They say that some people wear their heart on their sleeve. Those same people would never say that some other people wear their soul on their sleeve. They couldn’t. Souls are too deep to ever drape over your sleeve. They’re not easy to show, and that’s because they reside much deeper inside of us than our anxious little heart does. It’s this depth that lets some of us hide our souls from others, always keeping it tucked inside even while we display our heart for anyone who dares look towards our forearms. It’s because souls are so deep that I was surprised one evening a few months ago when I found a way to catch mine.
Or, hook. That would be the better description of what had happened. To catch something generally means to have done so on purpose. If I catch a football that’s because someone threw it in my direction and I located it in the air with my eyes before reaching out to grab it with my hands. If I catch a kitten that fell out of a tree, then that’s sort of the same as when I caught that football. I saw, I anticipated, I grabbed. That’s why I didn’t so much catch my soul the other day, I hooked it.
The hooking started in the way that most of my hookings have started. Me, a boat, some water around me, and a fishing pole in my hand. It was a beautiful night, that night. It was calm and warm, but not so warm in the way that some summer nights from last summer were. It was warm, the winds I barely considered winds, and the water a deep blue. It was the sort of night that makes me wonder why anyone would ever want to spend it anywhere else. I chugged over to the East end of the lake that night, as far East as anyone can boat without hitting shore. I had to pick up a friend, my fishing companion for the evening, and as I had driven that great distance to the other end of this lake I decided that we’d fish there first. So we did.
The fish cooperated, and perhaps two or three northern pike swam into our lures and then swam towards the boat and then offered up their hooked faces for me to fix before swimming back towards the deeper water where they came from. It was a fun time. Sailboats lowered their sails and motored towards their buoys, passing us without saying much, and another summer night appeared to be fading away without the slightest hitch.
I don’t know the East end of the lake all that well, in terms of reading weedlines and breaklines, and those sorts of underwater features that one cannot be expected to know casually. When we crossed Geneva Bay, it seemed like the thing to do. And when we arrived at the North Shore somewhere around Forest Rest, it seemed reasonable to troll West, towards where the sun had just set. We weren’t fishing with much conviction, as I rarely fish with anything resembling patience, or endurance, which is probably why I’m not really all that great of a fisherman. But more on that soon.
The way I fish on a summer night isn’t the way I used to fish on summer nights. I was brought up fishing with night crawlers. Lots and lots of night crawlers. We didn’t use leeches like some other fisherman did, mainly because they are horrible creatures and no one in my family- not my grandfather, or uncle, and certainly not my own father, were up to the challenge of acting like holding a leech while hooking it isn’t the creepiest thing imaginable. This worm fishing is not how I fish now. I fish now mostly with a floating yellow line and a very small fly, but when I’m in Geneva and I’m fishing there are usually two rods stuck into the gunwales with large crankbaits dangling from the tips, twisting in the wind until deployed.
I like trolling this way. I think it lulls me into thinking that I’m aboard Pilar, with my thick braided lines dragging through the great blue river, splashing a cut pinfish along the surface or skittering just above and below it, working to tempt a gullible sailfish into striking. The fish that summer night hit the way any northern pike will hit a trolled plug in a freshwater lake. He hit hard, bending the rod and stripping the line. Fish on! It sounds exciting, and for a brief moment it is. The fish pulling for line, the fisherman cranking some of it back onto the spool. The shame of it is that northern pike are big on initial introduction but very boring, very clumsy dance partners.
My friend grabbed the rod when it bent and set about cranking in the medium sized fish. It was a normal fight, following the normal pattern. Big hit, initial fun, followed by a boring retrieve where the pike twirls through the water en route to its date with its captor. When the fish was near the side of the boat, I did as I have done hundreds of times before. I grabbed the pliers from the dash and reached over the side of the boat to unhook the fish without even handling it. There’s little reason to hold a northern pike, unless it’s so large that it will make it to a bare office wall. This pike, falling somewhere on the light end of 2 feet, was destined for no great fame. Just a quick release and memory forgotten even quicker.
Somewhere between the typical motion of reaching out with my pliers and securing the hook end of the lure this fish decided that it was not done. It was not going to go without a fight, even if it would have been easy to mistake for an enemy that gave up shortly after the hooks from that wooden perch pulled tight in its craw. In a blink the fish launched upward, careening against the side of the boat. My outstretched hand had dropped the pliers into the lake and the hooks that were once secured only in the fish’s mouth now featured the back treble hooks still where they were- in the fish’s mouth, and just one of the front set of trebles buried deep inside the last joint of my index finger. I had a hook in me and the others in a very angry, surprisingly strong, fish. The hook in me wasn’t just in my skin, it had traveled through my skin and past some blood and deep into the tissue that wraps around bone before ending up lodged, pointy side down, into what felt like the deepest recess of my soul.
I grabbed the fish quickly, hugging it tightly. Hugging it to make it stop shaking, as with every shake of its head the hook pulled deeper into the front side of that finger. I hugged the fish and sat down, my friend excited for all sorts of wrong reasons. The hooks that were in the fish were in the corner of its mouth, the spot where every fisherman knows is the spot that might be the toughest spot to remove a hook from. My friend tugged at the hook to free the fish. The hooks didn’t give. We needed pliers. Pliers! The pliers that I had dropped when the fish made its move. I sat. My friend exclaimed. The fish squirmed.
After some tugging, the fish was free, and I dropped it into the lake. I felt badly for hugging it so tightly. I worried that I had killed it, and I worry now about that too. I didn’t mean to, but if I did it was a fish for my soul, which seems like a fair trade to me. The fish released, I cut the line with my teeth and my friend made gestures that proved he thought he could just tear the hook from my finger. Barbs forbid that, so I grabbed the steering wheel with my uninjured hand and drove West, back to the pier, back where I might walk up the lawn and drive away with my new perch themed jewelry. The hospital would know how to fix me up. They always do.