Volume XI, Issue 27 ~ July 3-9, 2003

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Burton on the Bay | Chesapeake Outdoors | Sky Watch | Tidelog
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NOT Burton on the Bay

Beginner’s Luck
by Alan Doelp

Before Bill Burton departed this week for his visit to Vermont, I asked him if he could possibly bring back some more of that delicious twice-boiled maple syrup, which is quite good. His response, alas, was not suitable for a family newspaper, but I can report that it had a lot to do with ants, ancestors and anatomy.

Bill works hard to maintain his salty image; without it I suppose no fisherman would take him seriously. I don’t take him seriously, but then I am no fisherman.

I’m from the West Texas desert; I grew up thinking fish lived in freezers, and this state of affairs provides him with nearly limitless opportunities to practice his calumny. When it comes to fishing, I am a slow learner.

Learning Slow
From time to time, we visit a private pond in Baltimore County for an exercise in remedial fishing and scatology. I have a small rod and reel that Bill gave me from his vast collection, a gift that he has repeatedly assured me was a complete waste of even a cheap fishing rod.

I also have a lure, another gift from The Master. It is called a Super-Duper, and I especially like it because it does not require bait. It would be even better if it did not attract fish. For me, fishing is a social occasion. When you catch something, you have to put down your drink, stop what you’re doing and deal with the fish.

Plus, you get a running commentary from the Ancient Mariner. “You’re holding the rod upside down!” Burton shouts with considerable heat. “Watch out; keep the line taut. You’re going to let him get away!”

Letting a fish get away, in Burton’s book, ranks up there alongside ax murder. I have never been able to admit to him that I’m actually trying very hard to let the fish get away.

“Awwww, fiddlesticks!” says Burton when my catch manages to escape.

Actually that’s not at all what he says, but this is a family newspaper; use your imagination. I suggest to him that I am merely practicing catch-and-release, which earns me more fiddlesticks.

Thus goes another pleasant afternoon at the pond. I look forward to the excursions. In between pejoratives, we work in a great deal of gossip, storytelling, philosophy, politics, the arts: He tries to hide it, but Bill is one of the most erudite fishermen you’ll ever meet. He even likes opera. Mostly, of course, he likes fishing.

Years ago when I was in college, my parents begged me to make the dean’s list just once, so they’d know I could do it. I did, and they were grateful.

Making the Dean’s List
On my last visit to the pond with Bill, when I felt an above-average tug on my line, I figured maybe it was time to make the dean’s list for him. I held the rod correctly, kept the line taut and pulled in a beautiful 24-inch rainbow trout, one of the biggest in the pond.

Bill put down his fishing rod and grabbed for his camera. I could only imagine what happy thoughts must be racing through his mind as he witnessed the ultimate result of all those years of gentle coaching and wise counsel.
What I didn’t realize was that my fish was bigger than any he had ever caught at the pond. I had just out-fished my mentor.

I did my best to smile and look like I was enjoying myself while holding a thrashing fish by its gills. After interminable fiddling with the camera, Bill snapped a picture. Then he silently put the camera away and went back to his fishing rod. I waited for the effusion of praise that my fishing skills had so obviously earned.

Bill clamped his pipe between his teeth and blew out a cloud of smoke.

“Beginner’s luck,” he grunted. But he was smiling.

Alan Doelp is a writer who lives in Linthicum. He insists that some parts of the above fish story are actually true, and sent along a photo to prove it.



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Last updated July 3, 2003 @ 12:37am