Among life's lesser deeds, eight hours of not catching fish ranks right below striking out with bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth. Insomnia comes in third.

Sure, the clean air and sun-dappled water evoke reflection. But that's not the stuff of which meals or tales are made.

So welcome to Virginia's Lake Chesdin, and shake hands with boredom. Here we have Peter Toeroek and a sidekick, dangling minnows and silvery jigs in front of sleepy crappies that haven't given a mid-morning moment's thought to pleasing out-of-towners.

Even so, on his first cast Toeroek caught one nice crappie (they call them freckles down there), a fat fellow who could nudge the pound marker on a scale.

The following hours, however, were spent doing something anglers call "exploring"; this means driving around and poking poles into every nook and every cranny, without catching fish.

By afternoon, a stiff breeze continued to bring the crappies comfort, making it hard to cast and still harder to hold the boat's mark. Cussing was in order.

Then, for Toeroek, it happened; the feeding bell rang and the fish woke up; he hauled in a dozen keepers in an hour; his friend tried catching some sun as the fish found both him and his bait unpalatable.

Watching someone else catch fish is like an unquenched thirst, or an unrequited love.

On shore, right above the beaver hut and the fallen tree the crappies call home, two landlubbers tossed their lines into the hazard of twigs and branches. By all rights, it was their fishing hole: They were there first. But fate had placed the productive side of the brush beyond their reach, accessible only by boat. So it was their lot to observe.

And Toeroek, who was smartly engaged in battle with the fish, while everyone else was at ease, declined to let the obvious pass. "Boy, it must be frustrating for you guys to stand there watching this," he said.

Boy, it's a good thing they didn't have a gun.

By four o'clock, the scales of justice shifted, and Toeroek's friend found half a dozen crappies ready for supper; the bobbers were bobbing; the fish were biting and the sun was getting low.

The boatsmen left. And just so Mother Nature could have the last word, she quieted the troublesome blow. Not that she doesn't like anglers, but these fish are her day-in, day-out friends. Fishermen, well, they only visit when they're not so busy.