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Burning one's bridges to the past
Charles Willeford
May 07, 1973
He awaited retirement eagerly, a time to fish and feel the sun, but when it came, the old man on the highway span was sadly disillusioned
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May 07, 1973

Burning One's Bridges To The Past

He awaited retirement eagerly, a time to fish and feel the sun, but when it came, the old man on the highway span was sadly disillusioned

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I reviewed my own fishing experiences. When I was younger and living in Los Angeles, a gang of us occasionally went out to the all-night fishing barge off Santa Monica. But we never did much fishing. We would try for half an hour or so, and someone might catch a barracuda or a sand shark, and then we would all go inside where it was warm and drink beer and play poker for the rest of the night. None of us really liked to fish. We used the overnight barge merely as an excuse to get drunk and play poker.

Once in Bimini I tried sailfishing on a charter boat, but I got seasick after an hour and, to the captain's disgust, made him take me back to the dock. The only other time I could remember going out for fish was in Georgia while I was stationed at Fort Gordon. A sergeant I knew had a musette bag full of concussion grenades. We killed half a dozen bass, a dozen frogs and a cottonmouth that day. The bass, after being roasted over a smoky fire, tasted like salted buffalo chips. By the end of the day I had a swollen face full of mosquito bites, and chiggers all over my arms and hands. By the following morning the scratches on the backs of my hands had festered, and they resembled yellow worms. All day long I had been fearful of getting caught with the bag of grenades. The sergeant claimed, falsely as I discovered later, that the laws against fishing with explosives didn't apply to professional soldiers.

After reviewing these admittedly limited experiences I knew that I hated fishing and that I would never go fishing again.

This was live years ago. Since then, on my own and without the help of a federal grant, I have talked to a lot of fishermen, more than a hundred altogether. My random sampling has included cane pole fishermen, commercial fishermen, charter boat captains and clients and even some of the men who go out on tie shrimp boats at Fort Myers Beach. It is something no fisherman likes to admit, but after you work on them for awhile, gain their confidence and break down their defenses (machismo is definitely tied up with this thing, you know), every man I have talked the matter over with has finally admitted, or confessed, that he truly hated fishing!

The only excuse for fishing, like hand-to-hand combat, is that it gives you something to do with your hands. There it is, the ugly truth about fishing for "pleasure" and for profit. I spend a good deal of time—too much—just sitting and don't get nearly enough exercise. Last night, to do something about it, I dug out my bowling shoes and ball and drove to the nearest alley. Not wanting to bowl alone, I asked a guy who was putting on his shoes if he wanted to bowl with me.

"If you want to," he replied.

"Fine. You can go first."

"No," he said, "go ahead."

"All right. You can keep the score."

"No." He shook his head. "I don't keep score."

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