritation from that fiasco, she is also temporarily confined to the upstairs. Where I am expected to cook for her, adjust her chair, load her dvd's, open her beers, tell her stories, listen to her beer soaked re-tellings of tales I have heard 8 times that day already, and add medicines into her inhaler.

Hence my presence downstairs in the barely framed Professor Higgens Library. It's cold, it's dusty, it's a cacophony of tools and 2x4's... but it is sanctuary. A weathered old armchair slumps in an unused corner, one leg an inch shorter than the others, but it's comfortable and has a bit of open space in front of it. Casey the Wonder Corgi, likewise eager to escape NewWifey(tm)'s demands for canine cuddles, shot down the stairs ahead of me and planted himself at my feet.

With nothing much else to do down there, I decided to practice my casts.

I unpacked one of my rods - a Shakespeare Ugly Stick with a Shimano reel and Fox Predator Bush Baby jig - and set up a few targets on the other side of the room.

Our basement has a pretty low ceiling, so in order to cast you pretty much have to hold your arm low and just use your wrist. Fortunately I am well practiced at that particular motion.

The first target I aimed for was an empty plastic bucket about 12 feet away, two feet up on a step stool.

I pulled the little bar back on the reel, flicked the tip back and forth a few times, then released my finger. The lure snaked out towards the bucket. It wasn't a bad cast for a first attempt. I had the distance right, but it landed just a hair to the left on the floor.

However, almost as soon as I let that spinner fly, a furry brown lightning bolt shot out from underneath my chair.


My little Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the product of several thousand years of breeding to select for herding instinct, was powerless to resist the lure of the lure. His entire focus in life at that moment was to pounce on the evil flying intruder and force it into a corral.

There wasn't much I could do other than look on in horror and hope he would break a leg before reaching the spinner.

He didn't.

Casey covered the last three feet in a single leap, and while he was airborne I jerked the pole back trying to shoot the lure past him the other way. But his stupid herding reactions are so fast that he instantly twisted in mid-flight and clamped his jaws down on that spinner as it zipped by.

For the first time in my life I knew what it felt like to get a strike on a fresh water pole.

Needless to say, the dog was not inclined to be reeled in without a fight. The lure had almost completely disappeared inside Casey's mouth, just a few feathery strands waving madly at the side of his cheek as he thrashed. He was hooked but good.

Obviously - after only the briefest hesitation while I considered taking advantage of the serendipty of finally hooking something with that rod - I flipped the release on the reel so there would be no tension pulling against my dog's face. That should calm him down and I'd be able to walk over and gently remove the hook currently embedded an inch into his sensitive inner cheek lining, right?


The dog, having a dog's brain, reacted to the lessening of tension by bolting. It was an absolute panic-fueled dash around, under, over and through all the piles of wood, scaffolding, tools, fixtures and furniture. The entire time he was spooling out yard after yard of 8 pound nylon test line behind him he was also simultaneously generating a steady stream of 120 dB screaming yelps.

Meanwhile I had leaped from my chair and was attempting to tackle him. No dice. Trying to grab hold of a whirling, bucking, leaping, bleeding, screaming Welsh Corgi is like trying to catch a 30 pound icicle with hands coated in olive oil.

As he ran, Casey's head torqued farther and farther down into his left shoulder while more and more drag was produced from the line being twisted around so many obstacles. This resulted in him not being able to see straight ahead, and he began ramming objects immediately in front of him. And they started toppling.

First the support holding up several sheets of oak panelling was knocked aside, sending the whole pile of 8 x 4 slabs over. With a heavy woooomph! they hit the ground, sending a mushroom cloud of sawdust and insulation straight up to the ceiling. This scared the dog into a headlong rush the other way, where he hit one end of a sawhorse holding a router table and several hand tools. ka-BANG! Down they all went in an expensive jumble. Next: a pile of 2 x 4's that ended up a gigantic game of Pickup Sticks. The line wound around the leg of a lightweight aluminum ladder next, not jerking hard enough to topple it, but just enough to cause the 3/4 full bucket of ceiling stain balanced on the top rung to crash earthward, hitting each step on the way down and spraying jets of CopperOak tone as it went.

Meanwhile I was hopping, leaping, dodging, and frantically sprinting to catch Casey before either he or the basement was completely ripped apart. He was always one...step...ahead though. It became like some crazy Keystone Cops routine where the bad guys throw out sinks, cows, beer barrels, etc., from their Flivver to keep the pursuing officers off kilter.

In the end it was simple physics that ended his destructive spree. The amount of friction generated by so many dragging constrution materials tangled in his line just wore him down and he stopped dead in the middle of the floor, his eyes bugging out and spewing froth with every ragged breath.

As much as I love my dog, and he loves me, he is still an animal. An animal in pain and feeling trapped. I wasn't taking any chances.

I donned a pair of welding gloves and my fencing mask, then advanced on Casey holding a painter's tarp in front of me like a matador. The dog didn't know exactly what I was up to, but I think he sensed that it wasn't gonna be fun. He bared his teeth and struggled against the unyielding nylon webbing.

I pounced, covering his little quivvering sausage body with the ratty tarp. At his next yelp I jammed a piece of scrap wood into his mouth to keep him from biting my finger off at the elbow, then peeled back his cheek to grab the hook.

Er..wait a minute. I spotted TWO hooks in there. On further inspection it turned out that it really was just the one hook, but that barb had pushed all the way around and through his mouth to the other side.

I knew I was out of my league.


I could hear NewWifey(tm) stirring in a room somewhere above me, then the "plock plock plock" of her slippered feet hurrying toward the basement door.

"What's all that racket down there?" she demanded, still out of view at the top of the stairs. "It sounds like you're bowling!"

"Uh, sweety? Could you give me a hand with something?"

She padded down the first two steps and bent to peer under the railing.

What greeted her startled eyes was a scene right out of "The Garden of Earthly Delights". Piles of what had once been carefully sorted and stacked wood lay scattered around in random heaps, all her lovingly oiled and rubbed power tools jumbled among them. Recently purchased pieces of furniture were upended, along with work benches and ladders. The walls, floor and ceiling were spattered with flecks of dog blood and streaks of dark brown wood stain.

And in the middle of it all her husband was straddling a tarp covered, panting and bleeding Welsh Corgi with a shard of wood jammed in his mouth and a cheery green fishing lure waving from the side of his face. On top of it all there was a light mist of pink insulation dust everywhere, giving the scene an even more surreal cast.

I could see NewWifey(tm)'s eyes start to emit steam as she fought to keep control. Her doctor had warned against undue forehead straining, lest she pop a staple or two and risk permanent scarring. (This is also why she's ingesting massive amounts of fiber every day.)

Gradually the neon purple flush in her cheeks dimmed as her eyes took on a far away, unfocused stare. I could tell she was in her Happy Place - single, living in a Tiki bar in a Home Depot - in an attempt to lower her heart rate to less than a hummingbird's.

It worked.

She took a final, shuddering breath and said (relatively) calmly, "What can I help you with, dear?"

"Well, uh, I tripped and knocked over some wood, see, and the dog got scared and ran towards the stairs. But I saw that your circular saw was about to crash down on his head, so I grabbed this tarp and tackled him. I think I may have bumped in to some other things on the way, but I saved his life! Oh - and he's got one of my fishing lures stuck in his cheek. I need help pulling it out."

"And why is there a fishing lure in his cheek?"

"...I don't know."

She stared at me a second, took a few more breaths, then picked her way among the blasted wood and metal debris and kneeled down next to Casey.

NewWifey(tm), unlike me, is a skilled freshwater fisherman. She can cast a line into the elevated parking lots of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan, and before you can even dodge the first panhandler a rainbow trout will have taken her lure. Growing up in the Midwest, it was often fish or starve (so she tells me). She has probably removed more hooks from more fish than I have hairs on my back.

Sure enough, before the dog could even sound a warning growl, NewWifey(tm) shot her hand out, and just like that the hook was free. A few drops of blood squeezed out of the pinpoint holes in his cheeks, but they quickly stopped. I yanked the wood block out of his mouth and stood clear. Casey immediately bolted out from under the tarp and shot up the stairs to freedom. Not even a "Thanks, dad!"

NewWifey(tm), after one withering look around the basement, turned and followed the dog. The only thing she said as she left was, "Would you do me a favor and clean some of this mess up before you come upstairs?"

I knew any smart alec reply would be grounds for an uncontested divorce, so I just nodded dumbly and set to work. I spent the rest of the day sorting piles of wood, stacking piles of wood, cleaning piles of wood, cleaning power tools and setting them on shelves, scrubbing walls, ceilings and floors, and untangling 280 feet of 8-pound test fishing line. I wasn't finished by the time I had to go to bed, so I'll be doing it again today. And maybe tomorrow.

But it was worth it.

I mean...I finally caught something!

I wonder how fresh Corgi steaks on the grill would have tasted? Alas, I'll probably never know....

Ciao, kids. And don't play with that thing. You never know what you might catch.



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