Rain. Wind. Poverty. An angry boss. Or death. Any of these can stop the best-planned fishing trip. But none threatened as Rick Simpson and a friend took off for a Stafford County still pond.
At 58, the temperature on the mile-long gravel road that leads to water's edge was brisk. The breeze was from the north, but not too strong. The sun was shining and the minnows were reasonably chipper.
How nice.How wonderful.
How strange, then, that a cobra gunship passed overhead, about ten seconds after a 105-mm howitzer lofted a shell directly over the pond. Men in green fatigues hustled about, trying to douse a brush fire. A couple of jets circled high overhead.
Scene by scent, it became apparent that a few of the Marines' good men were hard at war on the fringes of the Quantico Military Reservation. Just playing, of course, but even so, no one was allowed beyond the camouflaged howitzers. And, of course, Simpson and his friend were going nowhere near their prized fishing hole: the one with the bass that had had a year to grow. Where the beavers play in the water and amuse. Where the deer still scatter upon approach. Where the guns were ripping up the afternoon.
Ka-boom! Another round sounded.
Ka-boom! There goes the fishing.
"War is hell," said Simpson.
There was little left to do but bid adieu to the soldiers, and reconsider the opportunities. Certainly, they'd met their day's misfortune.
Simpson's friend pointed his jalopy toward another pond, one farther off the road, near a friend's house. But nine or ten teen-agers had beaten them there; and for this small a pond, this was eight or nine too many.
Finally, the pair settled at Smith Lake, where their patience neared its reward. Two fat yellow perch jumped on the first two casts. And then another.
"I got another one," yelled Simpson. A welterweight bluegill jumped on the line; it looked just like the 30 other bluegills a young boy in a baseball cap had caught with worms.
But that was it. They stopped biting, as if God had proclaimed the end of chow time an sent them back to whatever toil.
Then misery struck again. Someone -- no one confessed -- stepped on the tip of a custom-made graphite rod that belongs to Andy Lynn, the amiable owner of a bait-and-tackle shop in Occoquan. Curses.
For their modest catch. Simpson and his accomplice dropped $10 in gas, $3 for minnows, $5 for tackle, $18 on a new reel, and God knows how much to replace the hand-fashioned rod. To say nothing of food and drink. All this for a sport that's supposed to let you forget about the making and spending of money.
But a lot was spent; and considering the breakage, still more needs to be made.