The One That Got Away

This is a sketch of myself, taken by my Mother, via ballpoint pen.  I was ten years old when this picture was taken.  Do I look my age?  You can be honest.

It was very unusual for my Mother to go along with us on our fishing trips, so I figured – correctly, as it turned out - that we were on the Malibu pier.  She would have no patience with the boat ride - despite its brevity -  to the Redondo barge.  This day had been a special treat.

I used to love fishing.  When my Dad, brother and myself planned for a trip – Saturdays only – I would look forward to it the entire school week leading up to the fated day. And I didn't ignore my studies either; its just that everything beginning and ending before The Wonderful Trip suddenly became glorious.  I would study the fish report in the newspaper, to note what was hitting, in what quantity and where.  Not that it made any difference.  We either went to Malibu or Redondo.  At Redondo you would get bonito who when hooked would, in clever desparation, pull the line againt the barnacles collected on the barge's bulk in order to snap it.  But at Malibu I once hooked a thresher shark.  And on one memorable, unremembered day, I caught the biggest fish of the day…a 5 lb. perch.

How I looked forward to these outings!  It's not often that a person in this current life looks forward to an event with such intensity that  it achieves an almost mythological status.  The magic of the ocean became plain to me then.

I loved listening to the transistor radios arrayed on the chairs and railings.  I loved the sandwiches Dad made for us:  salami and mustard on Roman Meal bread. I loved the mystery…knowing that your hook and bait (shrimp was a favorite) was hidden below water, possibly being inspected by who knew what kind of creature.  I loved the thrill…as I felt the sudden panicked tug on the other end of the line…I loved the awe…at the first sight of twisted scales and the flash of white underbelly.

Now, when I was younger, I felt no compunction about pulling the fish into the foreign air and stuffing it into a burlap sack where it can suffocate slowly, but at least be good enought to do it out of sight.  Then, when I grew a little older I felt that death should come quickly.  I looked to my brother then, to rap the fish's head sharply against the railings.  But sometimes, as with Mary Queen of Scots, it would take more than one hit.

And I never could disengage the hook.  I would usually end up tearing it out, dislocating the jaw.  I felt bad, but, you know, I had to use it again. 

But this was long ago.  Then, about 20 years later, I tried to go fishing again. And that same initial excitement was there:  but as soon as the fish was brought to the surface,  all I saw was how gruesome it was. I could try catching and then throwing them back – but what was the point?   I simply no longer wanted any part in this.

I at times chided myself for considering so closely the feelings of a fish.  Really, how much pain could it feel?  Then why, I'd answer rather sharply, would an anchovy lie placid enough in my hand, and then start to flap about in gaping terror as soon as I slipped a hook through its nose (I always hated live bait)? 

The point is – I haven't gone fishing since.

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6 responses to “The One That Got Away

  1. Trust your instincts, Aubrey. Scientists have found that fish do feel pain. They rubbed their fishy lips with bee venom and indeed, the fish tried to rub it off on gravel and stones in bottom of the tanks. When given morphine, they stopped trying to rub it off.I remember with great fondness the trips I took to the Chesapeake Bay with my dad, to go crabbing. We'd leave at 5 am, grab breakfast at a diner, get to Deal's boathouse around 7 and crab till about 1. We caught bushels of crabs, huge creatures that don't exist that big anymore. It was a dreamtime.

  2. Same here, Aubrey. Although I never could use live bait, partly for being tender-hearted and partly b/c worms is gross.

    But this is a lovely evocation of those magical days. I see by mom's
    sketch where you get your talent from. And she's captured the clothing
    styles perfectly.

  3. What a beautiful memory. I respect and admire your decision to not fish anymore, but at least you still have those magical memories. And that is a really cool sketch by your mother.

  4. gosh, that is a lovely illustration. you're so lucky to have it!re the fishing, Mr. IG's first and last fishing experience was similar. he was younger, maybe about six, and thought "fishing" meant scooping fish out of the lake to say hi and have a friendly social encounter — like at the aquarium only without the glass barrier. the reality of this large fish gasping and flopping on the floor of the little boat was a big shock. Mr. IG says he knew for a fact that the fish was in pain. It made him hysterical. the fun fishing expedition ended right there, and his mother didn't speak a word all the way home.

  5. I'm still glad I was able to enjoy this childhood time with my family, and the sea and the sandwiches.
    But did empathy go too far? I don't think so.
    By the way, Mother has since informed me that the blouse I'm wearing in this drawing used to be hers.

  6. I liked the line about Mary Queen of Scots. Great writing, thanks for telling us about your fishing trips. šŸ™‚

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