scholars and rogues


by Terry Hargrove

First, I need to define a term: fishing buddy. If you fish, you need a fishing buddy. Now, a fishing buddy isn’t necessarily a friend. He might mutate into a friend if he eats enough catfish or lives near a nuclear power plant, but he doesn’t have to. If you want a friend, buy a truck or open your own restaurant and wait for the phone calls. Friendship isn’t the point. A fishing buddy exists to make you a better fisherman.

The quest to find or create the perfect fishing buddy might take years, but patience is a fisherman’s most reliable virtue. A good fishing buddy is more important than a 75- pound thrust trolling motor. A perfect fishing buddy is someone who is almost, but not quite as good a fisherman as you are. You should be able to out-catch your fishing buddy 52% of the time. If he catches the most fish one day, then you should expect to catch the biggest fish. That’s called the balance of nature.

My fishing buddy is Steve. We started fishing together back in 1982, and it hasn’t always been easy, I can assure you. At first, Steve didn’t know anything about fishing. I can still see him, with his plastic reels and bucket of crickets, but he did often state that he would rather fish than work, so the potential was there. After just two years of rigorous training, I had Steve at the perfect place: almost, but not quite as good a fisherman as I was.

Our fishing relationship followed the standard progression. We started by wading creeks, then we were making long casts from shore, then we learned to commandeer any small vessels that we found on the bank that weren‘t padlocked. Those were happy times,

the fish were plentiful and our lives weren’t yet filled with responsibilities.

And then it happened. I was sitting at home on a Friday evening, planning our next fishing excursion and changing the line on my casting reel, when the phone call came. My fishing buddy Steve had bought a boat.

I don’t need to tell you how concerned I was by this unexpected development. If Steve owned a boat, it opened up new and exciting possibilities. We could fish lakes now, and large rivers. We could enter tournaments, and fish at night on private waters. But none of that mattered. I saw clearly what could happen, and it left me shaken. Steve could, potentially, become a better fisherman that me! That would make me his…

We went out for the first time in Steve’s new boat on the clear waters of Tim’s Ford Lake in Tullahoma, Tennessee. We had just slipped the boat off the trailer when we noticed that two young ladies were watching us. OK, they weren’t watching us, they were watching Steve, he being younger and thinner than I was.

“Nice boat,” one of them said.

“Thanks,” said Steve in his calmest voice. “You girls want to go out for a ride in it?”

I was stunned. Steve’s invitation was wrong on so many levels. First, we were supposed to be fishing and not taking these tarts out for a spin on the waves. And I was married even though Steve wasn’t, so I knew that far away, my wife was going to stop doing whatever it was she was doing and sniff the air and know in her heart that I was participating in something I had no business participating in, and that another female was involved. All wives can do that. And who were these girls anyway? Maybe they were

professional tackle box thieves or undercover cops. But it didn’t really matter what I thought, because five minutes later, we were skimming the waters of Tim’s Ford Lake, zipping by who knows how many good fishing spots so these two trollops could feel the wind in their hair.

“Pretty fast, isn’t it?” asked Steve.

“Let’s do that again,” said Sarah, the taller of the two girls. Her friend Heather smiled. It was Heather who had serious eyes for Steve. I’d been a teacher long enough to recognize that stare, that look of longing, and it was her idea to join us. I think the other one was as uncomfortable as I was, in a boat with strangers, one of whom was old enough to be her scandalously young step-father.

“Take us over to the bank for a moment,” said Heather. I approved of the suggestion since it meant we could finally do a little fishing. As we neared the overgrown bank, I made a cast with my spinning reel. My artificial lure sailed cleanly into the low branches of a tree. Steve and the girls laughed and laughed.

“Looks like Terry made the first catch of the day,” laughed Steve. “A largemouth spruce. Har, har.” As he neared the branch, he grasped my line and began to follow it up to where it disappeared into the green leaves. He shook the line twice, and a water snake fell off the tree limb and into the boat.

The Battle of the Water Snake was short but furious. As Steve and I screamed and tried to scramble overboard, Sarah simply reached down and grasped the snake, then dropped it gently over the side of the boat. The two girls began to eye us with a mixture of pity and revulsion. Far away, my wife sniffed the air and felt relieved without knowing why.

“I think we need to go back to our car,” said Heather. “Don’t you think so, buddy?“ Sarah nodded, so Steve and I gathered up all that was left of our self esteem and took them back to the boat ramp.

When those cute distractions were removed, we had a decent day. I caught eight bass, and Steve caught ten. I caught one that weighed almost three pounds. Steve caught one that went almost five. And when the day was done, and I was removing all my stuff from his boat, I waited for the word.

“Well, except for the snake part, we had a good day,“ said Steve.

“Yes, we did,“ I agreed. “I’ll see you later in the week, and we’ll make plans for next weekend.”

“You bet. See you later, buddy.”

That hurt. Not as much as my wife’s blistering three-day interrogation, but it did smart. That night, as I stripped the old line from my reels, I thought about all the people in the world with buddies like me, engaged in all manner of activities with people who weren‘t their friends–cohorts who were almost, but not quite equal.

Terry Hargrove lives with his wife and son in Connecticut. His first anthology of columns, Don’t Mind Me, a Tennessean Lost in Connecticut is available from,, and He’ll sign it for free.

Categories: scholars and rogues

3 replies »

  1. Terry, you have such a gift for describing human relations! The snake did make me giggle… Thanks.

  2. Terry, you have such a gift for describing human relations! The snake did make me giggle… Thanks.
    Sorry, should have mentioned great post! Waiting on the next post!

  3. Ah, the age old battle between buddies and girls…and between fishermen. I’m with Sam, i can easily visualize these vignettes on film, which means that the writing comes alive. Thanks, Terry.