I grew up out in the barefoot country of
south Louisiana, just outside of Baton Rouge.
I was surrounded by fertile fishing waters
that were easily accessible in any direction
I peddled my trusty Schwinn bicycle. Naturally,
fishing was in my Cajun heritage blood, but I
experienced the joy of fly fishing from my
great-uncle Dee one wonderful summer when I
was about 10 years old.
He and Aunt Myrtle lived in the "big house"
about 300 yards away from the back porch of
our little 3-room shotgun house. It was down
a hard-pack footpath through the woods and
around the north side of the goat pasture.
They had huge gardens, pastures, tractors,
barns, animals, ponds and all sorts of country
accoutrements for boys to enjoy. But better
than that, they also had a small 3-room
riverfront fishing cabin with a screened porch
and noisy tin roof on the Chinquapin River.
Though it was only about an hour away, it
seemed like a whole 'nother country when we'd
load up the pickup and head to the camp for a
few days. It had a small wooden dock for swimming,
woods for exploring, and mosquitoes the size of
small helicopters. But for me that summer in the
early '60s, their camp was my "summer vacation
home" and Uncle Dee was my fishing buddy. No shirt.
No shoes. No school. Perfect.
Every afternoon, Uncle Dee and I would take
his small handmade pirogue and cranky 6 hp.
Wizard out to fish. We'd drift along in the
shadows of giant cypress, willow and white
oak trees, all resplendent in their flowing
veils of Spanish moss. In my mind, we were
the men of the camp, out to fetch supper
for the women and children awaiting our
triumphant return. We were fisher men.
Of course, at the time I didn't realize that
my "special" job on our daily mission was to
be the "best dang paddler" Uncle Dee ever had.
I was the trolling motor. I was charged with
keeping the pirogue parallel and just the right
distance from the bank while he fished, but that
was just fine with me. His success was my success,
and on the river, all men are created equal.
I was constantly impressed how he could maneuver
a broomstick-sized popper underneath the
low-hanging cypress limbs, roll it behind the
trunk of the tree and land it perfectly between
the gnarly knees. With a quick twitch, he'd make
it pop like a cork gun, and more often than not,
somehow entice a bass out of the tannic-stained
He taught me the basics of fly fishing with a
cheap $6 heavy fiberglass rod that my dad bought
me at the local sporting goods store. I used that
rod for probably 30 years, never realizing that
it was not much better than using one of the
lacquered cane poles that used to hang in bulk
on the walls outside every bait shop in Louisiana.
I remember how heavy and sore my arms would get
after a day of fishing with it, swearing that
it actually weighed more at the end of the day
than it did in the morning.
I'd always catch fish with Uncle Dee during that
first summer he taught me to fly fish. But I was
so enamored at his finesse with a fly rod that
it was often more fun just to sit and watch him.
He was cheap entertainment. It was like he had
x-ray vision and could actually see the fish
beneath the tea-colored water. We'd paddle up
to a likely looking spot and he'd say something
like, "Now watch out, Norman! There's a little
beauty in there just waiting for me. I can just
see her now! Just watch...watch...watch." He'd
make a couple of false casts and, like always,
land his white pearlized popper right in the
saucer-sized spot where he pointed. Then he'd
start chattering like a baseball catcher to the
invisible fish where his fly had just landed,
"Ok, Cher...come on now, you know you want to
go home with me, c'mon...cooooome on...I know
you're in there!" And sure enough, it was like
he could talk them into biting, and one would
always seem to take him up on his offer. He'd
let out a Cajun whoop and I'd always notice his
gold tooth through his broad grin. After a moments
fight and peaceful surrender, he'd welcome the
fish into the boat like a long lost friend. We'd
laugh and make jokes about how gullible fish
could be and how we "outsmarted 'nother one."
It was pure delight in the awesome theatre of
the great outdoors.
Uncle Dee's been gone for over 30 years now.
But besides his expertise with a fly rod, the
thing that impressed me most about him was a
small thing he'd always do before we'd fire up
the cantankerous old Wizard outboard and head
back to camp. We'd open up the rusty
green-and-white metal Igloo ice chest and
rummage through the day's catch. He'd find
the largest fish in the chest and hand it
to me. We'd admire it for a moment, and then
he'd give me his winsome wink, a nod and a
perfect false-toothy smile. Without saying
a word, I knew what this wonderful gesture
meant. It meant that when we got back to camp,
with Aunt Myrtle waiting for us on the pier,
I could reach in the Igloo, lift up this fish
in trophy fashion and, with all the poker face
I could muster, tell Aunt Myrtle that I caught
it. A bald-faced lie! I was going to go against
everything I was ever taught in Sunday School
and go straight to hell with no stops in between!
Well, maybe I didn't actually hook the fish...
but it was certainly my paddling that put the
boat in the perfect position. And I helped him
land it...and put it in the Igloo...and...and.
And in the 15 minutes it took us to motor back
to camp, I'd justified the conclusion that I was
just as responsible for catching that fish as
Uncle Dee was. It was a team effort! And I put
on my poker face.
And with that obvious lie, of course, Aunt
Myrtle would play her convincing part as the
camp patsy and always say something to me like,
"Well, looks like you out-fished him again!"
I'd smile and swell with pride and cast a
secretive glance at Uncle Dee. He'd smile
back and he'd give me that knowing wink again
as if to say, "Good job, we pulled another one
over on her again." And this 10-year old chose
to believe that it was for true.
Later that night, alone on my cot with only
my conscience for company, I'd always say my
prayers and ask God to forgive me for telling
a lie. But somehow it just didn't feel like a
REAL lie. It was more of a practical joke on
Aunt Myrtle that we just never revealed. Yeah,
that's it! It wasn't a malicious lie. I meant
no harm or disrespect. We were just fooling
her, and that was different than a lie. My
conscience soothed, I'd fall asleep, convinced
that God surely understood and wouldn't hold
it against me. At least I hoped He wouldn't,
because I knew I couldn't wait to get up and
do it all over again tomorrow. ~ Norm