Chasing Gills

January 05, 2018

I still remember when I'd go fishing as a kid. We'd drive for hours through curvy roads in the mountains, and I'd stare into the muddy green water, my brand new purple Snoopy rod in hand. I'd stand on the little worn wooden dock and give my squirming red worm a gentle toss into the depths, my line peacefully floating on the surface. Soon enough, a small, curious bluegill would smell my offering and take a look, and in no time I'd have a wriggling silver fish in my hands, shining in the sunlight.

When I was done fishing, I'd sit on the sprawling roots of giant redwoods towering over the shore, and watch the birds and the turtles go about on their daily rounds, idyllically paddling in the calm water under the clear, blue sky. Sometimes a hiker or two would come by, and I'd get to watch my little own taste of humanity, miles away from the big city. If I was lucky, my parents would take me out on a sparkling green-yellow paddleboat, and I'd pretend to troll for trout, throwing my line for what I thought was a mile behind the boat. Not that I was ever successful, but I definitely came close, or so I thought.

Evening would hit, and we'd have to paddle back to the marina, pack up my one Scooby Doo rod, set free my leftover worms still in the package before it got too dark to see. We'd drive back home, smooth jazz playing over the radio, stop at my favorite Chinese restaurant to eat, and finally head home, ready to sleep. I'd go back to school the next day, still high off the sunshine from the lake, and read and daydream about fishing in far off places.

It's been years since then. I've grown up, and my fishing gear grew up alongside me - my Scooby Doo rod went into storage, I got long fiberglass spinning rods, I bought massive floating lures bigger than my foot: it was my turn to chase those bigger, more wily fish. The trout, the bass, the cats, the salmon - these became my ultimate goal. I learned how to read trout streams and how to tie the perfect fly. I chose more adult things to do, too - I went to college, I met girls, I studied, I worked. I learned how to build a CPU and how to solve Fourier Transforms.

On a whim, I went back there to the lake a couple of years ago. Much has changed, but also much has stayed the same. The marina still rents out the same paddleboats, now old and scratched and bleached by the unending rays of the sun. The water still looks much the same as it did years back, untouched by the rains and drought. The trees haven't aged a day - the redwoods still stand there, watching over the shoreline like faithful guardians. However, the old wooden docks are gone - they're plastic floating docks now, sinking and rising with the calm waves, almost like a heartbeat for the warm, comfortable depths of the lake. They built a new road to the water's edge - easier on the brakes. There's a lot more people, now too - it's hard to find your own little quiet section of shoreline, to peer into the bright reflections of the water. They crowd around and have barbeques, their laughs and cries resonating along the forest.

But, much as it was before, you can still string up your little worm, fresh from the foam bowl, and cast it near the stumps and roots of trees long gone. The bobber will wiggle and dance and shiver as the fish investigate your sweet present, and you'll pull up your very own bug-eyed little bluegill, eager to wiggle its way back to its home in the weeds and logs. Such a lowly fish - who would even want to catch one of these buggers? - but still, so much fun.