The first thing I ever made was a fishhook. I was six, probably. We lived on Lac Saint-Louis, a dilation of the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal. When it wasn’t frozen over or hucking stormy columns of spray across our picture windows, its limpidity allowed a tantalizing view of small fish swimming close to shore. I don’t know where the urge came from—some cultural image? innate murderous instinct?—but I knew as surely as I have ever known anything that I had to catch at least one of those fish.
I found a small nail, squeezed one end into my father’s vise, and hit the other end with a hammer until it bent like a fishhook. My mother inspected it, gave her approval, and helped me tie it to a piece of string, and the string to a stick. For bait, she provided bits of hot dog from the plastic packaging, cut into perfect little disks. (The smell of those hot dogs fresh out of the package is like Proust’s madeleine to me; it takes me back, immediately and involuntarily, to Dorval in the 1970s.)
I remember vividly sitting by the edge of the lake, on a little stone wall, hot dog disks at my side, watching the plump goldfish investigate my hook. They were wary at first, but it didn’t take them long to start nibbling away. When they’d devoured the bait, I pierced another piece of hot dog with my hook and dropped it into the water. This cycle continued for the rest of the afternoon.
I caught no fish, of course. My hook was not barbed. At the time, it felt like a failure. But on the few occasions I’ve gone fishing, whether because I was on a boat where someone handed me a rod, or staying as a guest of an avid fisherman, I’ve found myself wishing I were still holding a stick with a string and a bent nail at the end, just hanging out, enjoying the long summer day, sun glimmering on the water, watching fish eat.
-Antoine Wilson is the author of two novels, PANORAMA CITY and THE INTERLOPER. He’s a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a contributing editor of A Public Space. He grew up in Southern California and continues to live and surf in Los Angeles. He’s online at www.antoinewilson.com and on Twitter @antoinewilson.