Gil Lackey never sees things the same way as most anglers.
(Editor’s Note: Whenever we are fishing, we all wonder what the fish are thinking. Gil Lackey knows.)
Growing up was no splash in the lake. In fact, Mom and Dad were taken away from my siblings and me not long after I was born. We were placed in a small, stark orphanage with countless other newborns, but I learned to be confident and aggressive in order to stand out. Sheltered from the realities of the outside world, we were safe there. There were lots of other young’uns to play with, and with very little supervision, we were free to pretty much do as we pleased.
When we could finally fin for ourselves, a huge school bus transferred us to a much larger facility out in the country. Our arrival was packed with plenty of fanfare as we got to ride a huge waterslide that dropped us off at our new digs. We met new friends there and were given lots of space to learn and grow.
But it was a little unsettling being thrust into such a vast and diverse environment at a young age. I was now just a small fish in a big pond. I transferred from school to school but never graduated. I felt like a fish out of water. Maybe I would have been more successful if I had applied myself, but I got hooked on fishing and often skipped school to feed my passion.
On one hand, I lived in a multicultural community where black and white lived in perfect harmony. On the other, the schools weren’t always safe. Neighborhood bullies would eat us alive if we showed any weakness. On those occasions, I’d break ranks and seek shelter from the bigger kids.
When I got a little older, my siblings and I felt we were swimming in troubled waters, and it was time to fish or cut bait. We moved out of the sticks and into a more solid structure. Still, the fishing bug fed my soul. It was around the family pond that I learned the ways of the world. As a frivolous adolescent, I was a sucker for every new bait I saw. If it chugged, wiggled, or flashed, I ate it up. I settled on the easiest morsels for a kid my age to handle, mostly tiny worms and any bugs I could find.
Such was the norm until some of my buddies educated me on all the drop-offs, log jams, rock piles, and other aquatic caches. My favorite baits graduated to minnows and any other tiny fish, whatever I could easily catch. My friends and I sometimes trolled from brush pile to brush pile until we found one where the bite was on. Other times, getting deep up under boat docks was the ticket to success. The weather and time of year dictated the pattern, and although success was hit or miss, I usually caught enough to fill my belly.
Sometimes, people took their boats out and dumped Christmas trees and other brush into piles, giving my friends and me new honey-holes to fish. These spots got too crowded on weekends, so I often laid low until everyone left.
When adolescence hit its stride, the fairer sex started monopolizing more of my time. I’ve always believed there are plenty of fish in the sea, so monogamy has never been my strong suit. The ladies always seem to pay more attention to me during the spring spawn, one of the best times of year to go fishing. Women definitely can put a damper on your fishing time, but I guess they’re worth it in the end.
As a young adult, I have just gotten fatter and more sedentary. That’s what happens when you drink like a fish and eat too much seafood. These days, my fishing forays around the family pond occur mostly early and late. The kids aren’t frolicking haphazardly when the sun’s tickling the horizon, and I can fish in solitude. Lately, I’ve gotten into the bigger baits, too. Baby bluegills and small shad are my current fancies. I’ve learned the hard way, however, that frogs are not all they’re croaked up to be.
Just last week, I was cruising by my favorite honey-hole looking for dinner. As I hovered above a stack of Christmas trees, I couldn’t resist giving a lively minnow a shot. As it hopped among the branches, I exploded on it, inhaling it with a massive flare of my gills. The next thing I knew, I got yanked skyward into some unknown universe. An enormous creature with a fish-eating grin kissed me square on my papermouth. As I dropped back toward the water, I thought I heard, “Just a speck too small. Bring your daddy with ya next time.”
Too small? Gimme a break! And I haven’t seen my daddy since I was a young fry!
(Gil Lackey is an outdoor writer, editor and photographer who specializes in fictional humor, bowhunting and fly fishing, but his greatest expertise lies in trail cameras. He is the former president of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and the Tennessee Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org)