By Sean Dietrich
I am about to go fishing. Don’t ask me why. You don’t need a reason to go fishing. That’s one of the great things about it. It is reasonless work.
My late father-in-law taught me that.
Certainly, some men fish like they are on a mission for the U.S. government. These men are either constipated, or they drink Coke Zero.
But for most of us, fishing is just sitting on a boat and fighting off dehydration. It is a beautiful waste of time. And it is even more wasteful when you throw fish back, like I do.
I haven’t always released fish. I used to keep them, and I would even pay to get the big ones mounted.
In my office, for example, there are five fish on the wall. In my den, six.
There is a nice redfish I had mounted by an old man in Choctaw Beach, long ago. He would mount fish for twenty-five bucks. He was a little senile, and he screwed up one of my fish by painting it green.
When people see this fish, they often say, “What kinda fish is that?”
“A very jealous one,” I say.
And nobody laughs because that is the worst joke you will ever hear.
But somewhere along the way, I started releasing fish. I would drag them into the boat and I couldn’t bring myself to gut them. So I would remove the hook, name the fish, and let them go.
I have named nearly a thousand fish in my day.
The first one I ever named was while fishing with my father-in-law, Brother Jim—I never referred to my father-in-law any other way.
I caught a speckled trout on a number-six hook, and I felt bad for the fish. I kept thinking about what it must be like to be a speckled trout. I wondered if the fish missed his mama. I don’t know what came over me.
Then, Brother Jim and I got to talking about how the fish probably had a nice life underwater, and a happy family, and belonged to a good school. Brother Jim even started crying about it because at the time he was suffering severe heat exhaustion.
So my father-in-law and I agreed to name the fish.
“James Martin is the perfect name for this little guy,” said Brother Jim, wiping his eyes. “Since that’s my name.”
And he was right, the Martins have a very specific list of unique traits. They all have intense eyes, and wild personalities, just like fish. Plus, they are primarily Baptist. And it is a well-known fact that all fish believe in full immersion.
So we settled on the name James Martin Delacroix III. We set the trout free. And I’ve been releasing fish ever since.
So fishing isn’t all about catching fish. It’s about something else for me.
In fact, my wife doesn’t even expect me to arrive home with fish anymore. Whenever she wants fish, she drives to the seafood market and pays $16.99 per pound for it.
Usually, when she goes I tell her to bring back some smoked tuna dip because our seafood market has tuna dip that is good enough to blow your hair back.
Don’t get me started on tuna dip. For a man who releases fish, I eat lots of them.
Anyway, my friend Matthew has just arrived in my driveway. He honks the horn, and I’d better get going. Matthew is a good fishing buddy, and a nice guy.
Nice people are everywhere. That’s one thing about life which has always intrigued me.
You grow up learning the exact opposite about the world. Teachers, preachers, and folks in the bleachers often spread the idea that all people are selfish. I won’t believe it.
Don’t get me wrong, I know unkind people are out there. But they are a minority. I’ve met too many saints to believe otherwise.
Like the stranger who once changed my mother’s tire on a dark, two-lane highway.
Or the woman who rescued a runaway teenager, then managed to adopt the boy, then sent him to med school several years later.
The man in the wheelchair, who raced ahead of the girls in a parking lot to hold the door for them. He even tipped his cap when they passed.
And the man who insisted that I call him “Brother” even though we weren’t kin. Who had a heart so tender it was practically purple.
I forgot what I was talking about.
Oh, yes. Fishing. I’m looking forward to saying hello to James Martin Delacroix III today.
You are missed, Brother Jim.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, the Tallahassee Democrat, Southern Magazine, Yellowhammer News, the Bitter Southerner, the Mobile Press Register and he has authored seven books.