I’m on a plane flying back to San Jose, California from Houston, Texas. My small, blue fishing rod is in the overhead bin. A couple of days ago, on a small boat, I was piercing a hook through the backs of live shrimp and casting them out into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the first time I had ever done that. The shrimp were as big as my hand, so large that when I sent a video of them to my wife, she texted back, “Did you catch all of those fish?!”
“No, that’s just the bait,” I responded.
I was in Texas for a bachelor weekend in Galveston, in a big house with a dock, on a calm canal that opened out into the Gulf. From the dock, we lowered a crab trap, loaded with a bloody fish head, into the darkness, before climbing aboard the boat on which I would learn to fish again. “The last time I fished, I was about nine years old,” I said, as one of my friends loaded the cans of beer into the cooler.
As a kid, I used live maggots for bait. I remember them burrowing into the crevices between my fingers, especially at the sensitive point where my fingers joined my hand. I preferred to keep them in the pot, but I remember a friend who stored some in his mouth. He told me that it kept them warm so that they would wiggle and be attractive to fish.
Once our fishing guide, Josh, had dropped the anchor into the ocean, he showed us how to put the shrimp on the hooks. “Grab ’em real tight so they can’t click and poke you with these barbs,” he said in his Texan accent, pointing to the two serrated protrusions, one on the shrimp’s head and the other on its tail. “Then you put the hook in here, just in front of this black thing, which is its brain.”
I tensed up and shook a little, “I don’t think I want to do that,” I said, “I don’t want to be cut.” I was also feeling weird about intentionally puncturing the exoskeletons of these little creatures.
“You’ll be fine,” he reassured me, “It just stings for a minute.”
Nevertheless, I let Josh do it for me, at least for a while. Part of me judged myself: an internal voice said, You should just do it! But I’ve learned to not push myself to do things that I’m not comfortable with; there’s nothing I should do. Even though Josh was about half my age and even though I was the one…