Gone Fishing

The pair of teenagers gave the boat a shove and hopped in at the last minute, wanting to be sure that they didn’t get their feet wet. One of them had new Chuck Taylors and he didn’t want his mother to say anything.

“It’s not so much the heat as it is the humidity,” said Dennis, as he wiped his boyish face.

“That’s a good one, never heard that before,” said the other boy.

“It’s kind of an old one,” said Dennis, “but I like it.”

The story was that Dennis Flatt could call out a thousand different little sayings, and that he had at least three or four things that he could say on any occasion. Later on in life he would be the first person to ever say It is what it is, so everyone was always impressed, wondering what would become of this teenaged prodigy.

But on this particular day it was about the fishing. Dennis was something of a sportsman, which is to say that he didn’t always do things the legal way, but that he would never break the law if there was no chance of getting caught. Dennis had an honor code, that he would never fish illegally unless he knew that the game warden was in the county and had a chance at catching him.

“There is something to be said for nightcrawlers,” he told the other boy, “but you would never catch me with one of them jelly worms or a spinner that looks like a disco ball cutting through the green water. For my kind of fishing we’re gonna need to paddle out to the middle of the lake.”

“I didn’t know I was gonna be paddling. You said you had a boat with a motor.”

“Oh, I’ve got a nice Johnson one point five, but it’s in the shop, has a wasp nest or something, who knows.”

As they eased across the lake, Dennis opened up a duffel bag and started sorting and assembling, while the other boy just kept on paddling and sweating.

“Hey, we left our rods in the car,” said the boy.

“That’s fine, we won’t need ‘em out here. Let me tell you something John Pepper.”

(He always called friends by their entire name, which only reinforced his intelligence and his standing as eleventh in his class. He would have been top ten if it hadn’t been for that time it snowed so much and he wrecked his sled on that steep hill.)

“John Pepper, I know a man who has a contraption that looks like a television antenna, and he lowers it over the side of his john boat and then he clips that on to a couple of car batteries and the electricity shocks the fish and they can’t swim, so they have to float to the top before they drown. Fish need air, people don’t know that. So when they float to the top he scoops ‘em up and carries ‘em home. But that’s dangerous, only a fool would fish that away.”

“So what do you do, then?” asked John.

“I use dynamite.”

“Is that any safer?”

“It can be. Mine’s homemade, so I know how to handle it, and I can make it safer. I come from a long line of dynamite fishermen, so I would kind of know just by nature. They called my grandaddy TNT as a nickname, if that tells you anything.”

By that time they had got to the middle of the lake or rock quarry or whatever it was. You know the place just under the hill, right there at Whitleyville, but before you get to Kemp’s store.

Dennis pulled out a stick of his homemade dynamite, and John said he thought it should be red, not green.

“A common misconception,” said Dennis. “This is actually just part of an old hose pipe that my daddy let me cut up, and I’ve got it packed pretty good with black powder and some other secret ingredients that I cannot divulge at this time.”

“I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

“To quote Shakespeare,” said Dennis, “the middle of the lake ain’t the place to decide whether you can swim.”

“If you say so,” said John Pepper, wondering whether Miss Kelly was missing him in fourth period algebra.

“So I’m gonna strike the primer with this frizzen and it’s gonna light the fuse and you’re just gonna throw it as far as you can from us. Can you do that John Pepper, can you throw it far?”

“You know I play outfield and I can get it to the catcher in just one or two hops, but this seems kind of, I dunno, not smart.”

“I’m third generation at this, and I promise it ain’t gonna be nothing. When I light it, though, you have to throw it fast and far while I paddle. Can you do it?”

“I can do it.”

Dennis struck down upon the homemade dynamite, once, twice, three times. He didn’t cuss, because he never cussed, but the look on his face said it all.

John started to be redundant and say something again about he wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but then with one more strike the fuse was lit.

Dennis handed the sizzling dynamite to John, then picked up the paddles and gave it what for. Then he saw the panic, the indecision, the ignorance of a boy who wasn’t third generation.

“Dang it, John. Are you just gonna sit there and let that thing burn, or are you gonna fish?”


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