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By Eric Gilliland

In an effort to be a typical American family, my dad bought an afternoon on a charter fishing boat for him, my sister, my nephew, Nick, and, it seemed, me, when we were vacationing in Door County, Wisconsin this summer. Yes, we vacation in Wisconsin.

I am not a fisherman. I don't even like fish. For that matter, I don't necessarily like Man. That last part probably stems from the fact that I used to live in Los Angeles, which, if I'm to believe "maps," is near an ocean. However, like most people who live there, I hadn't seen that ocean (either the Pacific or the other one, not quite sure) in many, many years. As Lincoln said, why go to the beach when there are much better bars further inland? So "fishing," as my dad called it, is not high on my list of "things," as I call them. But he made the reservation for a tritely early fishing time of eight o'clock in the morning, set the alarm clocks for six, and that was that. Imagine the amount of wine I had to drink by myself that night in order to pass out early enough to get up that early.

Now, it's a thirty-minute drive to the dock. But my dad was concerned about traffic (We're in Wisconsin.) so we piled in the Buick (What else?), squinting at both the early morning sun and the swing music my dad had taped off an AM radio station that was tuned just enough off center that even the tubas were sibilant. We arrived at the city of embarkation an hour and a half before the scheduled embark, my dad impressed with the time he made on the roads (We're in Wisconsin.), and we set off to find Captain Paul's Charter Fishing Boat. Now, in Gills Rock, Wisconsin, there actually are two Captain Paul's Charter Fishing Boats. We wanted Captain Paul's, not Captain Paul's, and we almost made a mistake by going to Captain Paul's until we saw the sign for Captain Paul's.

We pulled in, signed up, got our fishing licenses and then waited for what seemed like an hour and a half. It was, to be more truthful, an hour and a half. Now, when you arrive at the boat an hour before the professional fisherman who has unashamedly slapped the title "Captain" on himself arrives, you know you're just too, too, too early. (But credit must be given where it's due: He doesn't go by "Cap'n.") The immediately likable Captain Paul (not Captain Paul) arrived and started to prepare the boat. He told us that there would be two other people joining us in our fishing expedition, and, it seemed, they had the audacity to show up exactly at the scheduled time. Suspicious.

It turns out they were father and son, up from Naperville, Illinois where Dad owns and runs and talks incessantly about a car wash. On this five-hour cruise I learned a lot about the proper ph-balance in water with which to wash a car, what they do with the "used" water once said car is washed, and how he was a proud lobbyist with the National Car Wash Association. I learned all this because I wasn't learning a thing about fishing. Here's why:

The way Captain Paul fishes with his eager fishermen is that he makes a sort of game out of it (!) First, he does all the preliminary work of tying on a fly and setting up the rod so that we don't have to get our hands all… busy. There are six of us, so there are six rods, each inserted into its own holder, the lines dangling over the end of the boat. However, we don't each have our own rod to watch. We take turns. One person watches all six rods for ten minutes. If one rod gets a bite, the person whose "shift" it is grabs the rod and reels in the prize. When the ten minutes are up, as signified by the ding of an egg timer, a piece of nautical equipment as pedigreed as an astrolabe or a sextant., that person goes back to doing nothing. Which is essentially what he was doing during his "shift" anyway. But now, he can't participate in the actual fishing part—or semi-vigilant stick-watching—for another hour. And he is forced to listen to how the newly-popular "Laser Car Wash" system has nothing at all to do with lasers, which Captain Paul thought was astounding (!)

So we sat. Seven strangers in a boat. "Fishing." In a horrible breech of high-sea etiquette, I almost got caught watching the poles when it wasn't my turn to watch the poles, and quickly realized that that sort of greedy eye behavior wasn't going to fly in the always-let-the-other-guy- watch-things-because-you-probably-don't-know-how-to-watch-things-as-well-as-he-can-watch-things Midwest.

Finally, after a week or two, a bite came during the shift of the Car Wash King's son. The boat all cheered as he sprang to action! Well, Captain Paul sprang and grabbed the pole to start things off, then he handed it to the proud and grinning lad who then reeled and reeled and reeled and reeled and reeled and reeled and reeled and reeled and reeled and reeled and reeled and reeled. And, sure enough, there was the fish. He pulled it on to the boat. Captain Paul took the hook out of its mouth. They took a picture. They tossed the fish in a cooler. And… the end. O! What a tale to tell his children and, later, his grandchildren about the day he turned a crank for a minute or two and wound up with a fish.

See, there doesn't seem to be much of an art to all this. When you see Brad Pitt slashing his fly fishing pole through the misty dawn and plunking his home-tied fly delicately into the beautiful rivers of America's west, sweat glistening, sinews flexing, well, that's art. This is sitting and cranking. And, due to the 10-minute shift rule, the cranking part is iffy. (Interestingly, "The cranking part is iffy" has always been my favorite Cole Porter lyric.) If family bonding was the goal of this endeavor, it wasn't going to happen watching string dangle in water as we clip along at an average trolling speed of a mile an hour. Family bonding happens when its members are challenged, on a dangerously wind-swept adventure, having their mettle tested. (I have had my mettle tested every year since college and fortunately, it always came up negative.) This wasn't exactly that. This was… well, we ate prepared sandwiches that Mom made. Mom-made prepared sandwiches are rarely part of wind-swept adventures.

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