By Joe Manus  |  Painting by Rod Crossman

My index finger on my left hand is missing part of its tip. It is a daily reminder of my fishing roots. When I was little, I whittled my own lures. I would shape them to look like the more handsome store-bought ones in my dad’s tackle box. Mine had diving spoons made from the bottoms of soda cans, treble hooks and all were donned with fantastical paint jobs that were executed using my sister’s nail polish. I sliced off the end of that finger one day while carving and then I caught a three-pound bass the next day with that same then-finished lure. I was falling in love with fishing.

I grew up in rural Morgan County surrounded by fishing holes. When I was first starting out, the old timers told me how to prepare my cane pole by tying off my line three and a half feet down from the tip and then traveling it up to the tip for its final tie off. They said that way, if I snagged a big fish and its weight broke my tip off, I wouldn’t lose my fish. A year later, I hooked an eleven-pound Largemouth Bass on a brim hook while it was on the bed and the tip of my cane pole damn sure broke off. I struggled that fish out of the water and up the bank to safety. The old guys were just sharing experienced wisdom, but in a more poetic way, they were priming me with the wondrous anticipation of what could be when it comes to fishing — the hope found in every cast of the line.

There are things about fishing that are hard to explain to the non-fisherman. It is a universal language that transcends class, race and age. It is a collective of people who have learned one of the oldest survival tools (for the stomach and the soul) that can be enacted on 71% of the earth’s surface. Fishing is a great equalizer. The kid with a five dollar yard sale pole on an embankment stands as good of a chance as the man with an $80,000 boat and a Shimano Stella. Fishing is a great uniter. I have seen two men who shared so little in common in their day-to-day lives that you might brand them incompatible by any standard.

It is a collective of people who have learned one of the oldest survival tools (for the stomach and the soul) that can be enacted on 71% of the earth’s surface.

But as soon as fishing came up, you would think they shared a parent. They were all smiles and a future outing was in the works. For the love of the pursuit, we allow ourselves to chase these unseen and unheard creatures and suffer briars and sunburns all day long. Sure, it is fantastic to hook a nice fish, or many, but the thrill is found in the countless hours spent doing absolutely nothing in the quiet of one’s head or in the company of good friends, looking at some beautiful body of water, and losing yourself in all that has gone on and everything yet to happen.

It’s spring in Georgia and the season is upon us. I brought my boat out of its winter sleep a few weeks ago. I live a few miles from Lake Sidney Lanier. It is a behemoth of a lake with coves and shallows and very deep waters. It is full of Largemouth, Smallmouth, Striped and Spotted Bass as well as Bluegill. I will be out on its waters next week and what I will fish for and how I will fish for them is what clutters my thoughts in between work, raising kids and paying bills. Maybe I will take the boat east to Clarks Hill Lake this year. I hear it has a huge town under its waters just like Lake Sidney Lanier and similar fishing so I would feel right at home.

Or maybe I will take a cane pole out to an old cow pond and waste away a day watching an old red and white bobber bounce. I could use that time to build on my own “old-timer” moments with my youngest daughter, Wren. She has interest in fishing and already gets the nectar of fishing. She doesn’t care if she doesn’t catch anything. She savors the process and the broad stretches of stilled hope.

The infinite when, where and how of fishing makes it one of the most diverse sports on earth. Every single time you go is different and full of possibilities and there is always the reward of knowing that regardless of whether you catch the big one or any one, you have already won because what you are fishing for is time and when a rod is in your hand, that is all there is … time.


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Appears in the June/July 2022 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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