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Inside looking out: Catfish Tom

Published July 27. 2018 09:52PM

Do you ever think about how your good friendships began? I mean, you didn’t get out bed one morning and say, “I m going to go somewhere today and find a good friend.”

Friendships just seem to happen and not always over the best of circumstances. At a college age, I foolishly drank from a bottle of a Seagram’s whiskey at a party with a guy who went to the same high school as me. We had no experience with alcohol, so with a half a bottle swallowed, we were plastered.

I stumbled into the backyard and leaned against an above-ground pool. I dropped my head into the water and I might have drowned standing up if someone didn’t grab the back of my shirt and pull me to the ground. Ever since that night and the hangover we shared the next day, Mike and I call each other great friends. By the way, we’ve never been drunk together since that night.

You can begin a friendship anywhere at anytime. I met Catfish Tom one summer day when I came to a lake with my rod and reel to catch largemouth bass. He sat in a lawn chair on a dock across from where I cast off.

First of all, fishermen are never strangers to each other. Their kindred is immediate with a hook, the line and the sinker. The lake inspires fellowship and conversation, and that’s how I got to know Tom.

He was casting chicken gizzards into the lake to try to catch channel catfish, and later I was to find out that the locals called him. “Catfish Tom.” He had become a legend of the lake to the local anglers, known for reeling in monster cats weighing 9 pounds or more.

After an hour’s conversation, I joined Tom at the dock summer nights to fish for big cats under the moonlight and alongside his lantern that caught more flying insects than any number of fish we ever hooked.

We’d sit in our chairs and watch the tips of our fishing rods that were propped inside holders in the dock. Once in a while one of us would latch onto a giant whisker face, but most of the time, we would yak away the late night, talking about nothing that mattered to anyone and not even to us.

Brotherhood is a word I like to use when speaking about my good friends, and Tom and I have spent many a day and night fitting into its definition. Besides fishing every chance we get, we bowl together on Tuesdays in the winter and we take opportunities to grab a bite and a drink at local watering holes.

As is the case in many good guy friendships, we don’t have many other similar interests. He likes the Eagles and the Phillies. I’m a Giants and Mets fan. He’s lucky with the daily lottery numbers and I lose at scratch and match.

Yet when we get in my aluminum boat, and anchor down near the north beach of our favorite lake, we share the same dedicated quest to catch the biggest fish that swims in the crystal clear water. It’s not competition; it’s cooperation. When one or the other boats a bigmouth into the net, a picture is taken, the fish is released and the moment is punctuated with a handshake.

Fishing returns a mature man to his childhood. When I fish with Tom, we often behave like 11-year-olds. We whine about line tangles. We complain when a 3-inch perch steals the worms off our hooks. We swear like sailors when big bass break free from our lines before we can get them into the boat.

We laugh about it all, and that’s what makes our friendship work.

I’m fortunate to have a few very good friends. We could say anything to each other with no worries about offending or hurting feelings. Often with family, you have to be careful and guarded. A grudge could become be a lifetime sentence of separation, but that would never happen between me and any of my “brothers.”

Yet, if I brought them together into one room, the mood would be strange because of their very different backgrounds and personalities. Special friendships, like the one I share with Tom, had begun with one and grows stronger the same way.

With Tom, I’m different kind of guy than I would be with any of my other friends. We grab some worms and our fishing tackle the night before and we say, “See you at the dock at 6 a.m.”

Slicing through the early morning mist in my boat until we arrive at our favorite spot in the lake, Tom drops anchor. As soon as we cast our lines through the silence of the sunrise, we sit back, take a deep breath and suddenly we are 11 years old again.

Rich Strack can be reached at

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