“Do you believe?” he asked with the expectation of an evangelist. “Do you believe in the gool?”
“Slab. Slab. Slab,” I slowly recited, while rubbing the gool’s white belly with a convert’s conviction. The gool’s transformation from a fish to a holy object was complete, and we reverently placed him back in the lake. Then we dropped in our jigs and all Hades broke loose on the water; the luck of the gool was real.
I was once a scoffer and a mocker of the gool, but no more. A fine friend, renowned hunter and expert fisherman, Mark Labouve, Clarksdale, Miss., asked me to go crappie fishing a few weeks back. My outdoor reputation is as green as grass, so I knew he was either desperate for a fishing partner or just feeling sorry for me. No matter, I jumped at the chance before Mark could change his mind.
He took me north to a lake just below Tunica — Beaver Dam. It was a clear day, cloudless and perfect for a postcard, but miserable for fishing. Hot. Nasty hot.
We had a cooler full of drinks, all the Nabs and rat cheese a fella could eat, and enough sunflower seeds to sink the boat; but again, it was hot. Africa hot. No day to catch fish hot.
There was hardly another boat on the lake — no one else was insane enough to venture out. Beaver Dam is a beautiful place and we had it all to ourselves, with Cypress trees stretching off into the shallows and white egrets framed against a green background — I was in the back of beyond. Fishing seals off the world and freezes time; I may as well have been in the Congo.
The morning wore on and we fished cover, stumps, shallow and deep. We were two hours in — but only had a few fish on ice. And then it happened — Mark’s line went tight and the boat made a slight lurch, but when he raised the pole, he had a trash fish — no crappie; just a gool. Drum, rockhead, white perch, or gool; whatever name is attached to the croaking beast, it didn’t matter to me.
But Mark was grinning; my disappointment was matched by his excitement. He carefully turned the fish over and started slowly rubbing the belly with the hook end of his jig. There was dead calm on the water and total quiet: You could almost hear your hair growing. Mark looked across the waters, still stroking the gool, and said, “Slab. Slab. Slab.”
I was sitting like a stone on the empty fish cooler, too shocked to move. The gool would bring in the crappie, Mark proclaimed. All it took was belief and the ritual of the gool.
I can’t explain it; something primal pulled me toward the fish. Picking up the jig, I started rubbing the gool, and intoned as a true believer, “Slab. Slab. Slab.” At that point, I’d have sprinted down the aisle, picked up a handful of snakes, knocked down a jar of strychnine, and asked for more.
We trolled off to a new spot and the luck of the gool was ours. It wasn’t long and the fish cooler filled with crappie as we caught our limit. (OK, Mark caught the vast majority, but I was in the back of the boat and I’m sticking to that defense.) As we drove away from the lake, I kept repeating, "Slab. Slab. Slab," under my breath and wondering if I could get the gool to work for me during squirrel hunting season.
For those of you who scoff at the gool; your day of reckoning will come. You’ll get skunked on a fishing trip, with nothing to show but sunburn and empty Vienna cans, and it will be too late for the luck of the gool. Don't take the wide path to fishing perdition. Turn back now — “Slab. Slab. Slab.”