Catfish comfort me, I think because we have much in common. Unlike trout or purist dry-fly trout anglers, the catfish and I are no gentlemen. In contrast to largemouth bass and celebrity bass fishermen, we are not hugely loved by an adoring public. Our sincere admirers are not especially vocal, preferring more times than not to remain anonymous.
Catfish, like Kornegays, are simple souls. They do not require a mint’s worth of fishing attire or equipment from high-end outdoor catalogs. They are quite content to demand no other offerings save hook, line and bait. Mr. Whiskers shuns most artificial lures, preferring flesh, living or dead, and noxious concoctions that boggle the mind and overwhelm one’s sense of smell. Appetite-wise, he is apt to eat things from which his fishy brethren turn away en masse. So are Kornegays.
Neither catfish nor catfishermen make fun of my cheap tackle, my warped, leaky boat, or the fact it is not logical that I smell like I do and am still alive. I am, on the contrary, a hero in their unique realm. My homemade stinkbait is Mr. Whiskers’ gourmet fare and to fellow anglers I am Merlin, practicing black-arts alchemy concocting a magic potion that is the envy of all who inhale it, at least after they regain consciousness. The garlic and the cheese is the kicker, fellas. And let the chicken guts “season” awhile before adding them.
I have in my time caught or witnessed the catching of countless fish species. I have heard many of these finned creatures referred to admiringly as “beautiful,” “lovely,” even “breathtaking.” Never once have I heard the catfish so affectionately described. Glowing descriptions of my own physical attributes are equally unremembered. Such a slight is fine by the catfish. He is what he is. It is fine by me as well. I am what I am.
The catfish belongs to an aquatic netherworld: deep, dark haunts mysteriously cloaked in mud and slime. I, too, have frequented dark places to which slime was no stranger, particularly roadside restrooms and back-country kitchens. My ample posterior, too, is often muddy, usually when I sit on a riverbank to schmooze with catfish.
We tend toward laziness, Mr. Whiskers and I. We lie inactive for hours at a time until hunger forces us to prowl. It doesn’t matter that his hideaway is a bankside hole or logjam and mine a sofa or easy chair. The attitude is the same. The expending of energy is only practiced when absolutely necessary. When we get together, he awakens only long enough to take my bait. I animate myself only when he does, after a long, relaxing, rod-watching wait.
The catfish disdains cosmetic trappings. Cousin Tarpon may bejewel himself with scaly “bling” that glistens when he leaps. Cousin Rainbow may bedeck himself in fashionable, multi-hued splendor. Mr. Whiskers is far more subdued. Grays, browns and yellows suit him just fine and he shuns “jewelry” altogether. He is comfortable in his own skin. As I am in mine. I gave up the flashy “scales” long ago.
Lately, I’ve been doing some thinking, a disturbing and often dangerous undertaking for weird-brained organisms. I’m wondering if maybe there is such a thing as reincarnation. The more I consider it, the more likely it seems. Could I have once been a fat, ugly Mississippi River channel catfish caught by Huck and Jim from the shores of Jackson’s Island? Could I one day become a big blue or flathead, pursued by grizzled, tobacco-chewing kindred spirits with cheap tackle and warped, leaky boats? Not a bad beginning or ending from my point of view.
On the other hand, maybe I’m just dreaming; one of those late-night reveries brought on by indigestion, perhaps. Now that I think about it, those chittlins I had for dinner did smell a lot like stinkbait.
Email outdoors columnist Bob Kornegay at email@example.com.