Caught Red Handed With a Pike in the Bag

In the early 1980s, I enjoyed fishing at mid-day on Fridays. I grew up in southwest France, in the Bordeaux region, where my mom was a baker. On Fridays she would go to farmer’s markets to sell her pastries, so she would not be home for lunch.

My school schedule included a break of three hours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., which was enough time to ride my bike to a nearby pond and fish with a telescoping rod that fit into my schoolboy’s satchel next to a small lure box that held my treasures: a couple of Rapalas, some Mepps spinners and a few of my own homemade jigs and poppers.
As an 11-year-old boy, these few hours of fishing were worth much more than a mid-day meal. One day in particular, I remember peddling as fast as possible, dropping my bike against a bush, stringing my rod with a steel leader and a lure and hurrying down to the bank to cast.

I remember the weight on the line that stopped my retrieve. I set the hook, and the fish started fighting. It was a good one! I landed a 6- or 7-lb. pike and was as happy as a boy can be with thoughts of how proud Mom would be as she cooked it for our supper. I had no cooler, no bag, just my school satchel, which held the school books my mother had covered in plastic sheeting to protect them just in case I decided to do something like fold that pike up and stuff in my satchel.

The bag itself was made of green U.S. Army canvas and decorated with KISS and Van Halen patches. I thought it was a very cool satchel, and surely we could just throw it in the washing machine. A little soap and water would fix those book covers. Problem solved. I biked back to school, where my pike was supposed to remain hidden in my satchel for a few hours until the end of the school day.

The trouble began back in the classroom. One of our classmates complained that her calculator was missing. Our teacher assumed one of the children had taken it and began a systematic search of all our satchels.

“Not that! Not today!” I remember thinking.

As she searched and cleared each satchel one by one, I prayed she would find the calculator before it was my turn. The closer she got to me, the more I shrunk into my seat. At one point she made eye contact with me and must have seen the panic in my eyes.

“Sebile, open your satchel,” she said.

I remember shaking my head and pleading with her, “No ma’am, please don’t…”

She snatched my satchel and opened it wide to reveal an indescribable mess. All my classmates gathered around, laughing out loud at the crazy fisherman. I had never before experienced such deep shame. The human brain is a fantastic thing. All that remains of that the horrible feeling I had back then is a funny story of who I was then and who I am remain: a passionate angler.