By Steve Whipple
MethuenLife Writer

According to my trusty calendar, we are smack dab in the middle of freshwater fishing season.

Honestly, it is peculiar I’d have any interest in fishing based on my rich history of angling failures. It’s like a boxer excitedly announcing his rosy future – after being on the receiving end of 56 straight knockouts.

Somewhere in the Whipple Manor or one of my related affiliates is a shoebox containing a Polaroid taken near a Lake Waukewan campsite when I was in grade school. A smallmouth bass is dangling from my Zebco “Fishing Fraud Jr.” rod ‘n reel. I was Top Sportsman, King of the Lake. Pity the fool who’d clobber my bobber. However, standing inches to my right is my dad with his prey – a 16-inch bass swinging from the end of his pole that eclipsed my catch by a foot.

In comparison, my fish looks like the bait that caught my dad’s fish. This, coincidentally, marks the point in my life I began glaring miserably at cameras.

When we weren’t visiting the Sanborns’ campground in Meredith, I was joining my dad on the Salem/Methuen line ensuring that all but the most gullible sunfish and bluegills remained free in the Spicket River. My dad was not a member of that movement and was forever catching fish.

In middle school years Rosaire Leblanc and I, armed with plastic luggage-size tackle boxes, visited every body of water in the 2-town area. With a consistent, unwavering streak of lousy luck. Soon fish were arriving from other states for the free bait buffets. And yet, my “fishing” continued.

And then this happened, which certainly should have snuffed any further interest in angling.

In my early 20s my brother Bruce, my unofficial adopted brother Vinnie and I visited our Aunt Sandi and Uncle Nelson in Madison, MS. Mississippi is well-known for its rednecks, alligators and obesity. Often you’ll get a 3-for-1 with a fatso, toothless gator sunning itself on a NASCAR beach towel while crushing a 12-pack of Coors. Even the Budweiser Clydsedales sport mullets.

Madison is also known for its Ross Barnett Reservoir, a 33,000-acre reservoir of the Pearl River. Sandi and Nelson owned a rookie class 18-foot outboard they trailered over to a public ramp for hours of water sports with us.

And the Barnett’s fishing was more than just wishing – anglers were regularly hauling in crappie, catfish, largemouth bass, even the occasional alligator gar. With all that good fishing to be had, we brethren concluded: When in Rome, do as the Romanians.

After a brief discussion with Sandi and Nelson, we hooked up the boat trailer to Nelson’s Buick and headed off to the ramp a few miles away. En route we fetched us some nightcrawlers and Coors from the local gas station/fireworks super store.

The boat launch and slow chug across the reservoir and into the Pearl was relatively uneventful. We dropped anchor near a tree stump – one of several that kissed our hull.

Then we did what all Southern gentlemen do: We skewered a worm or two onto a hook, cast toward submerged shrubs where bass like to loiter, then cracked a beer.

After what amounted to wormacide without landing a single fish, I switched from bait to a lure and cast toward the stump. Vinnie wrestled a variety of tackle onto a swivel, added a few more hooks for good measure, then lobbed the whole barbed mess off the starboard. Bruce hung up his pole for good. He would be the wisest.

As I was in mid-cast, a Mississippi Fish & Game boat and its water sheriffs appeared out of nowhere.

“How’s the fishing, boys?” asked the elder sheriff cheerfully.

“No fishing here, officer,” I replied. “Just casting. The only thing we’ve caught all day is that there stump.”

The officer smiled. “Still going to need to see yer licenses. You boys talk funny. I’m sher you’ll bought fishing licenses before you’ll came out here and hooked into our fine stumps.”

There’s certain gambles I’ll take. Attempting to catch fish on a huge body of water the day before we return home was one such gamble I was good with.

“License!?” I feigned shock. “My Uncle Nelson said we don’t need fishing licenses if we’re on moving water … like this river,” I stammered from my seat above the dead-calm water.

“What?!” the officer scowled. “Your uncle should know better. Where’s he from?”

“He’s from Alabama but he said the state has a reciprocal agreement with Mississippi,” I replied weakly. “But you’re right, he should know better.”

“You boys are in a lot of trouble. I’m guessing he didn’t happen to mention Rankin County is a dry county and I’m seeing several open beer cans in your boat.”

Dry county? When did that happen? (We had bought the refreshments in Madison County.)

Vinnie and I were given the option of paying hefty fines by mail or presenting our fabricated dumb uncle defense to a Mississippi judge – several days after we were to return to New England. We chose pay-by-mail-to-avoid-the-jail.

The Fish & Game fellas handed us the citations and raced off to another crime. Feeling defeated and broke, we pulled up anchor and headed back to the boat ramp. I left Bruce and Vinnie in the boat tied to the dock while I hiked back to get the car and trailer.

Vinnie chose this wait time to catch up on … more illegal fishing. He cast an impaled nightcrawler over near a houseboat – the same houseboat that obscured his vision of the same two Fish & Game agents cruising toward the same ramp.

Horrified at the thought of a second ticket less than an hour after the first, I began doing jumping jacks to get Vinnie’s attention. He waved me off as just another loon who had gotten into the Coors. I mimed, “FISH AND GAME!” while pointing to the approaching boat.

Vinnie spotted the lake sheriffs and did what any hardened criminal does while holding evidence: He hurled Nelson’s perfectly fine rod and reel overboard where it immediately sank to the bottom of the Ross Barnett Reservoir.

The Fish and Game officers were distracted by some commotion on the houseboat, probably lead fishing weights sailing through the living room. However, no additional tickets were issued to the clueless Yanks.

Almost anyone can catch fish. It takes a very special breed of idiot whose day is a celebration of no fish, no bait, confiscated beer, one less fishing rod and a $125 ticket.

Gone fishin’? Sure, right after I’ve gone psychoanalyzin’.