Water. A boat or a bit of shoreline. A rod, bait, maybe a net. That perfect fish.
I’d place my bets that you’re already seeing it, that time when you pulled a slick, silvery body in. That time a surge that felt a lot like love came up with the end of your swallowed line. Your fishing story. And the people you turned to first to tell it.
A young woman and her dad. A calm, overcast Saturday morning in June. A piece of water, off limits to motors, that they have fished together for years. There are rituals that involve hefting the canoe off the van, trekking the tackle box and nightcrawler tub and snack cooler down the bank, keeping the tops of the rods out of the overhanging branches. He drives the van off a ways and parks it. She sets up the seat cushions and positions the paddles. By the time he’s back, she’s in the front of the canoe, already floating on the water, peering down at the way the minnows move. It’s an easy push from the shore, and in seconds they are out away from land, each paddling clean strokes across Lake Sagatagan.
When she was a girl, these mornings were common. They knew the best spots on the lake for sunnies, the little nooks where large logs had fallen that they could side up to and hook perch, the deep windy water which every once in a while produced a small northern. In between casts, they listened for loons, and would some times follow the birds until, skittish, they dove. And then the game became predicting the spot where those strange creatures would reemerge.
The dive between this day’s fishing and the one before has been a long one. Hours between the woman and her father now. Busy schedules. Excuses, mostly on her part. So it’s good to feel the rhythms, the dip and plunk of the paddle as it pulls toward a distant shore. They spend the entire morning fishing the old spots, watching for eagles high up in the oak trees, talking in low voices.
It’s later, just before they are about to turn toward home with their pail full of sunfish, that he sends his line out toward one warm spot in the weeds.
“Let’s see what’s down there,” he says, and it is a phrase so familiar to her she hardly hears it.
But moments after the lure lands and sinks, they both hear the zip. Resistance.
“Caught on the weeds?”
But it is more than that, and even the canoe senses it. They are all of them suddenly tense, leaning back, muscles and aluminum and chests clenched, so much focus on the circle of water wrinkling between the lily pads.
He labors the rod’s tip up and down, reels the line taut then lets it out. She is almost thirty years old, but she starts to giggle and—eventually—shriek.
“Dad! What is it?”
For a half an hour he fights a force he cannot see. She maneuvers the canoe. Slices away at weeds.
“The line,” he says, “we can’t break it.”
So they’re careful, he’s careful, he’s focused, she’s shrieking.
In all their years of fishing together, they have never had a battle quite like this.
When finally they maneuver the canoe or line right, or the fish tires, or the gods of the water decide enough is enough, the fish breaks the surface as if it were a piece of dark buoyant bread, and she does not hold back: she screams, although it also comes out as a laugh, and he is laughing too, not so loudly, and panting, his face spread in a wide smile, and they are both looking at the fish and at each other.
It is a seven-pound largemouth bass. An amateur take in some sportsman’s eyes. But to them it is their big fish story. And they tell it to each other over and over.
Author - Emily Brisse lives, teaches high school English, and writes amid Minnesota’s deep seasons. She loves lakes. And hilltops. And just about anything outdoors. Her place-based writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Orion, New Plains Review, Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, The Talking Stick, four Roadside Poetry billboards in northern MN, and Landing on Cloudy Water.