The weather was clear and cold and the stars shone above us as we cast our sausage baited hooks into the City Lake. Beyond the lake, night traffic hummed on Sunset Avenue and the lights from the Exxon Station shimmered on the lake water. The fountain in the middle of the lake alternated from white to red to blue to white. The Mexican restaurant located in the nearby former power plant on the Tar River was full, and you could see the people sitting at tables and at the bar on the second story. High-school kids cruised the road around the lake, driving in a one-mile circle for hours on end. Some of them parked and sat on the hoods of their cars, smoking and talking and laughing. Taking all this in, I wondered what I was doing in the middle of Rocky Mount at 10 o’clock on a November night.
“This is when the big ones bite.” Keith, my brother, told me.
Keith and I had fished in this lake when we were kids and had never caught anything but a few small bream. I had never regarded it as a serious fishing lake and as I grew up I quit fishing there altogether. The lake had been built during the depression as part of a downtown City Park and had been stocked with bream and crappie. And now Keith was telling me that it was a place to catch some large, trophy-size catfish.
“When they renovated the park, they stocked the lake with catfish. Nobody has fished them for several years and some have gotten big.” he said.
We were using polish sausage that we bought from the grocery store as bait. We sliced it and ran our hooks through it. The smell of it made me hungry and I quickly threw it into the water as far as it would go into the red reflecting light of the fountain. We stood in the dark, lines in the water, resting our elbows on the wood railing of the overlook.
“This is the best spot.” said Keith. There were six other overlooks around the lake. But this was the best one.
“Why?” I asked.
“This is where we caught that big one I was telling you about. There must be something they like in the water, like a stump, or a hole, or something.”
The “big one” that he had told me about was caught by one of the men who live at the group home where Keith was a part-time Resident Manager. Keith had taken the “boys” (as he called these men) fishing one night several weeks before. Keith had hooked a couple of large catfish and each time he pulled them out of the water, they would throw the hook out their mouths and splash back into the lake. When Ronnie (one of the boys) hooked one, Keith was determined that they would land him, no matter how long it took. He told Ronnie to let the fish run with the hook until he stopped. Once he stopped, Keith took the line in his hands and slowly pulled it in toward him. Every now and then the fish would pull and Keith would let it go until the fish stopped pulling, then Keith would start pulling again, slowly toward him.
After an hour, the fish was exhausted and Keith pulled him up next to the shore. Not having a net, and not wanting the fish to throw the hook again, he got a pair of pliers from his tackle box and reached down and grabbed the fish’s lip and yanked him onto the bank. The catfish was 21 inches long and weighed about 8 pounds. He had to fold him to get him into the cooler. And since that time, that catfish was spoken of as “the big one”.
“I have never seen Ronnie so happy.” said Keith. “That was the first fish he had ever caught.
And so, on that November night, I thought about that story; of how on a cool, crisp autumn night, Keith had put down his fishing rod, and helped bring happiness to someone else.
Wouldn’t this be a better world if we all helped each other land “the big one”?
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