The One that Got Away—but Ate my Worm First:
A Fishing Tale

When Jordan said he wanted to go fishing when we moved to the country, I enthusiastically embraced the idea. After all, thirty years had passed and I had time to forget. Forget about the tangled lines. Forget about the frustrated adults who spent much of their time fixing snags and twisted line and swearing to never take us again. Forget about the worms.

Well, maybe not the worms.

So for Valentine’s Day, everybody got fishing licenses. Not the most romantic gift, I know, but practical. When I went to get the licenses I was determined to not appear like a major rookie. I was forced to come clean when the nice man asked me if I’d be fishing for steelhead or trout and I had no idea.

So I took another approach. I told him I’d never been fishing, and asked him if he could educate me a bit. This worked better. I learned how to “dispatch” a fish and—yuck—clean it. Now it seemed I was that adult who would be fixing lines, baiting hooks and getting those poor little, doe-eyed fish off the hook and putting them on another hook called the stringer. It all seems so barbaric.

Grandma gave us all a lesson at her kitchen table. We learned how to tie that 5 loop knot to the swivel, and the hook. We found out we needed creels to carry and probably had to get our poles “lined” and we needed to know how much that line was in pounds. The leader (the part of the line past the swivel) was yet another wait and who knew hooks came in so many different sizes depending on the fish you were going to catch. But wait! How do you know if you haven’t caught them yet? I was so far behind.

Geared up, with Grandma as our guide, Jordan and I headed up to Grace Lake out of Shingletown for our big debut, a perfect event for the last day of spring break. Now, we haven’t seen 7:00 a.m. for about two weeks so we rolled out of bed into our fishing clothes (“It’s cool in the mountains,” said Grandma) and off we go with our poles and tackle.

Half way there Grandma admitted she didn’t know exactly where the lake was because she hadn’t been there for about twenty years. It was one of those country directions I love so much that goes like this: “Turn left down by the store, then right at the curve in the road and at the pine tree make another right.” So we got a little lost.

The first dirt road we thought might be the right road was really rocky and we almost got stuck. So we decided to park and walk. We walked about a mile through evergreen forest toward what we hoped was a lake. No lake. Back to the car with Jordan saying, “Are we going home?”

The next road we found was actually graded and had a tiny sign. Eureka! We headed down and there, like a vision, the lake. But something even better. The stocking man (you know, the one that puts the fish in the lake so you can catch them) was there and dropping fish in by the tank load. What luck!

We stepped out of the car and it was not cool. It was extremely hot. Felt like 200 degrees. And it was only 8 a.m. (Can’t tell we lived by the beach for the past 3 decades.)

Dragging all our stuff up a hill, we staked our claim. We gave the other fisher people friendly fishing nods and set up our chairs—which, by the way, we would never use while there. We got out our poles, ready to catch those trout jumping all over with our live bait. After taking about 30 minutes to line the poles, tie the knots and—gross—bait the hooks with squirmy little night crawlers which DO have feelings despite what they say, we were ready to go. We cast out and waited.

Then I hear a guy say, “There’s a water snake.”

Crap! I hate snakes.

Then another guy says, “What’s that thing?” followed by a muskrat-beaver-looking lake thing who swam back and forth in front of me the whole time we were there, almost smiling…I swear it.

Then I notice the man to my right snagging one fish after another with what looks like a green piece of twine and something he calls a “bugger” on the end. I hoped that wasn’t what it sounded like. Fish were jumping around his line by the dozen and he had his limit in about five minutes. Then, he just caught and released them.

I cast out. If he could do it, by God I could do it. My bobber went out really, really far, right to where I’d seen a fish jump. I gave a smug smile. This could come around yet. As I reeled in, I realized my bobber wasn’t moving. My leader had torn in half, not at the knot—mind you—but in half. Nobody could figure that one out.

After relining my pole and getting that dang worm back on, fixing Jordan’s snags about five times and applying some 55 sunscreen to my already-sunburned shoulders, I recast. This time I heard a LOUD splash. A FISH! No. Wait. My reel (you know that thing you turn) went flying into the lake. Seriously. How was I going to get that?

Only one way. I’d have to wade in to the snake-infested, muskrat-swimming lake to get it. This was my mom’s good pole she’d donated to our phase. I had to rescue it. In I went, hoping not to step on any reptilian lake creatures.

Phew. Reel retrieved, my mom mentioned how we didn’t have time to cover reel loss in our lesson, and tried to comfort me by telling me, “It happens to everybody.” Smirks from nearby fishermen indicated otherwise.

Pole re-tooled, we edged closer to Mr. Fancy Fly Fisherman and with humility my mom asked, “Do you think you could help my grandson with a fish?”

“Would he like to land one?” asked the fish whisperer.

“OH, YEAH!” So FW and Jordan landed one, then two and my mom landed one and guess who just kept losing worms? You got it. Worm after worm went on and promptly off my hook, feeding all the fish in the lake.

“Maybe my role in life is not to bring the fish in, but just to feed them,” I thought. And with that, we packed up our sun-burned bodies, our three “dispatched” and cleaned fish and headed out.

“We can tell Dad we each caught one,” said Jordan smiling.

“That’s okay. We’ll just tell him I had the one that got away.”

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