The real joy of fishing, and the reason so many people fail to relax, is the way time stops when you're on the water.

The second you put a hook over the side you're living in fish time, and that's no time at all. The only thing fish do that interests you is eat, and they obey none of the schedules or rituals of eating that people have adopted.

Fish eat when they feel like it. You can make up a million reasons for why you catch them but that's the only one that holds up. If you put what they want to eat in front of them in an enticing fashion when they want to eat it, you may get a strike. But it's up to the fish.

Fishing in Lake Marion, the bigger of the two monstrous bodies that make up the 170,000 acre Santee-Cooper complex, is doubly timeless. The people in the fishing camps that dot the sloughs and creeks at water's edge have left time behind too.

At Polly's Landing, which is only there because that's where the water stopped when they put in the dam in 1942, a cheeful and extraordinarily helpful woman named Bea keeps you in bait, boats and advice.Everyone calls her Polly.

"This land was originally owned by an old woman named Polly. Then the dam came and she sold it to another fellow but it's always been Polly's Landing.We've been leasing it for eight years and everybody calls me Polly. They always have.

That's fish reasoning. What's there is there, in front of you. Take it or leave it.

Bea has taken it and done just about nothing with it, which is to her credit. Polly's Landing doesn't need anything. It doesn't need anyone to come cut down the trees that hold up the Spanish moss so they can put in a parking lot and get rid of all that dumb shade. It doesn't need a fast-food restaurant or a bowling alley or electric hookups.

Polly's Landing is a plain old fishing camp and it has what it needs: A tumbledown shack where you can but bait and lures, sandwiches, beer and soda, a latrine, john boats for rent.

And it has Bea, who will run out at the drop of a split shot to bring you a whetstone because your fillet knife is dull. Who will then help you clean half your fish, who will lend you a minnow box because you forgot yours, who will tell you where to find the fish and how to catch them.

"Want me to give you a little hint?" she asked an angler the other day. "I used to fish with an old fellow and one day I just told him I wouldn't fish with him anymore; he was always catching all the fish.

"Well, he told me this secret and now I'm going to tell you. Before you put your minnow on the hook, take his tail between your fingers and pinch it off. That way when you throw him down to the base of a tree he looks crippled.

"The minnow doesn't want to go under that tree because that's where the big fish is. If you leave his tail on he'll swim away. But if you pinch it off he'll wiggle, but he can't move."

That fisherman pinched a multitude of minnows in the next few days. Someone evern asked him if he was saving them to make fricasseed minnie tails, a delicacy hereabouts. Or so they say.