Monday, July 6, 2009

Protein Acquisition Committee, Captain speaking

I used to go fishing with my grandfather when I was a little girl. He and my grandmother lived on a small lake near Mercer until I was 12, when they moved here to Erie next door to my parents. They had a boat and my sister and I would go water skiing, too.

When I imagine my grandfather fishing, I picture him standing on the dock in his dark blue trousers and light blue, short sleeve, button down shirt. He's slowly reeling in his line, and the cigarette hanging from his lips has a long ash trail like an elephant's tiny tusk. My Pappy was not a talkative man, but his stories were legendary in my mind. As we fished, I don't remember much of the conversation, or even if there was much, but I do know he gave me lots of tips, He told me about when to jerk the rod to set the hook, how to keep the tip down when reeling in, how to keep the tension on the line when reeling in the fish, and a hundred other things I've now forgotten. I used fluorescent yellow plastic lures, shaped sort of like a question mark, and caught mainly blue gills. Or, rather, caught mostly nothing, but missed lots of nibbles. (One time the fish actually ripped my plastic lure--Pappy laughed and laughed!)

Learning to cast was the hard part. I spent hours in the yard just off the back porch, next to the garden where my grandmother grew cucumbers with very dark, thick skin and white thorns that looked like grains of salt. Depress the button with your thumb and hold it. Bring the rod back over your shoulder. Flick the rod forward, letting go with your thumb at just the right moment so that the lure flies through the air, playing out the line behind it like a speed-demon spider. Try not to hook the tree or your own ear. Try not to let your thumb slip off too soon and have the lure plunk to the ground prematurely.

My grandfather passed away when I was a freshman in highschool. I haven't been fishing in more than 15 years, but the muscle memory was there for me this weekend, fishing with family at a cabin on one of the NY finger lakes. I was a little rusty at first, but soon caught on when Darling Husband's grandfather sat down on the dock with me to be my fishing coach. Mostly this involved baiting my line with worms (my plastic question marks, bought at WalMart at the same time as my fishing license, drew mostly disdain from the fish--the worms had them practically fighting to bite my hook) and removing the fish from the line. That, and a lyrical, "there you go!" when he could tell the fish took the bait, laughing as I hauled in my three inch bass and sunfish bigger than my hand, alike. The little ones were thrown back with a little wave from me, and the big ones were put into an underwater net. One of the cousins had asked we do a fish fry.

Being on the Protein Acquisition Committee was a big deal for me. I was providing a meal! It's like growing your own tomatoes for sauce, but much faster.

Incidentally, the "Protein Acquisition Committee" actually comes from a scene in a book I read, which can be paraphrased as follows: A group is stuck on a desert island. One man turns to the group and says, "Right. Ned, you look for wood for a fire. Gene, you see if you can find fresh water. Linda, you try to make a shelter for us. Natalie, look for any edible plants." "But what will you do," one of them asks. "Me? I'm the Protein Acquisition Committee." Pause. "You're going to go fishing, aren't you?"

Right off the bat, I caught the biggest fish of the keep. I was very proud. That, combined with the fact that I caught 7 fish with the same worm, earned me the title of captain or queen of the P.A.C.

I was very glad I didn't have to dispatch and fillet said protein. I would have done it, and I even read up on the most humane way (including studying anatomy charts to be sure to hit the fish just right in the brain). But it turns out that Darling Husband's grandfather had brought his filleting equipment and board, and was just as happy to do it. We beer battered the (admittedly tiny) fillets and had them for lunch (with burgers, because there wasn't enough to feed 10 hungry people). They were delicious.

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