Monday, July 6, 2009

"Fish Story"

I wrote this one on the fly today with very little editing. Don't know why, but it popped into my head.

What a beautiful evening. Moments like this were rare, when my wife and kids were otherwise occupied, and I found myself with a couple of hours of free time. Only one thing to do: hit the lake.

I drove down to the local park and made my way down to the pond; fishing pole in one hand, tackle box in the other. I usually fished with worms, contenting myself with catching the small panfish that hung around the dock area, but I was itching to try out a new lure. The professional angler on TV swore by it, and I had watched him pull largemouth after largemouth out of the water with the thing. The tagline had been enticing: "The lure that makes wishes come true." Surely the big bass that allegedly swam in this pond would be as incapable of resisting its advertised charms as the ones on television? One could always hope.

Since I had never had luck catching anything but fingerling bass near the dock, I opted to try the far side of the lake. There was a concrete spillway there that carried rainwater runoff down into the pond, and I'd been told by the friend of a friend that the larger bass liked to hang out in the area.

The sun dropped closer to the horizon as I made my way down the worn path from the top of the spillway to the water's edge. I estimated I'd have an hour or so before the light went completely. That should be plenty of time to catch the limit. I smiled. I'd never caught the limit in my life. Well, there was always a first time, and this time I had the tool to do it.

I put my pole together and pulled the new lure out of my pocket. I tore open the package and held the thing up before my eyes. I'd never seen a more impressive looking lure. The paint job was exquisite. The silver spinners, designed to "flash like a wounded baitfish," had that shiny new metal look. There was even a chartreuse "grass skirt." I had no idea what the skirt was supposed to do, but the pro angler seemed happy with it, so I was, too. I couldn't wait.

I slipped open the swivel snap and attached the lure to my line. I had to admit, it looked fine. I took a second to survey the area, picked a spot, and gave it a cast.

The lure flew out like a dream, landing exactly where I had aimed. I began reeling it in. I felt the slight tug that always accompanies spinner baits. I was ready for that first strike.

The lure was back at the shore before I knew it. No problem. How often does someone get a strike on the first cast, regardless of the lure? I tossed the lure back out. Steady retrieval. No bite. No biggie, I just had to find the spot where the fish were. A fish jumped from the water about twenty feet down the bank. Aha! I moved closer to the spot and cast out past the location of the fish. Oh yeah. Here it comes.

No strike.

The fish jumped again, in the same patch of water I had just cleared.

I tossed the lure out again, this time right on top of the fish.

No strike.

I was starting to get annoyed. The pro on TV would have caught three fish by now. What was going on? Undaunted I cast again, then again. I fished up and down the bank, next to fallen trees, through the grass, around rocks. No strike.

The sun was falling rapidly toward the horizon. I had maybe five minutes left of light before the park would close. This was ridiculous. I was starting to doubt the pro angler's words.

"I thought this lure was supposed to make wishes come true," I said, though no one was there to hear me. "Where are my wishes?!"

I shouted that last part loud enough to startle a nearby duck into flight. Stupid TV advertisers. I should have known better than to trust the claims made by some TV commercial. It's just - the fish this guy had been pulling out.

I had time for one more cast. I had given up on trying to pick the right spot. I just wound up and snapped the lure out there. I retrieved the lure slowly this time, half-consciously deciding that since this was the last cast I was going to make it last. I looked at my watch.

There was a pull on the line.

I was so surprised I almost dropped the pole. That would have been disastrous, but my reflexes saved me. I jerked hard to set the hook...

...And realized that I was hung up on the bottom. I tugged a few times to confirm it. Yup, I was hung up good. I walked back and forth along the bank, tugging sharply at multiple angles trying to free the line, all to no avail. Great, just great. No fish, and now I was going to lose the lure.

The sun dipped lower. The park was closed now, and I needed to leave. There was nothing for it. I pulled my knife from my pocket and prepared to cut the line.

That was when the line moved.

It wasn't fast, but the line was definitely moving to the right. It hit me then what was happening. I hadn't snagged the bottom after all. I had hooked a fish. A very BIG fish.

I dropped the knife and took the pole firmly in both hands. I had to be very careful. I was only using 10 lb test and this fish was definitely bigger than that.

I looked again at the sun. I could get fined if they caught me here after dark. It was a chance I had to take.

For the next hour I fought that fish. I gained inches, I lost inches, but I gradually worked it to shore. The sun going down left me in the dark. Fortunately the moon came out, and it was full, allowing me to see enough to continue the struggle.

By the time I hauled the fish onto the bank we were both exhausted. It was worth it; the fish was a behemoth. I'd left my measuring tape at home, but it was clearly more than four feet long. Its girth was such that I doubted I could wrap my arms all the way around it. I had no clue what it weighed.

I was also unsure about the species. I had expected a bass, or possibly a giant catfish. This one looked like a strange mix between the two. It had the shape of a catfish, but its silver scales fairly twinkled in the moonlight. And its eyes; its green eyes glowed with a light of their own. It stared at me with such intensity the fish looked almost intelligent. I squatted down to get a closer look.

"Are you going to stare at me all night or are you going to take this hook out and throw me back?"

The fish talked. I was so shocked I fell backward onto my rear end.

"You talked!"

"You're an observant one," the fish said.

"You talked!"

"Yes, so you've said. Look, this hook is very uncomfortable. It's obvious you aren't going to let me go without getting your wish. Let's have it so we can be done with this, and we can both get some rest."

"Wait, what? Wish?" I was so articulate when I was stunned.

"Let's cut to the chase. The lure guys promised this lure would make wishes come true. Obviously they couldn’t do that on their own, so they contracted with us to make it happen. You invoked the terms of the contract and here I am. So wish your wish and let's get this over with."

My mind was finally starting to make some sense of the situation, if sense could be made from a talking fish spouting on about granting wishes. "You're a wish granting fish?"

"Congratulations, Captain Obvious."

"And you're granting wishes due to a contract with a company that manufactures fishing lures?"

"Wish. Singular. You only get one wish. It's there in the fine print. Hurry it up; I am a fish out of water, you know."

Perhaps it was my time spent roleplaying where tricky, malevolent genies did their best to turn your wishes against you, but I wanted more information.

"Are there any limitations to this wish?"

The fish sighed. "Don't make it easy, then. Limitations. One, no wishing for more wishes. Don't sigh like that, it's standard procedure and I'm sure you knew it. Two, no making people fall in love. Three, no bringing people back from the dead. That's pretty much it."

"That's sounds very familiar. Aren't those the limitations they used in that movie, Aladdin?"

"Those writers did their homework. Look, are you going to make a wish or not, I'm running out of air here."

This fish was highly annoying, and frankly, so was the situation. I'd just caught the biggest fish of my life and in exchange for setting it free I was getting one wish. What I really wanted was a trophy - something that could prove to everyone I had actually caught a fish this big. I suppose I could wish for one, but that wouldn't be real - it wouldn't be the fish I had caught. Unless....

"One more question, fish. How long does this wish last? Let's say tomorrow you swallow a bad worm and kick the bucket. Is my wish going away?"

"Wishes are permanent. Once granted they are independent of the grantor."

I smiled.

"I take it you're satisfied?" the fish said. "You're ready to make your wish."

"Oh yeah."


That was five years ago. I suppose my life could have been a lot different had I wished for money or fame, but I never really wanted those things. What I got was a lot more satisfying. What I got was proof of the biggest fish story I'll ever be able to tell. And if people don't believe me, I just point to that big old catfish shaped, silver scaled monster mounted to my wall.

And for the record - the magic fish weighed seventy-eight pounds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

bill from fantasy writing