It wasn't exactly old man and the sea. It was worms at Lake Roland, a summer fishing expedition with father and son.
Before my 7-year-old son and I went fishing, we hunted worms. My son didn't want ordinary earthworms, he wanted night crawlers, the Winnebago of worms.
He had never seen the long body of a night crawler. But he had heard of their reputation. I had told him bedtime tales of how, years ago, I used to slink through the summer darkness, flashlight and empty coffee can in hand, tracking the big worms.
To catch a crawler, you had to pounce on them, pinching them between your thumb and forefinger and pulling hard. There was a tug-of-war, the catchers against the crawlers, with the crawlers often slipping away and shooting down their holes with snake-like swiftness. Catching night crawlers, I remember, was often more exciting than catching the catfish they attracted.
And so one Saturday night, my son and I went on a quest for crawlers. I pulled out the only functioning flashlight left in the house, the rechargeable one I hide on the workbench, and went on the prowl. We tiptoed through yards and around a grassy playground. We shined the flashlight under bushes, in the grass, around flowers. Nothing was crawling. The ground was too dry. It hadn't rained for days, and I explained to my son that sometimes the crawlers, like fish, just don't bother to show up.
We went fishing the next morning. The boy wanted to buy worms, but I couldn't bring myself to buy bait. It seemed unfair to the fish, who deserved "wild" worms.
As we drove to the lake, I stopped the car, and using a stick and my old worming instincts, I unearthed a dozen wigglers from the side of the road. They weren't night crawlers, but they would do.
I picked Lake Roland, off Falls Road just north of Northern Parkway, because it was close to our house and because the lake did not have any rental boats. Last summer I made the mistake of taking this kid to Loch Raven reservoir, and renting a boat with an electric motor. Theoretically my son and I were fishing. We didn't get a nibble, but the kid didn't care. He loved riding around in the boat and didn't want to leave. The two of us spent hours puttering around the lake, in a hot sun, getting the propeller snagged on underwater growth.
This time we fished on the shoreline at Lake Roland, near a pavilion. My son liked this spot because from this perch he could see fish swimming in water. They weren't big, but they were fish. I liked the spot because it was not too far from the parking lot and I planned to do a few car repairs.
It was a cloudy day, the shoreline was not very crowded, and it was quiet. Predictably, something went wrong. My son's fishing reel wouldn't work. I tried to fix it. I opened up the innards and saw gears, buttons and levers. Nothing seemed out of place, but I was in over my head.
My son was itching to get his line in the water. His excitement grew when a veteran fisherman, a fellow with special sunglasses and bass stickers on his van, landed a nice size large-mouth bass.
I told my son we would have to take the reel to a fishing store and get it fixed. My son remembered visiting the store -- T.G. Tochterman and Sons on Eastern Avenue -- a place filled with fishing poles, worms and the promise of the big fish. He wanted to go to the shop right away, while the fish were jumping. I told him it wasn't open yet.
Acting quickly, I cut some fishing line, tied it to the boy's pole and attached a hook, a sinker and a bobber. I put one of our wild worms on the hook, tossed the rig in the water, and told the kid that when the bobber went under, a fish was eating.
It was primitive but effective.
The bobber danced. The boy yanked. The fish escaped. I rebaited, counseling the kid that fishing was like life: Missed opportunities are plentiful. Several worms were sacrificed, but eventually the bobber dove, the boy yanked, and a flapping sunfish emerged from the water.
My son ended up catching three sunfish. We fished until the worms ran out. It was getting hot, the flies had discovered us and a vanload of day-trippers had arrived for a hike around the lake.
On the way to the car, my son passed two other kids. They admired his catch. The fish were not bigger than an adult's hand. But to the kid, they were trophies.
And now when the boy tells his buddies about the expedition, the size of the fish and amount of fight they put up grows with each rendition.
He has tales of his own to tell. He has become a fisherman.