Fish This!

Tales of the Black Cat


Do you consider yourself to be a poor fisherman? Are you prone to errant casts that result in lures twisted in the branches of trees or swaying from a power line? Do you frequently watch others bring in fish after fish while you spend your time stuck to parcels of underwater real estate? Or worse, when you tag along for a day on the water do the fish seem to have other plans, and your fellow anglers keep staring at you as though it’s your fault?
If you answered in the affirmative you just might be “THAT guy!” The dreaded black cat – friend only to fish and enemy to their adversary. It’s quite possible when fellow anglers are planning a fishing expedition and your name is mentioned their faces will contort and someone will say aloud, “Maybe not.”
I am not really sure which member of my family began using the phrase “black cat” to describe a fishing jinx, but there is no denying some strange vortex surrounds certain individuals and envelops them with a mysterious inability to catch fish even in the most promising of circumstances. On rare occasions, the curse will extend to everyone within proximity of the black cat, and this is the kind of thing that will earn you a reputation.
For the uninitiated, there are various degrees of cat blackness. These will be outlined forthwith to forever document this elusive enigma that, albeit undeniably true, falls more into the odd realm of Elvis sightings and alien trailer park visitations.
Stage One – The stage one black cat is usually just inexperienced and a little overly eager. They are easily identified wearing ridiculous fly fishing vests while sporting a shiny new spinning outfit. They carry around a massive telescoping net, even though the fish they are targeting could swim through the holes in the mesh.
These are your fishing buddies who will lose all their own lures due to poor casting or bad knots and then proceed to work their way through your collection with promises of, “I’ll buy you a new one.”
There is no good reason for any of this nonsense. Angling is inherently easy. You cast, wait for bite, and reel in fish. I took a friend fishing last summer for her first-ever fishing experience. She had never held a rod or cast a lure, much less caught a fish.
A quick lesson on the basics and she was casting with dexterity at schooling salmon. On her fifth cast she caught her first fish. After a dozen more she was an expert. She never once lost a lure. For a certainty she was no black cat, and quite possibly the opposite – the good luck charm. I think she summed it up when she said, “This is fun!”
For the Stage One black cat there is hope. Trade in that fancy vest for an old tee shirt, put a few dents in your slick fishing outfit, and buy some extra lures. Ignoring this advice could thrust you headlong toward the status of…
Stage Two - The stage two black cat has refined his technique, learned to tie multiple knots, can read the water in numerous environments, is up to date on the latest angling technologies, and can cast with pinpoint accuracy practically landing a lure on the tip of a fishes nose from 100-feet away with one arm.
He also never catches a fish.
This may be the most unfortunate variety of black cat mostly due to personal humiliation. The stage two black cat watches his buddies fill the coolers with fish, and even though he mimics their choice of bait and fishes in the exact same spot he will seldom get as much as a bite. And when he does, it is often an old boot or long lost tire.
This is a heavy trip for anyone, as constant failure combined with unbridled taunting by your fellow sportsmen can lead to nervous tics and obsessive behavior.
I used to regularly fish with a buddy named Fred who was a prototypical stage two black cat. First and foremost he loved to fish, and did it often. Homespun colloquialisms of resignation are common for this variety of black cat, and every trip ended with Fred saying something like, “Well, I don’t mind not catching fish, I just like to be out there.”
On one occasion we were perfectly placed over a school of trout numbering in the thousands. On every cast, my bait would barely hit the water and a fish was already on. I caught a dozen fish while Fred watched. He was doing everything the same, but the fish just would not bite his rig. It was then I had an idea.
“Fred,” I said, “Why don’t we switch rods. Maybe it will change your luck.”
And so we did. I reeled in four more fish as Fred starting muttering nonsense under his breath. Not once did the rod tip twitch. I then had another idea, which is itself a testament to the unreal, unexplainable, and bizarre nature of the black cat.
“Fred,” I said, “The next fish I hook, I am going to hand you the pole so you can reel it in.”
Sure enough, I hooked up on the next cast, and handed the rod to Fred. He was happy to be reeling in a fish, to contribute in some small way to the cooler, which was almost full.
What came over the rail of the bridge almost defies description. Every single fish I had caught was a silver trout. Sixteen of them in less than 40-minutes. You could see the school flashing reflected sunlight just under the surface.
What Fred brought up was a fish called a “toadfish.” The toadfish earns its name due to its grotesque features and wart-like lumpy bile-hued skin. This particular toadfish was also deformed with odd appendages where the pectoral fins should have been and sported irregular pale spots all over its body. It was grinding its stone-like teeth and foam was coming out of its mouth.
Later, as we walked off the bridge with a cooler full of fresh fish, Fred said, “Well, I’m just glad I got to be out here.”
Stage Three – The stage three black cat brings a dark cloud of doom to every fishing pier, bridge, and boat he traverses. Whenever he’s around, the fish seem to disappear. It’s as though he telegraphs them ahead of time and lets them know humans will be in the area from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. so it would be a good idea to make other plans.
The only reason he ever gets invited on a fishing trip is because he’s a relative or close friend and there is simply no choice.
“Honey, take your brother-in-law with you when you go fishing this weekend. He says nobody ever invites him along.”
Hearing this will make you cringe, and there are only so many ways to “accidentally” forget to take someone on a fishing trip. When you’ve been sitting around for hours without getting a bite, and you realize if you could just push that black cat overboard things would change for the better, it’s a temptation that’s hard to resist.
There is no known cure for the stage three black cat and many theories have been posed as to why the condition might exist. These range from poor personal hygiene to bad vibrations to some unknown curse handed down through questionable genetic heritage.
If you fall into this category but still enjoy “just being out there,” there is one way that you can still receive an invite when your friends plan a day on the water.
Be the guy who brings the beer.