We set out to a friend's pond around 7 pm with two old poles and a bag of stink bait. As a kid, I had fished for cats with a regular hook, bobber, and chicken livers the color of pond scum that hadn't seen the inside of a hen for many moons. With this background, I was totally confused with the fishing rig we assembled: a swivel with two leader lines attached, one to a treble hook, and the other to a series of weights that I can't recall the name of, but probably should have paid more attention to for future reference. I learned to mash my wad of bait around the hook like the world's worst ball of cookie dough and cast into the water in a spot guaranteed to be teeming with whiskered beauties. And then the dead lining training began.
Now, my buddy referred to this type of fishing as hand fishing, but where I live, hand fishing means sticking your unprotected digits into the murky depths, skimming along the bank to find a hole where a fish (or snake/turtle, if you are unlucky) may be tempted to bite on your wee fingers, hauling in a catch in the most manly of ways. I am not a manly fisherperson, so this type of fishing is NOT for me. What I did learn to do is also called dead lining, where you release enough slack in the line to hold it between your fingers, feeling for a bump in the line as a fish hits on (or takes) the bait. You then set the hook by jerking on the line, and then reel the fish in when you've made your catch. Sounds easy enough, but as usual, it takes me a while to get the hang of new things. We won't talk about that first cast that went directly into the weeds, or the number of times I set the hook on imaginary fish only to reel in a hook stripped of my bait.
I couldn't believe how much more I could feel by not using the pole to fish. Not only could I feel every twitch as the bait skimmed the pond floor, but I felt bluegill tapping on my line in the water, as well as nibbles and strikes on the bait itself. My first catch was little more than a fry, probably all of 6" long and barely big enough to take the bait. I did far better with my second fish, a 2.5# female that took the bait all the way to her guts, so we had no choice but to clean her. I had no idea that catfish actually make noise, and as she croaked and flopped on the short walk back to the truck, I focused hard on not getting spined as I squeezed her slimy body, repeating "Do a good job! Do a good job!" with every step. My dad graciously gave me a lesson on cleaning catfish at 10:30 at night, and mom wound up with a nice hunk of meat for the pot, although I hear some people like the tail fin even better than the meat itself. I think I'll pass on eating fried fin chips, but I'm looking forward to my next night fishing experience to test out my new skills. Night fishing 2.0 is on the horizon, and I promise I'll be more prepared next time.