The secret to the doughball was garlic. My brother and I spent countless hours on our grandparents’ boat dock staring at rod tips for the indication of a bite every summer of our youth that I can remember. We primarily fished for common carp, the ugly orange variety. And we mostly used Quaker Oats infused with garlic powder. Our grandmother taught us that trick. Carp, evidently, like Italian food. My brother, Gary, used a tight-line technique with a weight. I used no weight and kept my line slack. I chided him, as only a 10-year-old could, for being “dumb.” We kept count that July and he beat me by more than a dozen fish, if I remember correctly. I was wrong and not happy about it.
As Gary and I aged, our fishing pursuits expanded. My grandfather sank brush next to the boat dock, which attracted crappie. Live minnows were the deal. Again, we had a disagreement on the best way to hook minnows. Even though he was two years older than me, I was certain his knowledge was flawed. He was a through-the-lips practitioner; I preferred to hook the bait just behind the dorsal fin. Again, he caught more fish.
Once we latched onto bass fishing, our techniques and ideas diverged even more. Although his tacklebox always held a black Jitterbug and plastic lizards, Gary bought infomercial lures almost exclusively. He is still the only person I have ever known to catch a bass on the Helicopter Lure. Banjo Minnow? Yep. The Bill Dance electronic jig was his go-to. Mighty Bite swimbait? He ordered four kits. I tried to tell him those baits were gimmicks created more to catch fishermen than fish, but he thought I was wrong. I guess the track record was in his favor.
We had grand plans this year to get together to recreate the fishing pursuits of our youth and target carp, crappie and bass over a week, keeping count along the way and crowning, once and for all, a champion of concept. We hadn’t fished together in a couple of years. I lived in Alabama; he lived in Texas. Work and trivial activities kept pushing aside our next fishing trip. Not this time. We would nail down a date and see it through. I thought this would become a tradition, something we could look forward to every year, the trophy collecting dust on my mantle. I’d let him touch it, of course.
But, on March 1, 2021, I was again proven wrong.
Gary had a heart attack in his sleep and, at age 51, was gone.
I endured a great internal debate on whether or not to write this column. I am uncomfortable with sympathy. I tend to keep grief internal, a private affair. Still, for the greater good and a spoonful of catharsis, I think one of my greatest mistakes to date should be laid bare so others might not make it.
There seem to be countless secrets to a happy life, but I’ve only been smart enough to nail down one: mitigate regret. What would bring you heartbreak if not accomplished, assuming tomorrow never comes? I’m making a list. As for those items I no longer have control over, pushing aside one weekend over the past two years to meet Gary is at the top. If I had a do-over, we’d congregate lakeside with a carton of garlic-smelling oats. He’d tight line the doughball while my line would remain slack. He’d likely catch more fish, and I’d cherish being wrong one more time.