The Time I Caught a Fish & Ate It for Dinner & Also Cried a Little

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


My dad liked fishing. Even now, all these years later, I can recall the sound of his fly-fishing reel, the buzz & whir it made as it spun out onto the pond behind the cabin we visited every year.

It’s the cabin of a hunting club, sort of like a timeshare; each of the club's members gets their own week at the cabin, to invite whomever they please. My parents first visited in 1976 on my dad's best friend's weekend – them & 13 other couples, no kids – & we still go back today.

My dad didn’t get his own week, though, because my dad didn’t hunt. My dad was a car guy; he drove cars & fixed cars & watched cars & showed cars & obsessed over cars – but he did like to fish. Every summer, when we went up to the cabin, my dad took out his reel & cast it from the dock – buzzing, whirring, waiting.



I never did learn how to fish. My dad died when I was 10, & nobody else ever taught me. Sure, I’ve cast a few lines, but I’ve never caught anything myself. I’ve never taken the time to try, & I never really wanted to.

Last weekend, though, when I was at the cabin, I decided it was time to try.

I was up at the pond with my cousin, who was teaching his nephews, ages 4 & 7, how to fish. I watched with pride as each of the boys gleefully caught a fish of their own, & suddenly, I wanted to try, too. By the time the reel got to me, everyone else was done fishing, but I cast the line & waited. And cast the line & waited again. And again. And again.

I even got the lure stuck in a tree one time – the only time my cousin was watching, of course.


Finally, though, a bite – & then, with it, a fish.

As I started to reel it in, I screamed for my cousin (like, actually screamed, oops), who came running. He took the fish off the hook because I was way too squeamish to do it myself, then I asked his nephew, the 7-year-old, to take a photo of us with my fish.

Look how excited I am! (And pay no attention to how crazy my hair is! We were in the woods, OK?)



We already had four fish to cook up for dinner the next day, so we threw my fish back in the pond, back to a happy, swimmy little life. The next day, though, I started to regret that I wouldn't get to eat a fish I'd caught myself.

So I went back for another fish.

No one was up there with me, & frankly, I was terrified that I'd catch a fish & have to actually handle it on my own, but still... I wanted to catch a fish, man. My cousin sent me up there with a water pot & a pair of pliers to help me pry it off the hook. Barrrrf. But I convinced myself I would do it.



Unfortunately, it seemed like it wasn't going to happen. My other cousin told me I needed to use a new lure, that the fish were onto me & knew not to bite mine by now. I told myself I'd cast five more lines, & if nothing bit, I'd head back. I was up at the pond alone, when...

Yep, I screamed again.

But no one heard me; they were all back at the cabin, too far away – though I think maybe they just wanted me to suck it up & handle this floppy fish on my own. My worst fishing fear had been having to take the fish off the line myself, & there I was, flying solo, bringin' in a fish, with not a soul in sight to lend me a hand.

So I pulled & pulled & pulled, & my fish came out of the water & up toward land, & then, just as I was panicking about how I was gonna deal with this thing on my own...

...my fish fell off the line & right into the damn grass. And then it passed out cold. It wasn't dead (it started swimming in the pot later), but in that moment, it was not moving at all.



Now listen.

I don't know how much I believe in the universe or woo-woo mumbo-jumbo or whatever. I'm not even really a God person. But right there, standing next to that pond with a passed-out fish in the grass at my feet, I started to cry – & not just because I felt bad about maybe-not-right-now-but-definitely-soon killing a fish.

I started to cry because it felt like this weird gift from my dad, the day before Father's Day & just a few days before the 24th anniversary of his death, in this place he loved, doing this thing he enjoyed but never got to teach me. It felt like my dad said, "Fine, I'm gonna give you a break. Since I'm not there to help you deal with this fish, I'm going to make it so you don't have to deal with this fish."

I mean, my fish flopped off its stupid hook. That never happens. The whole point of fishhooks is that that doesn't happen. And yet, it happened to me, while I was up there alone, trying really hard to catch my second-ever fish so I could eat it for dinner. And then the fish just passed out, so it wasn't even flopping around when I had to pick it up. What are the actual odds there?


So I cried, & I put my passed-out fish in the water pot I'd brought with me, & it started to swim again. Soon, people came back up to the pond, & I asked them to take my picture, then I carried my fish back to the cabin, where my cousin very kindly didn't make me gut it myself. (He did make me watch, though, & I maybe have to become a vegan now...?)

Later, when it was fish-eating time, he coated & fried my fish & the others, then brought them out to the living room & pointed out which fish was mine. My cousin is a guy of not-many words, & I think I annoy the crap out of him (as I am a person of very many words), but that, right there? That was love, showing me exactly which fish was mine so I could eat the "right" one.

And then I took photos of my fish & the fish-related glass from which I was drinking my whiskey, & then my cousin made me take a photo of the bones, too, because he'd taken them out for me, & then I was done eating my fish, which tasted... you know, a lot like fish, which I don't actually even like very much.

But I liked this fish, because it was my fish. It was the fish my dad gave me.









Honestly, all of it was gross & weird, & cooked fish doesn't photograph very well, & like said, I don't even really like fish. And on top of all that, the Internet probably thinks I'm a lunatic for saying that my dead dad gave me this freaking brook trout. But something about it - everything about it, really, except for the guts part – just made me so happy & felt so perfect & joyful.

Except for the fish, I guess. The fish probably didn't feel that joyful.

Shit. Do I have to go vegan now?

OK, anyway. When it was all said & done, well, I settled into an activity that was much more my speed & style – sign & all.

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