My older sister, Jean, is back east from Indiana. Somehow or another, we decided to go fishing on the rivers in Concord. We had to get fishing licenses first, so we couldn’t get on the river at sunrise (the best time to fish in summer because it’s cool). But by ten thirty or so, we had my canoe in the water, and we were paddling up the Assabet River.
The river was low, and there were a couple of places where there was barely enough water to float the canoe. We had a hard time getting through a couple of shallow places. The river was low enough that it seemed unlikely that we would catch anything except small fish. But the great virtue of the Assabet is that it is lined by overhanging trees, which shade it even in the middle of the hottest of summer days. Since we were fishing in the middle of the day, on one of the hottest of summer days, the Assabet seemed like a good choice.
We skirted barely-hidden underwater rocks, and paddled silently over deep, shady pools. We ducked to get under branches, and in the shallow parts I admired the pattern of sun and shadow on the sandy bottom of the river. We heard an occasional lawn mower — lawn care companies hired by the well-to-do householders who live near the river — but mostly we heard nothing but a few hot and lazy birds, or the plop of a turtle dropping into the water at our approach.
At last we got to a place where the river was blocked by a tiny water fall, all of twelve inches high. We could have gotten out and waded in water up to our knees and carried the canoe over the tiny falls, but we decided to start fishing. It took Jean a couple of casts to get back into the rhythm of casting — she said that it must have been twenty years since the last time she went fishing — but pretty soon, we were drifting downstream with the current, lazily casting and retrieving our lures, hoping we wouldn’t catch anything.
Of course we did catch some fish, mostly sunfish — voracious little pumpkinseeds and bluegills who lunged at the lures and stared at us with their goggle eyes as we unhooked them and released them back into the river. Jean caught a calico bass, and I caught a little six-inch largemouth bass. We got tired of catching the tiny fish. We both put on larger lures, too big for the little sunfish to get their jaws around, although sometimes they still would attack our lures. We drifted along with the slow current, casting into deeper holes where maybe a larger bass was lurking. In one such deep hole, I cast and felt a bigger fish hit my lure down in the murk. We cast a couple more times in that hole, but nothing came of it.
Really, though, we didn’t plan to catch much of anything. We wanted to go fishing for the sake of going fishing, not for the sake of catching fish. We were out fishing in the middle of the day on one of the hottest days of the year, in a shallow river where there shouldn’t be any fish at all except minnows. But the Pennsylvania Dutch side of our family are anglers, and I swear I could feel some kind of Pennsylvania Dutch witchery in my fingertips. So we caught more fish than we wanted to.
We took a break in the hottest part of the afternoon, and went to a nearby art museum that was air conditioned. We ate a quick dinner, and drove over to the Sudbury River. We drifted downstream in the canoe, catching a few more sunfish, and I got a small bass. When we got to Fairhaven Bay, we started fishing more seriously. Though it was only an hour before sunset, it was still hot. We knew the fish were still lying on the bottom, trying to stay cool, maybe snapping at a tasty morsel that drifted too close. So we fished on the bottom.
Fairhaven Bay covers about forty or fifty acres, and though it’s not as deep as nearby Walden Pond, it looks much the same. Henry Thoreau used to fish here, and he said that Walden Pond, Fairhaven Bay, and White Pond are Concord’s Lakes District — which I suppose means that these ponds should be the haunts of writers, just as England’s Lakes District has been haunted by writers. Even though Jean is a writer, and a college professor of writing, we did not talk about writing, or about the literary associations of Fairhaven Bay. We just fished off the bottom of the bay. We caught some more sunfish, and Jean pulled in a largemouth bass that was ten or twelve inches long.
Thoreau wrote that he got to the point where he didn’t like to fish, saying he thought less of himself when he went fishing. For me, the point of fishing is to not think much at all, except to think like a fish — which pretty much rules out everything except figuring out where the food comes from, and where you can find a sheltered spot near a good food source. As we paddled back to the landing, Jean and I talked a little bit about the morality of fishing, and I said I was willing to go fishing because I do eat fish and meat, and fishing helps me understand that eating fish and meat means that something has to die to feed me. However, I don’t suppose that a largemouth bass thinks about the morality of eating when it eats an insect, another fish, or a mouse (a bass will eat a mouse if one falls in the water). In my experience, most human beings don’t think much about the morality of eating. Thoreau probably thought too much about a lot of things.
When the sun disappeared behind the hills, we each had a last cast. We paddled back to the canoe landing, put the canoe on my car, and drove home.
Jean’s account of the same trip: Link.