Nebraska Center for Writers

THE DEEP MIDDLE
by Benjamin Vogt

After ten minutes I realize I’ve lost my touch. There’s no finesse in my cast, no wrist action. My fingers keep getting caught in the bail, I’ve already got two knots in the line that are restricting the distance I can throw. I turn around and can see the ripples of my dad’s one-of-a-kind Rapala top-water lure, one that probably belonged to his father, within six inches of the lily pads. It’s something the bass should be jumping at. I’ve got my trusted assortment of beetle spins, all different colors and shapes of spinners, the flat gloss of the reflection underwater which is supposed to mimic the sheen of helpless minnows adrift in the current. A few years back I used them to catch thirty crappies in a little over two hours as we trolled back and forth over deep water. That was before the great, mysterious kill of ’98, and the summer before I moved back home.
I try casting sideways, to slide in just in front of the pads. I end up ten feet short, but if I throw too hard I’ll snag the pads, and we’ll have to maneuver in, waste time, and commit a felony—in Minnesota any aquatic life in public waters is property of the state, and any removal or transplantation is forbidden. If you get caught. I’d only seen marshals on the lake a few times in ten years, but they’d stopped us once to make sure we had life jackets out within reach, that we had an extinguisher, fishing licenses.
We’ve slid fifty feet in ten minutes, the slurping hum of the trolling motor and the taps of my dad’s feet on the floor control constant, calculated like digital rain on sound- soothing machines. The trees become thinner, scattered between small houses and manicured lawns that spill down to the shore. Adirondack chairs and citronella lanterns are staked into the ground in crescents, inner tubes and inflated loungers weighed down by firewood near tied up boats. Willows rise and explode, fade branches down to the water like fireworks, tease the surface with leaves that draw “S” traces in the moving water. Geese land across the cove without calling directions, falling almost inaudibly like snow.
My beetle spin pulls back through the water. I vary speed, let it sink for a second after it lands, coast it out from the pads and jerk through the weeds that separate my steady attack like the Atlantic Wall, then slow it down again in case something has followed it all the way to the white fiberglass hull, in case it was thinking seriously about the bait, but waiting for the right moment, the open door of pensive movement. I remain frozen, looking into the dark chocolate water, willing the olive drab shimmer of a bass’s topside, knowing that they don’t follow, but hit the bait at the moment of impact, and thinking today could be different, today averages could be outweighed by telekinesis. That’s how long it’d been since I last fished. Averages always hold.

Reprinted with permission
from "The Deep Middle"
Copyright © 2004
by Benjamin Vogt


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