I’ve only ever been fishing once in my life. I always had a minor interest in the activity but the only time that I actually got to cast a line was when I was nine years old. My father took my brothers and I over to his friends trailer, which was just off the shore of a gorgeous lake. The lake stunk, and the water was dirty. There were broken, dead trees surrounding it, a rusty old sailboat in the water and it smelled of decay. A beautiful thing.
We arrived at the trailer in the early afternoon and still had more than enough time to fish. My brothers and I were so excited that we ran straight to the dock on the lake and tried to set up our fishing gear right then. My father stopped us and told us we were going to eat lunch first and after that we’d start fishing. He said something about us making sure we had enough energy to fight the monsters he was sure we would reel in that day. What he says goes. We followed suit.
My father walked up to the door of his buddies trailer and knocked. I walked off the dock and went towards him. My brothers followed. His friend opened the door and greeted him with a big smile and a warm handshake, “George, how you doing, pal? Was the drive over easy enough for you?” Then he looked over at us “Hey there, boys, looking good. How about we start up the barbecue and get some hot dogs cooking for you guys?” Even though we all wanted to start fishing, none of us seemed at all apprehensive about the idea of partaking in some barbecue beforehand. And so we did partake. We did.
We sat there eating our hot dogs, my brother and I drinking soda, my father and his friend drinking beers. None of us spoke for a little while. We just ate. After we finished eating we sat around for a few hours, to let our food digest. Or something.
Then it was time to fish. We set up our gear right near the water by a decent pile of rocks and got all our stuff set up. We walked over to my father’s friend and he showed us how to bait our hooks. We did as he demonstrated, then we watched him as he showed us the proper way to cast a line out. After watching him we each tried it ourselves. We made a few clumsy attempts but within a couple minutes we all basically had it down. We stood there at the side of the lake. We waited. We waited. My father’s friend said, “Yep, this is fishing boys.” We waited some more. An hour passed. My little brother, Spencer, finally looked up at my father’s friend and asked the question we all had on our mind, “Hey Ryan, are we doing something wrong? Where are the fish?” Ryan looked down at my brother and explained to him that fishing was a game of patience, it was a game where some days you waited all day to catch nothing, and some days you waited very little time and caught dozens of fish. He explained to him that sometimes you could even wait out there all day and just when you were gonna pack it in, having collected no fish and feeling generally incapable, these were the times you were liable to have a real beast chomp your line. These were usually the times, he explained, that he’d come face to face with most of the trophy fish he had caught. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I can only assume that they all had that same bittersweet taste in their mouths after he finished saying that.
So we stood there waiting for five hours. We stayed refreshed with sodas and only took one snack break, but we caught no fish. The sun was on its way down and the day was coming to an end, we all stood there in disappointment, feebly holding our fishing rods. My brothers and I stood there, not speaking, somber expressions plastered on each of our faces. My father and Ryan, however, wore happier expressions and were having an easier time with the situation, seeing as they had a case of beer to keep them company. Ryan soon announced that we would pack the fishing stuff up in thirty minutes and go in the trailer for some dinner. Nobody protested this.
We were just about to pack up the fishing gear when I felt something tug at my fishing line. After all these hours of waiting, it was a strange sensation and I couldn’t understand what was happening at first. I shouted out, “Somethings pulling my line.” Ryan ran over and bellowed, “I told you boy, what did I say? The beasts tend to wait until the last second. Go ahead boy, get your game face on.” So I tried to reel in the fish a little but it fought back, Ryan told me to let it swim around a bit and tire itself out. I did as he said. It swam around the lake in an agitated state as the handle on my reel spun very fast, it looked like a blur and I was scared to grab it again. Luckily, abruptly, the fish stopped in the middle of the water. Ryan shouted for me to reel it in. I started this process, very slowly. Surprisingly, the fish seemed to have given up completely. I reeled it in with ease. I had a big smile on my face as my father bent down to grab the line and pick the fish up, out of the water. This smile quickly turned to an expression of shock. My trophy fish, the only fish any of us had caught all day, emerged from the river covered in blood. It was bleeding from every orifice. Blood coming out of its eyes, its mouth, its ass. Blood pouring out of every scale. The fish writhed, weakly, on the hook. It was horrifying. I asked my father, “Why is the fish bleeding like that?” He turned to me, sad look in his eyes and said, “I don’t know, Daniel.” In the years since we’ve went on this trip, I’ve asked him the same thing on a few different occasions. He always gives me the same response, “I don’t know.” We all stared at the fish with blank faces. Somehow I had imagined catching a trophy fish to be a lot more magical and rewarding than it turned out to be.
For some reason, we put the fish in a cooler full of water. And even stranger, something I still don’t understand today, after we ate dinner my father loaded the cooler with the bleeding, dying fish into the van and we brought it home with us. At home he filled a bucket with water and put the fish inside of it. It stayed in that bucket, bleeding, and I did everything in my power to avoid walking near it. Three days later, it died. My father took the bucket to the sewer at the end of the street and dumped my dead trophy fish into the sewage pipes. I’ve never been fishing again since.
And now, from time to time, I also ask my father this question, “Why did you bring that bleeding fish back home with us?” He always gives me the same answer, “I don’t know.” Maybe he thought he could rescue my trophy fish, bring it back to life. Or maybe he just couldn’t bring himself to kill the fish, to put it out of its misery. Maybe he saw a piece of himself in that fish.
I don’t know.
David Catney is a writer from Ontario, Canada. Look him up on twitter or something, if you want.