Here is another short story which may present itself in the upcoming collection Worked Stiff: Short Stories to Tell Your Boss. This is written in the style of Patrick F. McManus, an outdoor adventure short story genius. For those of you who know how important fishing is for children, prepare to be entertained. For those who don’t, prepare to be educated. Happy Reading! As always, feedback is appreciated.
The Canoe Cart
Years ago, my father took me out to this pond in the middle of nowhere. It seemed like we were just wondering around for I don’t know how long but Dad knew the way. My pre-pubescent legs marched along to the purposeful soldier step, now my step. This memory has faded over time, but the tall grass combating my top-striped socks and those last school year’s sneaks are still vivid. Dad urged me to pack light, one pole each and just a few lures chosen with care: two Mepp’s spinners- golden #2, a Heddon Torpedo-frog colored, and maybe a plastic worm rig. All clipped tight in a small Plano box under my arm.
I remember feeling a tad disappointed with my budding fishing career before that day on account of getting skunked. I don’t like losing, still don’t, and I thought maybe if I had one good day it would change my own personal tide with the Fishing Gods as we headed into summer.
When Dad and I got to the pond, I surveyed the scene: stumps poking out here and there, seaweed, algae, and lily pads-everything an eleven-year-old boy needed to feel lucky. This body of water was peaceful too, secluded and small. The edges sealed off from the world by pine and birch. If you were careful enough, you could walk around the whole thing in thirty or so minutes. The pond gave out the notion that it had itself convinced a good beaver to dam-creating an ecosystem just for us, just for that day.
I caught a fish on my first cast, then one after the other. The seven to thirteen-inch largemouth bass were so hungry for whatever I would throw, hungry to get bigger. For being so small, they all fought hard. I cackled and hooted at my many victories over nature as I reeled in each one, giving them a sloppy kiss before throwing them back, as was our custom.
This was more than twenty years ago and many fishing trips have come and gone since then. The memory of this trip is more of a happy sentiment of my re-found luck and the embedded archive, one of many time stamped adventures with my father.
My parents went looking for that old pond recently but it had been on state land and hard to find in the first place. When they figured they found it, Mom and Dad discovered that the dam had washed out but there was still a smaller pond. They were only doing some curiosity hiking, they hadn’t brought their fishing poles or anything. That’s when my father started to make big plans.
There were still unimproved trails leading to the pond with the same tall grass I had brushed through as a kid. Dad wanted to get a canoe in there but you could only drive the truck so far. That’s where the beauty of the internet came into play.
I have a family of my own so don’t live at home anymore, but I imagine my father pining over an eBay auction for a new masterful device-a canoe carrier. Turns out, they make them just for this occasion I’m telling you about, of course, they do. The darn thing wasn’t anything but two wheels, a rack, and a strap. Dad searched all around for this and when he finally won the auction, I bet he slept really well that night. I can just see him dreaming about the genius of modern man and big fish.
For this adventure, all Dad needed was a sturdy canoe and a good woman, he had both. The canoe was a 1985 vintage with my name barely recognizable in spray-paint on the bottom. This vessel had seen years of river, lake, pond, and reservoir fishing. Pontoons installed and de-installed over and over, and about five different pickup trucks.
The next weekend they had free had been torn up by rain all the days prior. The make-shift trails looked completely different to the wandering couple after the storms. My parents fumbled all around, getting muddy, sometimes making birth with the canoe in big mud puddles. They would go down a trail, realize it was wrong and double back to the last intersection. It all seemed hopeless, but still, they tried. After a while, they had no idea where they were. The outing became wet, muddy, cumbersome, and somehow comical-truly a disaster.
Mom tried her best to be a good sport during this misadventure by taking a point until she came across what I would call a M.O.A.M.P., or “Mother of all Mud Puddles”. This was the type me and my friends used to dare each other to ride through for sport. The body of water was just that, a pond itself, covering the entire trail and expanding at least five feet on each side. Beyond it happened to be the way Dad was completely sure the pond of mystery laid. Dad stumbled along the side, letting the canoe cart sail, roll, and drag through the almost three feet puddle.
Turns out he was right, and the dynamic duo finally found the pond once again. Dad tore the cart off, then they launched the canoe and quietly paddled around a bit. The scene was set for the fun and future fish stories to begin.
Only this didn’t turn out to be your usual fish story since there were absolutely no fish. No sign of fish, no frogs, no pollywogs, no minnows, no crawdads. The only thing in that pond besides the soggy couple in the vintage canoe was a mean hissing beaver. Sometimes ponds go dead-pollution, acid rain, ruined oxygen level, who knows.
Perhaps in another five to ten years, another young father will stumble across that strange body of water and its ever-changing shores. Maybe they will get the score of a lifetime, forever embedding the will of the Fish Gods into yet another small, eager soul.
My parents thought about telling everyone at work what a great place it was and regale the account of how big and plentiful the fishing had been that day. All their attentive audience would need was a canoe and a difficult to find canoe cart. Dad could tell them just where to get a canoe cart too, slightly used.