Accent on Living

THE time has come to end the senseless competition among writers of fishing stories: the narrator hooks a fish and (a) catches it or (b) loses it. The only items in the story that are at all variable are the species of fish — and hence its size and habitat—and the kind of tackle used in his wisdom (or folly) by the narrator. These, along with a few details, would simply be left blank in the standardized fishing story, to be filled in as the facts warranted. Thus, whether it all took place at the headwaters of the Orinoco or the narrows of Spectacle Pond, much pencil chewing and time-consuming thought will be saved by adherence to the simple rules governing all fishing stories.

The fishing story must begin with a modest statement of the author’s credentials: “ I’ve fished for t the mighty -off Acapulco and the battling — along the Florida Keys. I’ve seen a maddened-swamp a dory off Wedgeport, but for sheer power and gameness I’ve seen nothing that can equal, pound for pound, aThat’s a perfectly workable opening paragraph for any fishing story. If the reader is foolish enough to doubt its validity when applied to some notoriously inert species, let him remember that the fill-in of the

battle itself will prove everything that the narrator contends. It’s bound to, for the narrator uses just the same fill-in for a rock cod, which behaves much like a boot full of water, as he would for a fifty-pound muskellunge.

After presenting his own credentials, the narrator must introduce his guide. Guides are always terse, monosyllabic men — which saves the author from writing much improbable dialogue and dialect. They grunt or they gesture, but that’s about all. The narrator must assume at this point the disarming role of chump and leave the high strategy to Joe, the guide. (“We never did learn Joe’s last name, but he taught us all there was to know about ——s.”)

Another purpose of the guide is to wake the author up on that never-tobe-forgotten morning and give him his breakfast: “My head had hardly touched the pillow, so it seemed, before Joe woke me up. The delicious aroma of ——ing-greeted my nostrils, and I lost no time in getting out of my blankets.”

And so to that mysterious locality, known only to Joe, where the narrator has been assured he will have a chance to pit his cunning against the greatgranddaddy of all-s. It makes no difference whether Joe is a Kanaka or a Canadian, or whether they travel by express cruiser, mule, or pirogue — their destination always disappoints the narrator when he gets there: “it looked like the last place in the world to t ry for-s, but Joe merely grunted and gestured vaguely at the water. ‘-here,’ he said. ‘Big one.”

Joe of course was right, the author ruefully confesses. His first lure, a -(spinner, fly, minnow, or grapnel baited with a small shoat — it’s all the same) had hardly touched the water when down went the rod, out screamed the line! It was all the author could do to keep his footing against that first wild rush of the-.

The next two hours are crammed with action, while the author brings in one gigantic-after another, certainly the biggest he has ever seen and one of them looking as if it would go for at least-pounds on the club scales. But hold on. What’s wrong with Joe? He seems disgusted. He grunts contemptuously. Bored stiff. The author, still the chump and slow to catch on, presses Joe for comment. Joe grunts. “ Big-still here,” Joe replies, gesturing at the water, and the author begins to realize that Joe is talking about a - of a size never reported in all the annals of fishing.

Comes the final cast. Nothing happens. No —— of any size seems to be interested. The length of this interval of writing depends on how much space the author is trying to fill. If need be, he can reminisce of bygone feats against giant clams, electric eels, or things that have nothing to do with -s.

Suddenly, a few yards beyond the lure, the waters swirl: “Some vast, invisible force was causing a submarine upheaval. Spellbound, I watched a great tail appear for an instant as the monster lazily rolled over and submerged again. I turned to Joe. ‘Don’t tell me that was a -!’ I whispered. ‘-s don’t get that big.’ But Joe only grunted. Big-,’he replied.”

The author realizes that his tackle is far too light for a-of this size. Joe had really known what he was talking, or grunting, about. But it’s too late now. So: DOWN goes that rod again, OUT screams the line. Even with a - pound drag, the —’s rush carries all before it. Crash! The leviathan hurls himself far out of the water and comes down with an echoing splash. The author vainly tries to reel in precious line. “My rod bent almost double. Pandemonium reigned.” Sooner or later, as the line races from the screeching reel, the author does a very foolish thing: “I tried to brake it with my thumb.” Naturally enough, he gets a bad burn on his thumb. More leaps, lunges — a page or so of them.

“Suddenly, my line went ominously slack. I began frantically reeling in. ‘-gone,’ Joe grunted.”

True enough. The tale is almost told. Remains only the unbelievable circumstance of the leader when the narrator finally winds it to the surface. Gut, wire, or 3/8-inch log chain, its condition never varies: “Bitten clean through! Mute evidence that the -had met man’s challenge—and won!”

They prepare to leave. “But suddenly the waters were convulsed again as the mighty -broke the surface in all his majesty and, with a final derisive smack of his great tail, disappeared— still the Monarch of—— ” (Spectacle Pond, the Upper Orinoco, Hillsboro Inlet, etc., etc.).