I fished for the first time recently. I mean really fished. Twice previously, I had pretended to fish: first as a 12-year-old boy dangling a piece of string and a worm off a dock and later as a 24-year-old sitting in a rowboat with a crude fishing pole and some cheap bait. In neither case did I catch anything. Last week, though, five friends from church brought me to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York to help me give fishing a real try (pun intended). Here’s what happened.
All five of my friends are experienced fishermen. Some grew up with the sport, some picked it up later in life, and one began because he lived in Minnesota and its 10,000 lakes for a while. And all five were determined that I would catch my first fish.
We had a canoe, a rowboat, and two one-man kayaks, so they placed me in the relatively stable rowboat, most likely, so I wouldn’t tip the boat or fall in the water. Hard to catch fish, after all, if you’re in the water with them.
Before we hit the water, our trip organizer and camp owner lent me a fishing rod and gave me a short class in the basics: baiting the hook, casting, tugging on the line, and reeling in the fish. His confidence and enthusiasm were contagious: “You’ll definitely catch your first fish today. I guarantee it!”
We set out around 11:00 a.m., and we agreed to return to the camp in three hours for a 2:00 lunch. At first, I was so mesmerized by the beauty of the day and the setting that I wasn’t even concentrating on the fishing. The lake was silent, and we were the only ones on the water. The sun warmed us, and a few clouds moderated the heat. We didn’t even have to row our boat because it had a small, trolling motor to move us from one “perfect spot” to another.
During the first two hours, I caught plenty. I loved the initial tug on the line, and I really enjoyed watching the golden shape moving below the water as I reeled it toward the boat. “Yes,” I whispered each time I got one. Then, “No, you didn’t,” the leafy, yellow weed whispered back as I pulled it out and detached it from my line.
Periodically, my boat mate and I would see the others, and no one was having much luck, less than ten fish among all six of us. Then, my boat mate caught a 15-inch, large-mouth bass, the biggest fish in our group up to that point. “I don’t care how big my first fish is,” I told myself. “I just need to catch something — anything.”
“What am I doing wrong?” I wondered. My bait was still intact and snug on the hook, a thick, purply-looking worm about four inches long. My casts had become pretty good too; they reminded me of a soft, baseball toss, and I really felt like a pro. And reeling the bait in every time was easy as I experimented with different speeds. Finally, I realized what was missing — tugging on the line.
Earlier, my instructor had emphasized periodic tugging as I reeled in the bait to help the hook lodge more securely in the fish’s mouth. Somehow, I had forgotten that key step. “Keep your rod low, near the water’s surface as you reel it in,” he had said, “and every once in a while, lift it up with a quick pull.” His words came back to me as our time in the boat dwindled, and as I began to tug, I also began to feel confident, as if I might actually catch a fish. And sure enough, it happened.
With about 15 minutes left on the clock, I felt a pull on my line, a pull unlike those earlier weed pulls. With those weed pulls, of course, the tangled bait never moved; the line simply became more taut as I worked to free the bait from the weed. This recent pull was different.
As I reeled in my line, the fish who had swallowed my bait moved away from me, trying to escape. “I know I have a bite this time,” I whispered, feeling more and more like Ernest Hemingway with each second.
“I got one,” I finally blurted out, and my boat mate became even more excited. He grabbed his small net to make sure we didn’t lose this fish, and when we got it in the boat, the fish could have passed as the twin to the one we had caught earlier, another 15-inch, large-mouth bass. We were both so psyched.
Since I had no idea what had to happen next, my buddies took over. They kept the fish in the water until after we ate our lunch, and, later, one of the lifelong fishermen quickly and efficiently removed the skin and bones, cleaned it, and wrapped it for me, so I could bring it home and eat it for dinner. And that we did.
Though fish is not my favorite meal, my wife, Barbara, enjoys it, so she went online for directions on cooking bass, and I have to admit, it tasted pretty good. As I ate and described to Barbara the rest of the day, a part of me felt like a little boy who had learned to ride a bike for the first time, but another part of me felt a bit like one of Christ’s apostles, a man who fished to feed his family and the families of those around him.
Overall, the day was spectacular: gorgeous weather, fantastic food, and fun with friends, an experience I will never forget. Thank you, gentlemen, and thank you, Lord.