Richmond, Virginia, is a city on a river.  A river with big catfish.  Seriously.  Huge blue catfish over 60 pounds.

When I first moved to Richmond, I had no boat, and didn’t know my way around.  But I had already heard about the big catfish.  So, within the first week I moved, I was on a mission to find them.

As I talked to the locals, I made the mistake of asking a question that was too specific.  “Where can I go to catch really big catfish?”  Everyone told me about a spot downtown where I could fish for huge cats right from the bank.  (What I didn’t ask was, “Where would YOU go to catch really big catfish?”)

What they DIDN’T tell me, was that it was in one of the sketchiest parts of town, and I’d be risking life, limb, and more importantly my fishing gear by fishing from the bank right downtown.

So, I headed down to find a spot along the banks and do some catfishing.  When I got to the place everyone described, I knew I was in the right spot because there were other people fishing there.  Good enough for the locals, good enough for me!

It was already after 10:00 pm and completely dark when I moseyed on up and asked if I could fish with them (there wasn’t much room of clear spot).  They were friendly and welcoming.  And that’s where I met “Grandma Catfish”.

Grandma Catfish was about 80 years old, but she didn’t look a day over 120.  Her face was more wrinkles than skin, and she had no “teef”.  She’d been fishing that same spot for more decades  than I had been alive.  And she knew everone there.  We chatted, swapped fish tales, and caught the occasional fish.  I was there for a biggun, so I was going to release all the little catfish I caught.  But GC would have none of it.  Everything I caught that I didn’t want went right into her cooler.  So be it.

I sat there with the rest of the crowd until some time around 2:00 am, at which point I had to go get some sleep since I had to work the next morning.  I’m still not sure how Grandma Catfish could stay up so late.  But she was there the next night when I returned.  And the next, and the next.

It was after a few of these nights that I entered a local tackle store populated with employees named “Bubba” and “Bud”.  As I was stocking up on some more catfish rigs, I off-handedly mentioned where I had been fishing.  Everyone in the store stopped what they were doing to pick their jaws up off the floor.  “You’re CRAZY!”  “You were fishing WHERE?!”  “How many times have you been mugged?”  These were the types of replies I got.

“What do you mean?”  That’s when they told me that the part of town I was in was known for drugs, crime, shootings, robbery, etc.  Especially guys with nice tackle boxes.  To hear it from these guys, apparently the crime lords of downtown Richmond had their eyes set on lead sinkers (to melt down to make bullets and put in paint, or something).

The next time I headed down there, I was a little more aware of my surroundings.  The gunshots were far enough away that I wasn’t all that worried.  But I did encounter my first “non-friendly”.

Some guy came up, obviously under the influence of something, and started hassling me.  Well, really he promised that I was his best friend, and that he really, really needed my tackle box.  This, in spite of the fact that he had no fishing pole, unless it was in the small paper bag he was toting.

Before I could say anything, Grandma Catfish came to the rescue.  “Leroy, you go on home!  You don’t need to be comin’ around here all drunk!  You git home now or I’ll tell Rita what you been doin!”

He staggered off muttering (I’m pretty sure I heard “lead sinkers” in there somewhere), and we continued fishing.

Hooray for fishing, transcending so many differences, allowing to make friends with Grandma Catfish.

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