Is there anything in this world more completely satisfying than being somewhere you should not be, at a time you should be somewhere else, and doing something you should not be doing? Of course, I am speaking of playing hooky. The pleasure gained from this endeavor does not diminish with age; at least in my case it hasn’t. One of the most memorable and exciting times I have ever experienced while playing hooky occurred when I was fifteen years old.
In the middle of April, in Pennsylvania, life becomes decidedly better, if you are a fisherman, especially if you are a fisherman who is too young to worry about the IRS, but old enough to go fishing without adult supervision. This is the time of year when the Pennsylvania streams and rivers are stocked with trout.
My best friend at the time was a boy named Miles and our friendship was almost solely based on our shared love of fishing. We had heard that the local fish commission had stocked the river, where we usually fished, for a second time. The problem was they had stocked it in the middle of the week and we just knew that most of the big fish would be caught while we were learning who discovered aluminum foil, which were the seventeenth President and other useless information. We decided the sensible thing to do was to forego the rigors of learning and go fishing.
Miles and I had hidden our fishing gear the night before in some bushes that were conveniently located between the school and the river. The bus that took us to school always stopped on the other side of the street from our houses. It provided a shield for us from prying eyes for perhaps one minute. We had perfected the art of simply running into the adjacent woods before the bus pulled away.
Miles and I arrived at the river around eight o’clock and were dismayed to see several adults already fishing. Who would have guessed that adults could play hooky too? We were using night crawlers, the only bait we knew how to fish with. I thought I noticed a few smiles among the men as we quickly cast our lines into the water. I was standing on a small overhang about six feet above the level of the river. My impatience was growing as cast after cast resulted in nothing more than a more miserable looking night crawler. I noticed a log below me at the water’s edge and concentrated on bringing the worm over it so not to get snagged. The log suddenly moved and I realized it was not a log, but a huge fish. I guessed that it was five feet long.
There was a calm arrogance about him that comes with being the biggest, baddest fish in the water. I had been fishing this river for years and had never imagined there was a fish of this size living here. My hands were shaking as I presented my worm to it. I was not surprised when it showed absolutely no interest in my soggy worm. The fish continued to lie almost at my feet. I needed something bigger and more tasty-looking. I searched frantically through my vest for my only lure. It was a four inch Daredevil that I had found stuck in a tree. I wasn’t sure how to tie it to my line, or how to use it. I cast the lure far into the river and retrieved it right past the huge fish’s mouth. It must have startled him into striking. The fish exploded out of the water in a display of strength and anger. He rode his tail across the top of the water like fish I had seen only on Sunday morning fishing shows. Immediately I was besieged with shouts of encouragement and advice from the other fisherman. I had never played a fish. It is hard to compare this with the rock bass and sunfish I usually caught. The battle raged upstream and down and people graciously made a path for me as I frantically tried to keep my line taut. After approximately thirty minutes the fish tired and I was able to guide him into the shallows. Miles jumped into the water and wrestled him onto the bank. People gathered around to admire the fish and congratulate me.
I was emotionally and physically exhausted. My hands were shaking and I was drenched in sweat. Someone mentioned calling the local newspaper to get a picture of me and my trophy. I thought of the trouble I would be in when my parents as well as school officials learned I had skipped school. So what, this was well worth any punishment I might receive. Then one man in the crowd burst my bubble by informing me I would have to release the fish because musky season did not begin for several months. We measured it at forty-seven inches and then I turned away as Miles gently returned it to the river. The fish remained within sight for a few moments and then with an air of dignity disdain and a powerful thrust of his tail he disappeared into the depths.