The first lesson anyone who goes fishing should learn is "never promise nobody nothing." It's the kiss of death.
Like all lessons, it must be relearned from time to time.
We take you now to the banks of the Cacapon River in West Virginia, where the water flows cool, shallow and clear, and where, evidently, there are millions of ravenous little bass just aching to jump in the frying pan.
"We don't need any tonight," says the wife, "but we'll have a big fish fry tomorrow."
The sun has sunk behind Sideling Hill and the water is thigh-deep, swift and soothing at the tail of a riffle.
The little spinner drops in the water above a submerged boulder. It sinks a bit, then flashes along the bottom on the retrieve, dancing over one rock, then another. A small bass zips out from under the second rock, gobbles the metal lure and thrashes away until he is at hand.
Shall we keep this fish?
Nah. Thousands more like him.
This is a delightful way to spend the evening after a long, hot day. The fish -- mostly rock bass and eating-size sunfish -- are almost absurdly cooperative. Dick Lee, my partner, smiles.
"Every cast," he says. "I can't keep them off the hook."
And every one goes back in the water. We will catch fresh ones next evening for the feast.
On the half-mile hike back to the cabin, a deer looks up, startled, on the path, then bolts up the steep hillside, all russet and fat from the summer feeding.
The woods are deep and green, the paths lined with ferns, so different from the fall when we will travel these hills again in search of deer, wild turkeys and grouse.
At the cabin, there is a great commotion. A dozen deer have filed in to feed behind the outhouse. The dog has spied them and is going nuts. The deer have scattered. The sight stuns the women.
"The noise they made.The snorting. It was unbelievable. "They're so big."
Then, "Did you catch any fish?"
Of course. Smiles all around. No need to keep them now. We'll catch fresh tomorrow, for the fish fry.
A dull world it would be, of course, if all promises were kept and there were no surprises. The following evening, indistinguishable from its predecessor, becomes the absolute reverse of the first when the spinners hit the water.
The still dance across the submerged rocks, but nothing comes in hot pursuit. Well, almost nothing.
After 2 1/2 hours, the dusk gathers and we make our way to the cabin with a little satchel containing four rock bass, two bluegills and a smallmouth bass.
Seven small fish for four strong adults, a baby and a dog.
Surprise, surprise. Tonight, the rice and beans had better be good.
The unpredictable vagaries of time and the river notwithstanding, these are days for wading in pursuit of bass.
Water levels are down after the spring floods and the rivers are clear and slow-moving. Wading is the perfect approach, since it involves almost no equipment and puts the angler in the coolest place around.
WHAT YOU NEED -- A pair of old, scuzzy sneakers; a pair of old, scuzzy shorts; a fishing vest or an old, scuzzy over-the-shoulder fishing sack; a bait can or a small lure box and the lightest rod and line you can muster. Six-pound-test line is all right. Four-pound test is better.
LURES -- Small Mister Twisters, small Mepps spinners, crappie jigs or small grubs for spinning gear; weighted marabou streamers and muddler minnows for flyfishing fast water, small cork poppers for flyfishing still pools.
WHERE TO GO -- Best close-in place in Seneca Breaks near Violets Lock on the Potomac; The Monocacy River off Rte. 270 near Frederick can be good in low water; the Potomac and Shenandoah in the fast water around Harper's Ferry; the South Fork of the Shenandoah near Luray; the North Fork of the Shenandoah around Woodstock; the Cacapon around Capon Bridge. f
HOW TO FISH -- Cast lures or flies upstream and across the current at the tails of riffles and in the deep pools. Fish mostly during the cool part of the day and, if you catch a good fish, put it on the stringer. He might not be playing the same game next time out, and you can't eat promises.