The Fish

by Noey Vineyard

I sat on the bank of the old pond and felt the morning chill on my nose and fingers. It was the kind of chill you felt only in the early spring, the kind that gives way to a pleasant warmth around noon. I wondered how many times I had sat on this bank since early childhood and how many of life’s problems had I solved sitting in this very spot. I suppose that the pressures of life had driven me to the solitude of this place or one like it on more than one occasion.

It didn’t matter. Fishing was the best cure I know of for life’s problems, and today I needed a double dose. I settled into my place on the bank and the world seemed to fall in place around me. A chill went up my arm as I stuck my hand in the minnow bucket to grab one of the shiners that darted through the cold water.

As I hooked the flopping fish behind the dorsal fin, I thought about how if my brother had been there he would have rolled his eyes and said I was cheating by using live bait. He would already be casting one of his many artificial lures, then he would say that if he were to stoop low enough to fish live bait, the proper way to hook a shiner was through the lips.

Yea, I guess we both had our way of doing things, but we had one thing in common, we both knew the secret of fishing. We both knew fishing was not about expensive boots or fancy gear or really even catching fish. Fishing was a way of life, a level of awareness that came only with true appreciation of the art of fishing.

The world was weighing pretty heavy on my shoulders these days, but as I cast the old Mitchel spinning reel, I could feed the burdens slip away from me like the ripples away from my bait. This was a different world, one with its own priorities and rules. One of the rules was that although I was allowed to exist here, my problems were not. So they vanished from my thoughts, and I was welcomed into a world of peace and tranquility.

I propped my rod in the crook of a stick that I’d sunk into the ground, tightened my line, sat back and enjoyed the morning. Not long after I’d sat down, I was brought out of my reverie by a twitching of my rod caught out of the corner of my eye. I leaned over, and when the rod tip twitched again, I snatched the rod and set the hook all in one swift motion. At first I thought maybe I had hooked a log or perhaps the shiner had managed to tangle on a snag, but then the rod bent double and the game was on.

The reel screamed as the fish made a run for deep water. This worried me. The fish and I both knew that safety lay in the stumps and snags in the deep part of the pond. If she made it, she was gone. I did the only thing I could, I tightened the drag and watched the rod bend double. For a moment I thought either the hook would pull free or the line would snap, but they held, and I turned the fish back toward the bank.

That didn’t mean she was out of tricks. The old Mitchell worked smoothly as the fish came towards me. I watched as the line moved to the top of the water and held my breath as the big fish tail danced across the water trying in vain to dislodge the hook.

As the fish surfaced, I thought I caught a glimpse of some unusual colors for a bass, but I wasn’t sure. The large mouth went one way then another, but I could feel the fish give ground. I coaxed this fish into the bank and stared in wonder as I pulled the big fish out of the water.

It was not the age or size of the fish that held me in awe. Hanging from her lower jaw were four different lures. All a different color, size and style, but each with a short length of line attached. I suppose that each one had its own story and maybe at one time there had been more. The colors were very faded and the hooks, although buried deep, were in varied stages of rust.

I smiled, and I thought about how the old girl had obviously made the deep end of the pond more than once. As I looked at the old fish, she didn’t flap or struggle and seemed ready to accept whatever fate life had given her. I thought about how these lures looked like badges of honor, medals of valor earned through the years.

When I released the fish, I left the lures in place. I thought about cutting them out, but then I thought that to do so would be to defile this magnificent fish. I then surprised myself by cutting the line and leaving the gold hook I had been using embedded in her upper jaw, a shiny new addition to her already impressive collection.

Maybe I left it there because her days in the pond were probably few. Maybe I didn’t think she’d survive another winter or maybe I thought she had earned it and about how she seemed to wear all her medals with pride. As I eased her into the water and watched her swim away with slow, dignified tail strokes and watched as the surface of the pond went still again. I didn’t re-bait my hook, instead I went and sat and watched as the sun made its presence known.

My heart felt lighter than it had in a long time. That’s the way fishing is. It gives you the unexpected. It had given me exactly what I needed. Yep, summer was coming, and in a little while I’d have to pack up my gear, go back to the real world, live by its rules and deal with its problems. For now though, just for a little while, on the bank of that pond, I lay my hands behind my head and was warm in the sun.