Harold Skinner completed the eighth loop in the best fishing line knot, feeding the free end through the loop created near the eye of the hook. Then he pulled it taught. It was a beautiful time of year, the best time in Harold’s opinion, because the worms he bought every Monday from Bob’s Market were plump and lively. Summer.
The best way to get them out of the Styrofoam cup was to put his whole hand in, feeling around in the wood chips and dirt clods until the telltale fingerprint friction of an attempted escapee registered on an old finger. He skewered a victim as the anchored dinghy rocked lightly on the wake of a passing boat. It was the only other vessel he had seen all morning, but as it passed he spoke lightly to himself. “Looks like my hole’s becoming more popular.”
The fishing hole he was anchored over was not his in the sense that he owned it, but it was his favorite. It was the best. He went twice a week, Monday and Thursday, parking his diesel Chevy in Charlie’s driveway. Charlie also let Harold keep his dinghy at the little river dock he owned. The hole was just a few hundred yards down stream; a stone’s throw from the green bridge that held Highway 38 above the Umpqua River. The spot was quite peaceful despite the cars and semis crossing constantly.
On those mornings, Harold would convince the little outboard motor to start, and riding over, kill the prop just as he drifted over the fishing hole. Then he would toss in the anchor, and the river would tug and tug on Harold but he and his little boat would stay right where he was most comfortable.
One of his favorite things about this spot was the sheep that sometimes came down to graze on the bank. They’d yell every once in a while, like angry old men.
“Get off my laaawwwn,” they would say. “Get off my laaawwwn.”
He pulled back the bail of the old spinning reel and hooked the line on his aching finger, swinging the pole and then freeing the line. Plop. Perfect. He knew just how deep his favorite fishing hole was, so he let the lively worm sink to just above the rock bottom, and no more. Then he popped open a can of his favorite beer.
Harold had a lot of favorite things. From church to pizza place to underwear brand, he knew exactly what the best of everything was, and always will be. The best movie was Twelve Angry Men and the best book East of Eden. He had not watched a movie or read a book since deciding that these were the best.
When he tossed the first can to the bow of the dinghy, something caught Harold’s eye. There was a thin chain stuck between the inflated rubber and the plywood floor of the boat, and as he pulled it from it’s snag and brushed off the spider webs, the old man realized it was a necklace that once belonged to his wife. A stainless-steel hummingbird hung from one of the chain segments.
She left him a few years ago; her main complaint was that he wasn’t open-minded, but to Harold that was not a sufficient excuse for leaving someone alone for the rest of his life. The only thing he did was tell her not to play any of that God-awful young people music. She should have known that the only thing he would listen to was Johnny Cash.
He stuffed the necklace into a pocket in his fishing vest.
It was quiet that day; not even a nibble. In fact it had been quiet for a while now, as long as Harold could remember he hadn’t gotten a nibble at his hole. Not a single bass had shown its gills. But changing his fishing spot would be out of the question.
About a month before a young man got his attention from the south bank. “Hey Skinner!” He called. “See where that limb hangs over on the other side?”
Harold nodded, “Sure do.”
“I caught my limit o’er there just last Tuesday. You should give it a shot.”
Hearing what the man said, Harold blinked a few times and nodded slowly, “Thanks, but I think I’ll catch my limit here.”
The man scratched his head, a little ashamed, “But that hole’s been dead for years, Skinner.”
“I’m fine here boy, thanks.”
But this is when the young man on the bank was proven wrong. The hole was not dead.
Harold had barely opened his second beer when there came a tug on his favorite river pole. The old man with aching fingers grabbed and pulled on the reel, but it fought. Something was wrong. This was not the typical small mouth bass Harold had been expecting. He had landed a sturgeon. It was the most delicious kind of fish.
Excited by the prospect of catching such a great animal, Harold pulled on the reel, but he couldn’t gain any line. In fact, the line was quickly spinning away. No matter how hard he fought it, the fish kept dragging. His fingers ached more and more, and within five minutes the line was spooled. Before he could react, the pole jerked loose, but he wasn’t going to give up that easily. He lunged for it, wanting nothing more than to have the best pole in the world back. But it was gone. The pole skirted off along the surface, and before Harold realized that he’d shifted too much weight to one side of the dinghy, it tipped.
Now sinking through the muffled world of the Umpqua, Harold opened his eyes. He faintly glimpsed the snake-like sturgeon swim away upstream, hook it mouth. It was nearly seven feet long.
The river continued to move, despite how much Harold wanted to stay right where he was.
Never the greatest swimmer, he tried in vain to tread water. When he looked back, he could only just see his anchored upturned dinghy disappear behind the curve. A sheep yelled from the bank. “Get off my laaawwwn.”
Harold tried to breathe, but liquid filled his mouth. He knew he wouldn’t survive the river; it was moving too fast. The sheep watched him splash by. The hummingbird necklace slipped from his vest pocket and sank. It would end soon. But it didn’t matter. Harold had spent many years thinking about it, and he had decided that drowning was the best way to die.