My friend Jim Low is crepuscular. No, it’s not some revolting skin disease. Crepuscular, rather, means being active in the neardark hours of the day. He loves outdoor sports that take place in the wee hours.
That’s fine if you’re talking about turkey or duck or deer hunting. Those animals are also crepuscular, and if you want to tangle with them you need to inhabit the graylight time.
But fish? I always assumed fish went to bed about the same time I did and got up at a reasonable hour.
Not according to Jim. He called one day to see if I wanted to go fishing. Naturally, I agreed, forgetting about his seminocturnal habits. “Great—I’ll meet you at 5 a.m.,” he announced.
Now to me, 5 a.m. is the hour at which you accidentally wake up, look at the bedside clock and think, “Nice! I have three more hours to sleep!” At 5 a.m., I am barely alive. Blood flows through my veins like swamp mud, and my coordination is that of a pregnant sow on a hockey rink. Still, I couldn’t back down now.
The day before our early morning excursion, I spent hours organizing my gear because I knew that at 5 a.m. I would forget everything except a cup of hot coffee strong enough to cauterize a wound. I loaded my float tube, rod, flippers, waders and wading shoes in the truck. I put my cap on top of my billfold and had shorts and shirt within reach of the spot where my feet, I hoped, would touch the floor when the alarm clock sang at that awful hour the next “morning.”
Now, getting into a float tube is about like donning a suit of armor in a telephone booth. Harry Houdini was famed for incredible escapes, but stick him in a float tube upside down and he would have drowned in seconds flat.
I was still sleeping the next morning when I got my flippers on and awkwardly tried to step into the tube, which began to float away from shore. Desperately, I fought for balance, managed to corral the tube and looked to see if Jim was watching. Fortunately, heavy fog hid me from any further embarrassment. I lurched into the tube and shoved off.
The morning was still. I was alone with nature, and so far nature had not noticed me. I have been around her long enough to know that she bristles when my name is mentioned and begins checking her supply of lightning bolts and tornadoforce winds.
I drowsily began casting a Mepp’s Black Fury— my first and last resort. I figured if I didn’t get a hit pretty quick, I’d pick up and go home.
But the float tube was surprisingly comfortable and the water was bathtubwarm from 90-degree days. Needless to say, I began to nod off. A strike interrupted my nearnap and I set the hook on a 2-pound bass, which promptly shook the hook free just as I got it to the tube. No muss, no fuss.
I continued to drift aimlessly, occasionally kicking halfheartedly with the flippers like a comatose duck. I was awoken by a savage strike, and as I got it in close, I realized it was the biggest redear sunfish I’ve ever caught. I cradled the little fellow in my palm and couldn’t help but picture him as two golden brown fillets, nestled next to a pair of justright eggs and a slice of toast...and then a nap. I would sleep with the fish in my belly, both of us warm and cozy.
Meanwhile, Jim stayed out until 11 a.m. and caught one minuscule bluegill. I think. I wouldn’t know for sure. I was asleep.