Nonfiction

The Big Fish

lily pads

By Michael Miller

In the slow transition from buildings standing ten thousand feet above my head to the fields that outline the earth’s beautiful body, it was the sweet refreshing air that felt like ice-cold water trickling down my throat on a summer day. I had just turned 6, and this year would be different from the previous ones. This year I was going to catch the biggest fish. With my head up high and the excitement bursting through each grin as the lake came into view, I could hear the far too familiar drum roll of the dirt road firing into the bottom of the car. We pulled into the driveway and the car halted to a stop; I used both hands to open the door.

The grass smelled freshly cut, sharp but kind of wet; I couldn’t have cared less because I was anticipating the greatest battle of my life. My dad shot me a quick, “Mike!” for I had strayed too far from the pack. Quickly, I rushed to the water’s edge, where my Dad had been setting the lines. He held the line in his mouth as he twisted it once, twice, three times, but then I lost interest. My brother Denis was three years younger and thought that a fish might eat his toes, so he was happy with the five foot safely zone my dad made for him. It was my annual birthday fishing trip, so I got to have my line ready and in the water first, and this one-minute advantage was exactly was I needed to catch the trophy fish. My dad didn’t even have a chance!

I walked the shoreline, each step muddy and ending with a slight slide. I was looking for my prime fishing hole. The weed bed seemed promising, but then I had this fear of the weeds unleashing a man-eating sea monster that would drag me into the unknown world of slime and grit. The concrete wall could bring me to the podium; depth was at a respectable level for any self-righteous big game fish, so I strolled over. I tightened the grip I had on my fishing rod and second-guessed my decision; this wasn’t going to do it for me. This was no game; this was where I would show my Dad that I was a better fisherman than he was. The mouth of the lake was the gate to the vast opportunistic waters, where fisherman wave to their wives before they set off to the unpredictable, unrelenting and unreliable open water.

I unfolded my small green camping chair that each of my brothers had, theirs in other colours of course, and placed it firmly into the ground, all my eighty-five pounds imprinting four Hasbro badges into the mud. The bait I used was a HUGE minnow–my Dad warned me that there might not be much of a result, but no, this time I wasn’t falling for his tricks. Monster minnow would equal monster fish! I attached the bobber that I had been using earlier as a Pokeball and hooked it two feet above my bait. The bobber was big enough that my minnow wouldn’t be able to pull it under and it left a perfect circle on my thumb during the attachment process. I swung my arm back and casted my line out like a whip without the crack and sent the next several hours of entertainment into the perfect spot. When I buckled my knees and sunk into the best green chair in the world I had no choice but to have a staring contest with the bobber. I tried to imagine the fear that my minnow was dealing with, the unknown waters of this new and strange place, the feeling that at any moment this murderous, killing machine could end my existence in one bite. I had this underlying guilt that made me want to reel in my line and check on my buddy and see how everything was going. No! I couldn’t! It would have been breaking the rule that I desperately wanted to follow, to keep my bait in one spot for the entire time. This test of my patience was going to surely be the key component of my quest to catch the biggest fish.

Five hours passed and the clouds were starting to repeat themselves. My minnow lost its energy and the water had been dead for longer than I could pay attention. I figured it would be safe to look over and see what the other Millers were up to. Denis was sitting a couple feet closer to the water and was having the time of his life catching small sunfish. My Dad got them on the hook and let him reel them in. I know because he used to do the same for me. I picked up the rod that had been on the ground for three hours and followed the line that had sunk to the squishy moss- covered lake floor. The rod was placed back into its resting spot as if it were going back to sleep. My hands filling the pouch pocket of my sweater and rolling small balls of lint, I started a roll, throw, and repeat pattern. It kept my mind from believing that my time would result in the doom of leaving empty handed. The wind began to pick up and the smell of pungent wet soil and damp leaves washed over me instead of the strong stench of motor oil from the nine foot tin can with a thirty-five Johnson hanging off the back or the rancid odour of fish slime that could not be simply wiped away on my jeans.

The bobber dove into the water quicker than an Olympian. The line cut the water like a spoon through Jello. My eyes widened and my heart stopped, but then began to rapidly punch the inside of my chest. My hands flew out of my pocket like a SWAT team jumping from the back of their van. The line tightened as the rod awakened, holding its head as high as it could. The snap as I set the hook revealed the great weight of the beast that was on the other side of the thin line. I unleashed my excitement with a glorious “Fish on!” The fear sat in the back of my head due to the anticipation of what could be the king fish of the aquatic jungle. I tightened my muscles to show him that I was not going to be an easy fight, but just the same, he pulled with a force that extended my footprints inch by inch. I heard my Dad’s voice and noticed that he was only seconds away. The fight continued and I was far too focused to filter what he was saying. I started to gain some ground; I felt the power of this prize fish giving into my hours of patience. I eased my muscles as the monster emerged from the darkness. As our eyes locked, its unwelcoming black eyes buried themselves into my soul. The wave of its body reminded me of the waves that I had watched all day. Using every muscle in its body, it gave a last attempt at victory. No, this was a tug that showed a desperate final push for its life. The line snapped. The relief rushed through my body as each muscle began to de-stress. The rod shot back bringing my arms with it. My face relaxed and the tension was gone. I stood in my own world for a bit as I watched the limp line fall back down to the ground. I turned to my dad who was radiating empathy. I was really disappointed.

It was an amazing fight and a beautiful fish. It is ironic that I now find struggle relaxes me. The same goes for the ability to wait in situations that push the limits of my patience, whether its putting effort into working out and continuing without seeing initial results or even standing in line at McDonald’s around lunch. I chose to see things differently that day. I went home feeling good about the experience I had. It also made it a bit easier when my dad told me the fish looked to be about five pounds.

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