We carried that fishing rod for 10,000 miles on planes, taxis, buses, minivans and boats. And as my family’s trip down the Mekong River progressed, I became ever more determined that it fulfill its basic function of plucking a fish out of the river.
The Mekong presents certain challenges for that. It’s a big river with a swift current and muddy water that obscures hidden logs and other traps to snag a line. And the turbid water reduces the effectiveness of lures or baits that require attracting the visual attention of a fish.
Or, at least that sounded right. The other main challenge was my complete lack of skill or experience as an angler.
The pole belongs to my son, Luca, who is walking proof that the impulse to fish springs from someplace deep and durable within humanity’s common genetic heritage. He does not come from a long line of fishers. He had never seen me — or anyone else for that matter — fish, or even heard tales of fishing when one day, visiting his grandparents’ house as a 4-year old, he saw fish in the backyard pond and simply decided that he needed to catch them.
He improvised a rod out of a stick, a string, a cork and a real hook that my stepdad was somehow able to find. With bread for bait, he began yanking bluegills out of the pond, and he has been obsessed ever since.
Skill-wise, I muddle along quite some distance behind Luca, but I’m determined to close the gap. I’m a freshwater scientist and my dissertation research overlapped with the world of fish biologists (who also tend to be anglers), so my fishing deficit is also a bit embarrassing professionally.
But on those rare occasions that a fish strikes my line and pulls hard, I do tap into that innate thrill that underlies fishing’s enduring appeal. Perhaps the tug activates some deep neuronal pathway that signals that food is close at hand.