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Growing Gills Excerpt

Growing Gills Excerpt

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Published by BlairPublisher
In Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman’s Journey, David Joy uses his obsession with fly fishing as a way to delve into himself. Through his deep connection to the natural world, Joy reveals why he is inherently defined by fish and water. The youngest in a family of fishermen, Joy has been exposed to the passion of casting lines since an early age. Yet as he grows older, he finds that the influence and necessity of the piscine world take on a new role in his life.

To learn more, visit: http://www.blairpub.com/alltitles/growinggills.html
In Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman’s Journey, David Joy uses his obsession with fly fishing as a way to delve into himself. Through his deep connection to the natural world, Joy reveals why he is inherently defined by fish and water. The youngest in a family of fishermen, Joy has been exposed to the passion of casting lines since an early age. Yet as he grows older, he finds that the influence and necessity of the piscine world take on a new role in his life.

To learn more, visit: http://www.blairpub.com/alltitles/growinggills.html

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Published by: BlairPublisher on Apr 14, 2011
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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04/19/2011

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Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman’s Journey
by David JoyA School of Cannibalistic Fish
I. On the Water Blooming mimosa trees always signaled the height of summertime bream fishing.My father first made the connection between trees and fish, but it was an observation thatwe both came to anticipate. Dad would notice the first trees as he drove along the NorthCarolina highways on his way home from work or to a Methodist Men’s meeting. Thenin the evening as he sat reading the Charlotte Observer in the gooseneck rocker, his voicewould come through the thin paper, illuminated by a dusty lighting fixture, the words onboth sides of the paper overlapping in the light.“The mimosa trees are blooming.” He spoke so matter-of-factly, but themagnitude of each syllable hung in my ears. “Bream ought to be biting pretty good aboutnow.”“You want to go?” I responded without looking up from the television. I wassprawled out across the worn-out sofa that had once matched the blended colors of theshag carpet. My head was angled awkwardly on one armrest and my feet were proppedon the other. Our house was decorated in outdated 1970s’ furniture, fixtures, andcarpeting, but the “vintage” look was not deliberate.“Yeah, we can go this Saturday, if I get the bills done in time.”My father was always an accountant, whether at home or in the office. Themonotony of paperwork always came first, a routine that never made much sense to me,but was just the way it was: electricity bill first, fishing second. My mind never hasworked like that—which may be good or bad, I don’t know. What I do know is my lightswill probably be turned off sooner or later for missing a payment while I’m out on thewater, but that’s just a risk I’ll have to take, a key difference between my father and me.Dad was also a workaholic, so if he wanted to fish on Saturday, he did everythinghe had to do to make sure that was possible. So, late Friday night he finished the bills andthe next morning we headed for the Catawba. My mother’s Jeep, nicknamed Bessie,rattled through gears as it pulled the aluminum boat behind.A giant mimosa bloomed along the bank of Withers Cove, the summer air intensifying the perfume of large pink flowers. Catalpa worms had spun webs throughlimbs, thick nests entangling branches and leaves in shimmering threads of silk. Channelcatfish and bedding bream roamed the shallow beneath overhanging limbs and waited for one of the green worms to lose its grip and fall into the mud-stained river. As soon as aworm’s velvet body touched water, the fish erupted on the helpless pupa, squirmingthrough water as it sank. As the catalpas continued to fall, a late July feeding frenzy senttriangular lines across the surface with racing pectoral fins cutting
V
s across the sheen:first come, first serve.Dad and I sat in faded chairs spotted by mildew, the sixteen-foot Starcraftanchored parallel to the tree line just within casting range. A muskrat swam along thebank beneath the tree, only the wet head of the animal above the surface. As the slick-
 
haired mammal reached the fallen tree jutting out into the river along the right side of themimosa, its head dunked under and the muskrat was gone.Running the golden point of an Aberdeen hook through the squirming rings of anightcrawler, I knew the muskrat was there for the same reason we were. Dad and Iweren’t the only ones who knew mimosas brought schools of muscle-toned bream.Raccoons, muskrats, ospreys, hawks, and snapping turtles all saw the same thing eachyear and understood. The hairy blossoms sprouting like amaranth pink Koosh balls on themimosa trees meant one thing. Fish.I slipped my first cast just under the tangled branches. The fluorescent orangecork skittered across the surface and settled in the cool shade. Within seconds the cork was high-tailing toward the fallen tree on the right. The bobber disappeared and I set thehook. I yanked low and fast in the opposite direction of the fish, the wobbly steel rodwhisping across the surface and then bowing as the tension of the sunfish set in. I woundthe handle of the oversized Quantum spinning reel and the rod pulsated with each burst of fins. A silhouette of the sunfish glimmered beneath brown water as the fish swam intosunlight.I lifted the hand-sized bluegill from the river, grabbed its scaly body, ran mythumb over the spiny dorsal fin, and removed the small hook, the worm still attached butrunning up the monofilament line. Dad glanced over, his hazel eyes hidden behind theblack lenses of Ray-Ban aviators. His red face was shadowed by the thick brim of adesert camouflage boonie hat. He smiled and reached down, flipping the livewell switchon.Water ran in the compartment beneath my feet as Dad made his first cast alongthe left side of the tree where four wooden posts (probably supports for a dock at onepoint) stood out of the water. I opened the carpeted lid of the livewell and dropped theopaque bluegill into the plastic compartment. The fish slapped against the dirty bottom aswater rose in the tank. These fish were headed for hot grease and as Dad set the hook onhis first, I knew by the end of the day we would, in the words of my Uncle Nanner, “havea whole mess o’ fish.”><(((((*>II. Hot GreaseThe fish that had swum in the hot current of the Catawba River were brightlycolored when I caught them, but lying on the plywood board in my backyard their vibrancy had faded, the eyes had glazed over, and the gills no longer moved. Alwaysresponsible for scaling, I held the sunfish’s stiff bodies and ran the shining teeth of thescaler against the grain of their skin. The scales flicked off like specks of mica and stuck to face, arms, and shirt. I could see white flesh beneath uplifted lines of green skin.Dad ran the knife blade behind the pectoral fins, lobbed off their heads, cut theanal vents out, and ran the knife up the stomachs, the innards seeping out like an openedbag of giblets. We threw the guts and heads into the woods for animals and took thecleaned fish inside to cook. I saw the blood smeared across the wet plywood andunderstood what had occurred: fish dead, nothing in vain, take only what you need, wastenot, fry them hot, and eat.On my father’s side of the family eating fish was a hands-on affair. There was noneed for forks or knives; we all learned to eat them off the bone. With the smell of hotgrease and fried fish hanging on the air, my family would tear into fish. When I was a
 
kid, the scene reminded me of those moments in cartoons where the cat holds the fish bythe tail, shoves the fish in its mouth, and pulls it back out with nothing but the skeletonremaining.Watching my dad and I shove catfish into our mouths, my mother’s side of thefamily gasped and thought we would certainly get a bone caught in our throat, but in our eyes that’s what the hushpuppies were for. Besides being the perfect side at a fish fry, thedoughy wads of hushpuppies made sure that anything caught in the throat eventuallywent down. Topped off with hand-churned ice cream (a hint of rock salt sneaking intoeach bite from the churn), there was no better meal.I was taught the fried fins and tails were the best part of the fish, and it didn’t takemuch convincing for me to realize they were right. Uncle Don, my father’s uncle(nicknamed “Cruiser” from late nights in pool halls), always called fried bream “potatochips.” When Dad was a kid he’d walk home from Burr’s Pond and as he passed Don’shouse, Ol’ Cruiser would yell out from his porch, “Got any tater chips?”Crunching into the crispy tail of a bluegill, I understood why. There’s no other way to describe the flavor to anyone who hasn’t eaten them, but that’s exactly the taste:crispy, salty, greasy, delicious. If my family knew anything at all, it was how to fish andhow to eat.We spent so many hours casting to bream and eating their fried bodies that we allstarted resembling the fish we caught. This may have made it hard to find suitors, butnone of us minded. We were all ugly as hell, but were tied close to the fish we soughtafter. Like Vardaman’s famous chapter in Faulkner’s
As I Lay Dying 
(“My mother is afish”), everyone on my dad’s side of the family might as well have fins.I was born into a school of cannibalistic fish. We eat our piscine brethren andalways have: deep fried, grilled, smoked, baked, poached, stewed, but mostly deep fried.The general rule of thumb has always been, and will always be, if you can stand, you canfish. Fishing was not only a pastime for my ancestors, but fish in a bucket meant one lessmeal that had to be bought. So, everybody in my family learned the ways of the past andthe traditions continued: if you can fish, you can clean a fish, and if you can clean a fish,you can eat a fish. Early on, I learned the reality of life and death by partaking in scalingthe catch.><(((((*>III. The MatriarchI can’t remember how old I was, but my family was at a Carolina beach withGranny, my father’s aunt who raised him. I stood on the shore next to her as she peeledtransparent shells off a couple of shrimp and ran the curled flesh onto the two long-shank hooks of her saltwater rig. My feet and legs were gritty with sand, the smell of bait wasstuck in her fingernails, and her straw hat was secured to her head with a white sash. Wewalked to the waterline together, the long saltwater rod held firmly in the grip of Granny’s age-spotted hands. I stood on the wet sand where periwinkles dug down andwatched as she waded, knee deep, into the ocean and cast the line, the pyramid sinker landing just beyond the breakers.With the bail still open, line coming out, Granny back-stepped toward me, lockedthe bail, reeled in the slack, and handed the rod to me. That fiberglass rod was at leastthree times as tall as me, but I held tight to the worn cork grips, the butt of the rodextending to the sand behind me.

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