Well, in case you didnít figure it out, I was on vacation last week.

Of course, you know Iíve been moaning and whining for months now about needing to get to the water and get some peace of mind, a recharge for the soul, all that stuff. Well, the best laid plans of mice and men, you know?

My cousin Jim came down from Ft. Worth on Friday, and though the weather seemed precarious, we were going to brave it. My mom also came home from the hospital Friday, and though she seemed precarious as well, we were going to brave that, too.

Last year I sold Bubb, short for my Big Ugly Bass Boat. So this yearís fishing would be done out of my dadís little 12-foot bateau, 44 years old as of this writing.

We also were planning a trip to fish some north Louisiana streams, but the cold front that came through late in the week squashed that idea.

So we spent a total of about two days in the boat, seated on hard cypress bench seats, and had little to show for it except aching backs and sore behinds. Jim is 17 years my senior, but I canít just call him an old geezer, because I was getting pretty uncomfortable in the little vessel myself.

We did catch a few fish, though not as many as we would have liked, but then, when does a fisherman ever catch as many as heíd like?

Time was, weíd fish from dawn to dusk. In fact, when Jim told one of his daughters he was going to Louisiana for the week, she complained that sheíd like to make that trip herself some day. Then, kind of as an afterthought, or a spark of disbelief perhaps, she asked:

"Do you really fish all day?"

Jim of course reiterated that we do. Hopefully Jen will not read this column, because then sheíll know we donít, since long about early afternoon we were in such pained straits we packed in and went home, limping our way through trailering the boat and hobbling our way back to the truck and driving to the house.

It was durned inconvenient for me, too, since I couldnít even clown the elder Stouff for being an "elder" at all, since I was feeling a bit sore, too.

Made us both feel like sissies, Iíll tell you, when we recalled that my father used to paddle that little boat with his left hand all over the lake, casting with his right, and he didnít buy an electric trolling motor until he was in his late 50s or early 60s perhaps. Then he didnít quit fishing all day until he was right at 70. And here we are, 42 and 59, reduced to moans and groans after just four or five hours in the little boat.

I guess they just donít build Stouffs like they used to.

Jim being the elder of the Texas Branch of Stouffs, and myself now being the elder of the Chitimacha Branch of Stouffs, we of course considered it an honor nonetheless to fish in the old boat together again. A few analgesics got us through the rest of the trip, but we soon retired to the dock at the bayouside for some catfishing before the cold front hit Wednesday night. We bought boiled crawfish and I made crawfish stew with the leftovers. My girl had joined us by then, and we spent some quality time visiting like family does, and as ours has done for quite a long time.

Patches, meanwhile, surprised us all by taking a shine to Jim like never before. Usually, on previous visits, she was her usual volatile self, untouchable and unswayable. But this time, any time Jim sat down Ė whoossh! Patches was on his lap and curling up for a nap faster than you can say "man-eating lion." They became best buds, but of course, he knows Patches well enough to realize that next time he comes she may well be ready for bloodletting again. Itís always a gamble with Patches.

Jim left for home on Thursday, which was also the day I learned that a box was waiting for me at the Banner containing copies of my new book, Chasing Thunderbirds, a collection of dark short stories illustrated by my pal Gary Drinkwater. I had to make a highly controversial stop in at the office to pick them up, of course, and holding my second book in my hands was a warm feeling I just canít describe. More info about Chasing Thunderbirds is available at my website, www.native-waters.com, and Gary and I will be scheduling a signing sometime in the near future.

So we had a so-so fishing vacation, but a good vacation nonetheless. My momís doing pretty fair, and hope for a full recovery is still there. That crazy cold front came through and kept me pretty much housebound all weekend, until I had to come back to work Monday. Jim and I agreed weíll be making a weekend trip to north Louisiana in a month or so, to take in some rolling hills and fast water just to keep the blues at bay.