There's a big old aluminum tackle box sitting
in that room of the house which, when renovated,
will include a cabinet for storing my collection
of antique and newer firearms, fishing gear, maps,
boat plans, a desk for my computer and tying flies.
That room is a work in progress, like the rest of
the house, but the area is a sort of small alcove
off the living room, about eight by twelve, with
windows on two of its three sides. It will be perfect
for a place I can write, do odd jobs like oiling my
reels or cleaning a gun, or tying fishing flies. It
will also be a sort of conservatory.
The old aluminum tackle box was Dad's. It's rounded
on the corners, like a loaf of bread, but much bigger,
and the sheet metal is dappled with texture. You
unclip the lid on each side, and it separates down
the middle and the two halves open outward with a
dry shriek of metal on metal. Inside are rows of
trays stacked three high which also expand outward
on hinges, revealing lots of individual tackle storage
units and a larger space beneath.
I take it out, sometimes, and study it carefully. When
I was a kid, that tackle box was many things to me. It
was a symbol of being a grown-up: A grown-up sized
tackle box marked the entrance to a whole world of
grown-up privileges and perks, without cognizance
of the responsibilities entailed. It was also a
wonderland of things I was seldom allowed to tinker
with, mysterious fishing lures that would emerge only
out on the lake, and a plethora of unknown objects
which I could only glimpse while the lids were open
and the trays sprawled outward.
I had my own tackle box, I remember, a little yellow
plastic one that was about a foot long, six inches
wide and five inches tall. It held a few hooks, a
half dozen lead weights, a couple of corks and some
lures which had seen better days that Dad had donated
to my collection, and I prized them all greatly. When
Dad opened his tackle box, I opened mine, whether I
needed anything from it or not.
Today his old box sits in the room which will be my
"piddling room," along with his nine-foot, five-weight
fiberglass fly rod and Martin automatic reel. The
burgundy finish has speckled and grayed, and the reel
is chipped and greasy. The line, once yellow and
flawless, is crackled and dry. But if I wind the
external disc and merely touch the release, it
whirls and sings, pulling line in as if it were
brand new. It is a sound I know so well. I don't
use automatic reels anymore, but they still hold
a warm spot in my heart.
Sometimes I open the tackle box and finger through
its contents: old wooden Heddon Lucky 13's, badly
chewed up; Rapala Floating Minnows and oodles of
fly poppers, their feathers long disintegrated and
their rubber legs melted away like the years. There
are Jitterbugs, many of them, and I can recall their
strange movement atop the water, slowly retrieved on
the line with a jerky, side-to-side motion that often
drove the largemouth bass into a frenzy. There are
large bass poppers, a single Snagless Sally which I
don't recall him ever using, and huge lures which I
can't identify the make or model of.
At the bottom of the box, in the larger space, he
always kept spare Johnson Century or Citation reels.
We always fished with Johnson reels, Citation or
Century. There was also always a spare fly reel, too,
just in case. I had my own fly rod, which I never
quite mastered but became reasonably proficient
with by the time I put it away as a late teen.
He kept a smaller box for the tackle he used most,
to be stashed at easy reach under the deck of the
boat. I have it, too, but it came along after I
was a grown man, and I have no connection to it.
No tether or lifeline. His spin cast fishing tackle
I still use, some of it, though a dozen old reels
lay in a box at home, common ones as well as brands
of which I've never heard.
A red-and-white Lucky 13 catches my eye, and I pick
it up. The hooks are rusty, and the body is marred
by a great many tiny pricks, teeth marks of largemouth
bass. If I could count the exact number of fish taken
on all the lures in that box, I would guess they'd
fill the living room from floor to ceiling. There
are a thousand fish swimming around in that old
aluminum tackle box, taken under a thousand cypress
or tupelo branches, from behind a thousand sunken
logs, aside a thousand weed beds and nearby a thousand
flat-topped pond lilies. There are dozens of oatmeal
crème pies inside there, too, the only snack we'd bring
with us on the water; lurking somewhere under the
expanded trays, between the metal hinges, is a small
boy and his aging father; the boy born late in the
man's life, an only child, knowing no sports, no
baseball or football, only a tackle box full of
lake water, cypress trees, shell mounds, broken
pottery, bluegill, bass and safety.
If I turned the box over and spilled its contents
onto the oak floor, not only would the Heddons and
the poppers and the Johnson reels tumble out, but
so would eight cottonmouth snakes which ran us out
of Peach Coulee one day, intent on getting at the
fish we had in the livewell. If I shook the box
to free anything stuck to the black innards, an
old Hildebrandt straight-shank spinner might dislodge,
along with a catfish that must have easily gone 40
pounds, which we chased around the lake for half
an hour before it broke the line on a cypress knee.
If I brush the insides of the box with my fingertips,
I might stir the dust of memory, recollection of
something I had forgotten and can't recall now.
But I don't turn it over, don't shake it or brush it.
The fanned trays and open lids are enough, for there
is a world of water contained in the bottom of that
old aluminum box. Sometimes I feel like all of a
lifetime could fit in there, does fit in there,
like a treasure chest, or a hope box. Most of me
is rattling around inside that old box, bumping
against its component memories and events. I don't
use the box; I don't use the fly rod, either, fearing
that something might happen to either of them and
I'll lose all my memories somehow.
Such things as memories can't be bought, they can't
be remade. In the house, in the greater sanctuary
like a secret box inside a secret box, they're safe
Instead, I take my new graphite fly rod out of
its canvas case while standing on the bank of
a pond somewhere nearby and connect the ferrules
of the two-piece rod. I strip out line, inspect
the knot of the fly line to the nine-foot leader
and the condition of the chartreuse popper with
white rubber legs and black fuzz on the tail.
Thinking of the child in the box and the old
man he's becoming somewhere on the stream winding
ahead, I lift the rod and the line whips back,
pushing through air which Abraham breathed in
and Black Elk exhaled, then snaps forward and
stretches out before me. A few false casts later
the line is laid straight, leader out, and the
popper is let still near a clump of submerged
brush, submerged like the days gone down from
A bluegill rushes out of the brush and boils
water around the fly, and the line snaps taut,
and the rod bends, and for a moment, at least,
he's standing over my shoulder, just behind,
just out of my sight, and the circle comes 'round
to where it began yet again.
Nea'se. Thank you for sharing my ramblings, and
my waters. ~ Roger