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Monday, April 4, 2011

The One that Got Away

Dear Dad,
               The other day I found out that I would have to leave the state an entire month for work. It’s all part of the job so it doesn’t usually bother me, but this month happens to be snagging season. Not just snagging season but the first season I have participated in. I promised myself that I was going to catch a spoonbill this year and now with thirty days left in the season I only have one last opportunity. I got up this morning at five a.m. At five p.m. I was driving three hundred miles to my hotel room in Indiana. I knew this would prove to be a long day. I woke up my oldest son and we crept out of the still sleeping house. I knew that my wife would understand and I promised myself I would be back by eleven to spend time with her and my other three children. She had seen the gleam in my eye when my friend called and offered to get me out on the river one last time, she knew there would be no stopping me.

               My boy and I arrived at the river at 6 sharp. The sun was still down and it promised to be a nice morning. My buddy pulled up with his boat and away we went. I have spoken to you before about snagging. It is an interesting way to fish. Basically you just jerk incredibly large treble hooks through the water and hope for the best. You cannot catch a spoonbill paddlefish any other way. We did have a fish/depth finder so that gave us some idea of where to cast.

               Two hours into the adventure nary a bite (it’s still referred to as a bite, I don’t know why) had come our way. My son was starting to grumble of boredom and my nerves were a little frazzled. This was my last chance and I had bragged to so many people that I would land a monster. My friend suddenly perked us all up by shouting out that he had a fish on. Quickly I reeled in my line and passed my rod to my son. When the fish surfaced the first time, the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine descended upon our little boat.
                “It’s a spoonie!” came the yell, echoing across the water. We got it reeled into the boat, my jealousy subsided a little bit though as we put the tape measure to it. From the eye to the fork of the tail, this fish was only 22 inches long. That’s two inches too short. Bear in mind that a twenty two inch fish is still pretty big when compared to most freshwater fish that anglers keep. So in my mind even though we had to throw it back it was still pretty exciting. We decided to take a picture of it. I handed the fish to my ten year old son. I figured it would look bigger with him holding it, and I knew that his boredom would be almost permanently cured. Sure enough he was all smiles as he turned it loose.

               Now I had proof that these monsters of the deep were indeed lurking in my river, and with renewed vigor I cast back out. Perched up high in a rotating pedestal chair, freshly rewarded with evidence of fish, my deep sea rod held in my hands a bit of song escaped my lips. “Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…“

               As we slowly worked our way closer to our starting point I finally received a thrilling tingle. It started somewhere in the deep and crept up my one hundred pound test line and vibrated down the fishing rod through my fingertips finally reverberating somewhere in the center of my brain. Without thinking I set the hook. Immediately the rod jumped in my hands three or four times.

               “FISH ON!” I yelled. I began reeling at a frantic pace. The line was dragging out as fast as I was reeling and the result was comical. In my head I envisioned smoke drifting out of the reel. Thoughts of Ahab and Captain Quint raced through my mind. I adjusted the drag and leaned back against the pull on the rod. Suddenly I was nearly ejected from my seat. It was if my line had suddenly become snagged on a submerged log or rock. For a fleeting moment I believed it. There was just no give at all.

                My friend laughed and said, “you’re snagged dude.”

                “No, It’s a fish!” I cried.

                Still chuckling, he replied “are you sure?”

                 I leaned back against the rod again. It bent to the near breaking point. Twenty yards off the bow of the boat a huge paddlefish surfaced.

                 “One hundred percent sure!” I shouted.

                 My friends jaw dropped and my son stood up in the boat craning his neck to get a better view. We could all tell this one was going to be big. The beast had rolled and my line was wrapped about it’s body several times. I was now dragging it against the current sideways accounting for the sudden difficulty. It was no snag. IT WAS A MONSTER. Finally we got it into the boat. I was shaking from the excitement and physical exertion. My cheeks hurt from smiling so big. I don’t believe that I have ever smiled that big. My heart was pounding in my chest. It was enthralling. We didn’t even bother with the measuring and weighing. I just hoisted it up and had the picture taken. We tied it up and I secured a knot around the pedestal chair on the bow. We slid the fish into the water and turned the boat around to see if there were more monsters lurking in the same spot.

                  As my friend piloted his vessel I leaned over the side and snapped another picture of the fish in the water. I planned on taking many more photos. As I was putting my phone back into it’s holster the fish began to roll head over tail. Right as I was looking, disaster struck. I don’t know if the animals flesh gave way or if the line stretched in the water and slipped through the snap hook. The spoonbill broke free of it’s tether and disappeared in a final ripple and tail slap. The line floated in the water unbroken. Before either my son or my friend even knew it happened they heard the noise of anguish. No swears, no tears no blaming, just a long guttural howl emerged the bowels of my throat.


                 Birds lifted in mass from their roosts, taking to the skies. The wind picked up and the waves lashed out at the boat. The sky grew dark and in the distance thunder clapped. My knuckles grew white as I gripped the side of the boat trying to comprehend what had just happened. These are the lessons we learn. I have had a lot of fun telling this story and the best parts of fishing are the catch, the fight and the photos. Still no spoonbill in the frying pan this year. Am I THE MAN, I believe so. I had the most invigorating fishing trip of my life. I left town for a month, but I left my oldest son with a smile on his face. I have a picture that I fully intend to frame, and there is always next year my friend.

                          Your traveling, nautical angling son.

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