Just Goin' Fishin'

It's summer time again, and few things say the great outdoors like fishing. But when it comes to real fishing, my knowledge of the sport ends with the Zebco Kids' push-button spin-caster rod and reel. This was one of those gifts that you loved as soon as you got but then "gave up on" as soon you got it caught in something on the first cast across the driveway to pick up the plastic fish. After that it was confined to the "floaty fish in the kiddy pool" kind of fishing, which usually meant the plastic hook was going in my brother's shirt at some point. But beyond the backyard "sword fights" and other shenanigans with it, dad used to actually take us out on the lake in the canoe a few weekends to put it to use. The best thing I can say about this rod and reel from these experiences, besides the fact of just "having" a cool fishing pole like every guy wants, is how the whole one-pound test on it was strong enough to snag even the flimsiest surface weeds! Watch the bobber!

Truth be told, the only fish I think I ever caught, besides the plastic kiddy pool variety, were the feeder fish (which in the kindness of my heart I set free in the lake once...dad was not happy about that). Animal rights activism aside, there was nothing like being out on the lake with dad and bro, just us guys, but that time spent with this rod usually involved untangling the lines, unhooking the line from bushes, trees, clothing, and body parts, rethreading the lines, and generally... untangling the lines.

But despite my complete lack of luck or common sense when it came to fishing, I did manage to net me at least one good catch... a real live mermaid! And that may sound like one very unbelievable fish story, but I swear it's the truth. Once my brother and I showed up to some kid's Halloween costume party, and because we weren't all that creative in our costume ideas, we came with our poles for some reason. Now, it just so happened that at this party was this girl from our daycare dressed as Ariel, the "Little Mermaid," so naturally it was only a matter of time before she was taking our hooks out of her costume. I mean, obviously it was going to happen, but for some reason she didn't think it was as funny as we did, until of course we were forced to put the poles away.

Speaking of fishing, I seem to remember being particularly good at this very "indoor" game called Let's Go Fishin': "the action fishing game where players try for the biggest catch!" You take your tiny fishing pole and hook the fish that circle around the pond bobbing up and down and opening their mouths. The first one to hook the most wins! You might remember this as the kind of game you usually found stacked up in that carpeted basement playroom at your rich cousin's house along with the NES, the robotic arm, and all the other cool toys you couldn't have. You'd slide it out of the box and, wouldn't-ya-know-it, half the fish would be missing from the pond (just like they would be on a real fishing trip).

The Amazon Trail 3

For a while as a kid I had a thing for rain forests. This was after my thing for deserts and before my thing for oceans, but it was the strongest of my biome "things" and lasted a good six or so months in the 3rd grade. I'm not exactly sure why rain forests, but I think it was just the beginning of me being a sucker for anything "exotic," which continues right to the present. This is why I loved playing the little PC Oregon Trail game clone "Amazon Trail" so much. Back in the day they were giving the CD for this game out for free on Cheerios boxes, so we brought it home and quickly got addicted to it. Unfortunately "free" apparently meant the shipping had the right to rub the CD in sand before they sent it, so the game never really worked right, but we still played it all the way to the end at least once.

It begins with this talking jaguar on a very cool looking shield in a museum who proceeds to lay some very brief exposition on you about being the "chosen one" before whisking you away by ancient magic of some kind to the amazon river delta. There you chose your guide and are told to travel to this town at the end of the river called "Vilcabamba" to do something I was never quite sure about. It had something to do with trading and solving problems with the people you meet to gain special talismans or something, but the main point of it was, as with all educational PC games in the 90s, actually to "educate" you, and this game spent a lot of time doing just that. But with its jungle atmosphere, bird call sound effects, and pan flutes a-plenty, it really does make you feel swept away to some exotic place, which for me is an enjoyable experience.

Just make sure you're traveling in the right direction in the boat because every way on the river looks exactly the same (as if you're careening toward a distant shoreline at every turn!), while you also play pole position with the logs and other debris sure to "log" your canoe. I remember getting completely lost and going in circles for hours trying to find the "side" of the river for some bearings, but rest assured there are none. According to this game the Amazon river is endless fathoms wide, and you're just expected to "go forth" into unknown depths and careen towards a mirage of a shoreline that you are never going to reach no matter how much you try to convince yourself of progress made. Be sure to also check the map often though or you could be venturing down a tributary into jungle-nowhere, where you will be mysteriously unable to get back.

During the game you travel across time as you head down the amazon river, meeting people in very obviously computer generated settings, although at the time they looked very realistic. Half the live action people you run into in these environments are either out to rob you, kill you, or educate you about the flora, fauna, and history of South America, so sometimes it was just fun to run around ticking people off by choosing the worst RPG dialogue options before unloading your useless "trading packets" on them for some anti-malaria medicine or other. My brother and I ran across this conquistador who refused to let us leave until we gave him all our shit, answering everything with a "that's not bad...but I want MORE!!" We had to restart the game to get away from him, but it turns out that you can kill him with the "medicine" that the old medicine man gives you towards the beginning. Go figure!

You could also go fishing in what appeared to be the clownfish pond at the local hotel by chucking spears at the fish-shaped shadows, providing that the pond was stocked with barracuda! They'd wait until you were starving and dying of scurvy to give you the one area of the Amazon completely devoid of fish. Then you could journey on land presumably and take pictures of the scenery as the moths and tropical birds flew by, because you know, it actually did beat going outside and doing the same thing. This was way more "exotic" than the backyard, and very computer-generated. After all this, we did make it to the end once due to the constant bugs with our version of the game, but found it to be completely underwhelming. The ending was just two hippies giving you the standard "save the rain-forest" and "protect the earth-mother" kind of stuff, but that aside, it was a fun little bit of tropical escapism while it lasted. And as one of the more grumpy people you meet whines:

"What else would a man be doing in this rain-soaked land of mosquitoes!"