Jim McGuire: Dog days and catfish nights

Seasons whizz along, faster than we sometimes realize. July is winding down, and believe it or not, summer’s first half will soon be over.

Still, let’s not be too quick to bemoan the season’s passing. There’s all of August waiting ahead, plus most of September, before we reach summer’s official swap-out into autumn.

Plenty of summer remains—though I would be grateful if the overly hot weather backed it off a few degrees.

So far, summer has been a series of scorching days and sweltering nights. Unpleasant and at times, intolerable.

Weather which a friend recently summed up as “a pit-bull version of the dog days!”

Dog days was the name coined for this period by the ancient Greeks and Romans a couple thousand years ago.

Even then, it was understood that after the solstice, the sun’s daily arc shortened bit-by-bit with each successive passage. That being so, fewer minutes of sunlight should logically lead to cooler temperatures.

But this wasn’t the case. Summer grew increasingly hotter. How could this happen?

Being inveterate sky watchers, they noted how Sirius—the brightest star in the sky—and arose above the predawn horizon to follow the sun all day along its east-to-west pathway.

The correlation seemed inescapable—Sirius, the Dog Star, must combine with the sun to create the stifling, oppressive heat.

But hot-weather discomfort wasn’t their only concern. As daily temperatures climbed, everyone’s energy waned, listlessness prevailed, and health problems flourished.

In the Iliad, Homer calls Sirius “an evil portent, bringing heat and fevers to suffering humanity.”

Citizens came down with assorted sicknesses. Some went mad. Infections turned into gangrene. Wine became sour. Waters stagnated. Dogs and wolves developed rabies.

Thus the myth of the accursed dog days was born. A burning mix of star and sun got blamed for inducing an annual surge of disease and death.

Of course we now understand it’s merely a fairly direct angle at which the sun’s rays strike the earth, plus the buildup of stored heat radiating back which combine to boost temperatures. Both dogs and star are innocent.

But that doesn’t make a blistering July or August day any less hot and sticky.

The good news is that recent rains provided much-needed relief from the relentless heat blanket that had been smothering the Miami Valley for weeks.

I’m grateful for that small—albeit temporary— remission.

Better still, those same rains also delivered a propitious stimulus to local waters, running and still. Whenever it rains during the summer, my thoughts immediately turn to local fishing prospects—and specifically, catfish.

Rains, from sprinkles to downpours, act like magic potions. Lakes, ponds, creeks and rivers are typically invigorated by such infusions. For Mr. Whiskers, it’s a natural tonic—an elixir.

Lethargic catfish wake up, as if from a stupor—stirring, becoming more active. They prowl about, foraging and begin to bite.

I like catching and eating catfish. Bullheads, channels, flatheads, blues. I like going fishing on a summer’s night—relaxing on the streambank or lakeshore, watching twilight fade to black as stars began to spatter the inky heavens. I like listening to the mutterings of bullfrogs and the queries of owls. I like the smell of the mud and the sound of water.

I like catfishing in its entirety. Rain stimulates catfish. And being an incorrigible fisherman, rain accordingly stimulates me.

Regardless of whether it rains a little or a lot—modest freshet or bank-high flood. No matter whether the water into which you lob your gob of odorous bait is murky or muddy.

Catfish will be moving. And during the dog days of summer, those are the nights I want to be right there, waiting for them to come my way.