Panfish Epiphanies by Mark Usyk

The kid was drowning worms on the bank a mere 40 feet from where I was standing in the water casting out to the rocks on the opposite side with a small popper. It was one of those marginal fishing days. It was hot. Nothing, including the fish wanted to move much. Except the pan fish of course. The kid’s bobber was resting off to the side in a shallow pool, out of the current where he only had to make minimal corrections as to keep it positioned where he wanted it. The bobber bounced a couple times and then traveled about a foot and stopped again. It repeated this a couple times before it finally dipped below the surface and the boy set the hook. As he was reeling in his spinning rod my chugging popper vanished with a plunking sound and setting the hook the 3wt bent and vibrated with what I was sure was another Bluegill or Rock Bass just like the ten previous. Just like what I and the young boy on the bank knew was on his line too. He hoisted the fish up the bank, rod arched above his head, and once again… “Awww come on, I hate these things. I want a Bass.” He removed the hook and threw the fish back to the water. I smiled as my own Pan fish came into view a few feet out.

40 years. In 40 years what the hell have I really learned? A bunch of clichés are what come to mind. “When it rains it poor’s.” “No news is good news.” “Actions speak louder than words.” “The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.” “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” “An idle mind is the devils playground.” “Shit happens.” Sometimes “The writing is on the wall.” “Money can’t buy happiness.” And most importantly “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.”

When my Grandfather and I would sit out on that little peninsula at the lake on the farm, drowning worms all day long, watching boobers get pulled back and forth, bounce up and down, sit motionless for hours on the glass like surface of the still water, I was that kid sometimes. I’d reel in Bluegill after Bluegill just wanting that Bass, or worse, I’d reel in empty hook after empty hook. The tiny pan fish were always hard at work down below stripping the worms off piece by piece, bite by bite like professional pick pockets. Grandpa wasn’t immune, sometimes he’d be going through the exact same thing on his side of the peninsula. Only as he watched his bobber wander lazily to the left, then wander lazily to the right, hardly a jiggle, hardly a ring sent out across the surface, he’d laugh a gruff laugh. The laugh of a man who’d smoked non filter cigarettes his entire life and worked hard long days for the same amount of time or longer. He was at that point where it didn’t matter what was playing at the end of his line. That’s not what it was about. He’d laugh at me when I’d finally hoist a pan fish out of the water and sigh, “Awww, not another one!” He’d just laugh. And now, after years and years I understand why. I’ve never been a fish counter or a size chaser, but still, at some point epiphanies hit you, and this young boy on the bank complaining about a pan fish below his bobber was mine.

My own two sons don’t complain about a pan fish or a creek chub taking their marabou jig and running with it, they smile and laugh as the fish is lifted above the water. They’re just happy to have a slimy, scaly, thrashing creature attached to that extension of themselves, their fishing rod. I’m sure at some point it’ll become to them what it becomes to most of us. The quest for some huge mythical monster or the hopes of a hundred fish day. But then sooner or later, usually later, it’ll come full circle. They won’t realize it at first that they’re specifically casting to that greedy little Bluegill, that tiny thief of a Pumpkinseed, that alley way mugger of a Rock Bass and having fun. But then on one such time on the water they’ll realize it and wonder at what point they actually started aiming for them specifically and not worrying about that big old bass or that wary Trout.

Another young high school kid complained once, “I hate those little things. They’re such a pain.” I wanted to tell him “Someday you’ll appreciate them for what they are, someday you’ll be hoping for them,” but I let it go. High school kids don’t listen to us anyhow, because we don’t know anything. I remember.

“That’s why they call it fish’n and not catch’n.” “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day doing anything else.” People get it, a lot of them just don’t realize it until that epiphany hits. Then it’s like starting all over again.