Fishing dreams of electric fish

I was pretty bored the other day at work, so I pulled out my iPhone and thumbed my way through the App Store. I ended up downloading a cute little fishing game. I picked a bright, shiny gold spinner as my lure of choice, and flicked my phone to cast it out into the frothing depths of the simulated water.

Nice.

The game quickly flashed red, so I gently jerked my phone up, and started cranking my digital reel. Before long, a blocky largemouth bass showed up on my screen. 5 lb 3 oz, the textbox read.

Awesome. I guess that was cool.

— — —

I still remember when I’d go fishing as a kid. We’d drive for hours through curvy roads in the mountains, and I’d stare into the muddy green water, my brand new purple Snoopy rod in hand. I’d stand on the little worn wooden dock and give my squirming red worm a gentle toss into the depths, my line peacefully floating on the surface. Soon enough, a small, curious bluegill would smell my offering and take a look, and in no time I’d have a wriggling silver fish in my hands, shining in the sunlight.

When I was done fishing, I’d sit on the sprawling roots of giant redwoods towering over the shore, and watch the birds and the turtles go about on their daily rounds, idyllically paddling in the calm water under the clear, blue sky. Sometimes a hiker or two would come by, and I’d get to watch my little own taste of humanity, miles away from the big city. If I was lucky, my parents would take me out on a sparkling green-yellow paddleboat, and I’d pretend to troll for trout, throwing my line for what I thought was a mile behind the boat. Not that I was ever successful, but I definitely came close, or so I thought.

Evening would hit, and we’d have to paddle back to the marina, pack up my one Scooby Doo rod, set free my leftover worms still in the package before it got too dark to see. We’d drive back home, smooth jazz playing over the radio, stop at my favorite Chinese restaurant to eat, and finally head home, ready to sleep. I’d go back to school the next day, still high off the sunshine from the lake, and read and daydream about fishing in far off places.

It’s been years since then. I’ve grown up, and my fishing gear grew up alongside me — my Scooby Doo rod went into storage, I got long fiberglass spinning rods, I bought massive floating lures bigger than my foot: it was my turn to chase those bigger, more wily fish. The trout, the bass, the cats, the salmon — these became my ultimate goal. I learned how to read trout streams and how to tie the perfect fly. I chose more adult things to do, too — I went to college, I met girls, I studied, I worked. I learned how to build a CPU and how to solve Fourier Transforms.

On a whim, I went back there to the lake a couple of years ago. Much has changed, but also much has stayed the same. The marina still rents out the same paddleboats, now old and scratched and bleached by the unending rays of the sun. The water still looks much the same as it did years back, untouched by the rains and drought. The trees haven’t aged a day — the redwoods still stand there, watching over the shoreline like faithful guardians. However, the old wooden docks are gone — they’re plastic floating docks now, sinking and rising with the calm waves, almost like a heartbeat for the warm, comfortable depths of the lake. They built a new road to the water’s edge — easier on the brakes. There’s a lot more people, now too — it’s hard to find your own little quiet section of shoreline, to peer into the bright reflections of the water. They crowd around and have barbecues, their laughs and cries resonating along the forest.

But, much as it was before, you can still string up your little worm, fresh from the foam bowl, and cast it near the stumps and roots of trees long gone. The bobber will wiggle and dance and shiver as the fish investigate your sweet present, and you’ll pull up your very own bug-eyed little bluegill, eager to wiggle its way back to its home in the weeds and logs. Such a lowly fish — who would even want to catch one of these buggers? — but still, so much fun.

— — —

On my old laptop, I once used a photo of a lake, high up in the Eastern Sierras, as my desktop background. Snowy granite-gray pinnacles that almost shot into the sky flawlessly reflected off the surface of the perfectly still water. Along the shores of the lake, golden red aspens and chaparral, gently touched by the fleeting hand of autumn, towered over the shimmering shallows.

Sometimes, when I would feel especially tired and annoyed with life, I’d close the thousand tabs I had open, turn off the EDM and hip hop I was jamming to, and just sit and stare at the lake. I’d feel the sharp, cool air of the mountains, the quiet, overhanging silence of the wilderness.

Years ago, someone must have traveled for hundreds of miles on foot, lugging a heavy pack full of food and water and other necessities of life. They braved the dust and the cold, the wind and the storms, until they finally crossed the ridge and came upon this mountain temple. They must have pulled out their precious camera, that they had squirreled away deep in their belongings for months, and somehow perfectly captured that very moment in time.

And I got to see that photo every day.

My old laptop’s broken now. I’ve tried searching for the photo again, but it never quite seems to be the right one. It’s lost in the annals of the Internet.

— — —

I saw something once on Stevens Creek. I was still a young boy then, back before I had seen the world beyond the warm confines of San Jose. It was a simpler time. The creek still lazily meandered through the golden fields, beneath towering oaks and pines. Kids strung tattered rope swings onto the branches, to launch themselves into the dark depths of the pools below. Families brought giant straw picnic baskets, full of sweet fruits and sandwiches, and enjoyed their delights in the soft grass that lined the banks, dipping their toes into the frolicking stream.

It was summer, then. I had gone to the park with my friends earlier in the day, and now I sauntered up to the creek, my homemade bamboo rod in hand, in search of some slippery, wriggling fish that I could take home for a fish fry. I wrapped my long, youthful fingers around the pole, thumbing the smooth bumps and scratches in the dried cane. The sun had only just begun its inevitable downward descent, but it was quiet out on the water, not a single soul in sight.

I crept up to the edge of the water, and threaded on a squirming earthworm onto my hook that I had just dug up moments ago. I strained my eyes over the water, and I gently tossed my juicy offering into a nice hole upstream. And then I saw an old man, in the shimmering golden rays that filtered through the leaves of the trees and shrubs that covered the creek. He was kneeling over the water, his face wrinkled and aged — but he was smiling, as he gazed into the bubbling river. He momentarily flickered, in and out, as the wind blew through the dancing leaves. He did not want to be seen, that’s for sure: he gazed contently, absentmindedly at the shimmering reflections, and then he vanished, like all good moments do, when a gust tussled the tree branches again.

I felt a subtle tug on my line, and I pulled in a small silvery bluegill, wiggling and dancing as it hung from the end of my rod. He had left me a present.

— — —

I recently moved to LA, so I’ve been trying to fish this small pond near work. It feels like the area so much — it’s surrounded by concrete sidewalk, the water is stained blue with chemicals, and of course, parking is hard to find.

But you walk down to the shore, and you realize, it’s really a haven. Ducks and geese congregate in the shallows, gulping down mouthfuls of grass and tubers. Tall eucalyptus trees provide life-giving shade to not only people but also the creatures that inhabit the waters of the lake.

I really was stunned, by the amount of the life in there the first time I went. I remember seeing the color of the water, and really not expecting much. But, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a gigantic carp cruise by, just casually patrolling its territory. Baby bass swarmed under the weeds and lily pads that dotted the surface.

I tried casting my line out quite a few times. But these fish are smart. They know the difference between your factory-made scrap of shiny metal and a real wriggling minnow, thanks to their daily lessons from local fishermen. They shy away when they see you approach the water, escaping to the darker depths of the pond. They’ve really adapted to growing up in the city.

Life finds a way, I guess.