“We catched fish, and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn’t ever feel like talking loud, and it warn’t often that we laughed, only a kind of low chuckle. We had mighty good weather, as a general thing, and nothing ever happened to us at all, that night, nor the next, nor the next.”
– Mark Twain, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”
At some point during three days of fishing in the Missouri Ozarks, along the foggy banks of Lake Taneycomo, I learned that fishing isn’t really about fishing at all.
It isn’t about tying, or baiting, or casting, or reeling. Or snagging, or untangling, or cutting, or cursing.
It is about waiting, alone or with others, and being still.
Before this getaway, a reunion for the men in my husband’s family, I had never fished more than a couple of hours at a time. I had never tied a swivel or baited a hook. I had fished alongside kids during Cub Scout camps and field trips to Camp Wood, and a couple of times off piers and boat docks in the Carolinas, but it was just to humor friends or family.
It failed to hold my attention – I have an undiagnosed but undeniable deficit disorder – so I cast off fishing poles and crab pots like so many boring books and knitting needles.
This time there was not much else to do, so I sat there and fished. So did my husband, daughter and son.
Lake Taneycomo seems more like a river, raging at times with the cold, clear water released from Table Rock Dam. We watched otters frolic along the rocky banks, and we marveled at the dense fog that would settle each evening where the 48-degree water met late July’s sticky air.
We stared at the moon.
We took pictures with our phones.
We chatted quietly about school and work, about car problems and comfortable shoes.
We watched our lines, waiting for action.
And we fished.
For three whole days, nothing happened. We didn’t catch a single thing, although Uncle Brad reeled in quite a rainbow – 2 feet long if he was an inch! – before the thing flipped and rolled on the water’s surface and swam away. We all gasped, then shrugged. What else can you do?
My children learned to bait and cast. But more importantly, they learned the pleasure of stillness. We spoke in whispers not because talking wasn’t allowed, but because it felt improper. Our mood was reverent, hushed, serene.
I finally understand why people fish. There aren’t many places left where families can sit, no screens in sight, and enjoy one another’s quiet company. It’s family dinner without the bother of making a meal, just a cooler full of sandwiches, some bottled water and a bag of trail mix to pass around.
“Nothing ever happened to us at all,” Twain wrote, “that night, nor the next, nor the next.”
And it was perfect.