Sorry About Your Fish

Your boat drifts against the gunwale of a big, swarthy fellow's semi-V as you both cast to a school of white bass, and the rod holders on each boat lock together like magician's rings.

Fishing brings forth many situations when a friendly smile or a polite word just doesn't seem enough. Times when communication is desirable, but impossible, either because we don't know what to say or are afraid to say it.

In the future, anglers may express their deep feelings with the help of Mark Nillon's new line of greeting cards, which he has designed to convey the poignant sentiments all of us experience on lakes and streams.

Nillon, who is a pretty fair bass fisherman, in addition to being a three-year subscriber to a popular psychology magazine, said "Anglers almost never express their deepest feelings. Their psyches dwell in the death grip of inhibited emotion."

He said his line of greeting cards can fix all that and will make it easy for anglers to resolve embarrassing or awkward situations, to boot.

Nillon gave as an example the common occurrence of the loss of a good trout by a fishing buddy, who gets upset and goes into a weeklong funk. You want to help, but blubber up every time you try to say something. Solution? Send him a sympathy card with the simple poetic message:

Roses are red Violets are blue, You lost your fish, Boo hoo, hoo, hoo.

"Cards make people feel good," Nillon said. "After a long fruitless vacation on a lake they can tell their friends, "I was skunked by the fish, but I did get a nice card."

Nillon's forthcoming collection will make it possible for anglers to congratulate, condole, commiserate with, apologize to and even thank their fishing buddies.

"Sometimes," he said, "an inexpensive thank-you card can be used instead of helping to pay for a trip."

Nillon also created a card that can be invaluable in another familiar fishing situation:

The fish is gone, he'll not return. So what's the point of your slow burn? At times like this you need a friend To help you make the grieving end. Forget the past, the events that day, And how I laughed when the fish got away.

Nillon is cataloging the thousands of instances when cards could be useful. He has already created sentiment cards appropriate for everything from serious backlashes to unfortunate brushes with the game warden.

The card with the big teardrop on the front and the words "I'm sorry!" inside, includes a postage-paid return envelope for mailing back a signed form, releasing the angler who set the hook from financial damages. Instructions with the card suggest that it works best if presented in the emergency room, while the victim is still groggy from anesthetic.

So that important milestones in an angler's career don't go unrecognized, Nillon is creating cards to celebrate the first time a bank fisherman has his rod pulled away by a carp and the 100th time he has to take his outboard motor in for repairs.

And when your fishing buddy reels in a monster, you can hand him or her a congratulatory card, instead of celebrating with a leaping high-five, which, as we well know, is extremely dangerous in a boat, unless both parties are in perfect synchrony.

Nillon recognizes that fishing is not all soupy sentiment. He knows that the sport is essentially fun and provides many opportunities for competition and gamesmanship. A few of his cards express sentiments for occasions when a person wants to trumpet a bit about finally getting the best of his fishing partner.

Not long after a bass fishing expedition on Truman Lake, I sent one of Nillon's cards to my frequent fishing buddy, Bull Tivvits, that read:

We fished hard through wind and rain To top each other at our game. Two sportsmen vying tooth and nail To win the battle of the scale. I wished you well but, nevertheless, I tipped your gear and made a mess. I snagged your line and dulled your hook And greased your lure when you didn't look. I'm doleful now, you can be sure; But count the fish, you still had fewer!

Bull always had a great sense of humor, and within a few months he was speaking to me again, although with a certain formality. He agreed that we should go out and fish together again sometime. When I tried to pin him down on a date, he suggested we head out just after the dawn of the next millennium