If fish could talk, that one would have begged me: “Kill me, now. Please.”
Poor little guy was in the midst of a traumatic event. My daughter Jordan, then 3 years old, had hooked him just moments before — the very first fish she’d ever caught. Standing near the boat ramp wearing her little life jacket and holding her miniature rod and reel, Jordan was determined to land anything causing her pink bobber to disappear underwater.
When that happened, she tried cranking the reel, but the fish was strong. A battle for the ages ensued between that perch and my kid.
Jordan refused to lose. Rather than trust her reel, she turned her back to the water, held the rod over her tiny shoulder and began running up the boat ramp, little flip-flops flapping all the way.
Sure enough, her strategy worked. Within a few steps, she’d dragged the fish from the water and halfway up the ramp. There, the fish stared at me accusingly, begging me to end its misery as Jordan danced her victory dance.
That’s just one fish story of a lifetime of them when it comes to taking my kids fishing.
Want another one? I’ve got millions.
About 10 years later, another fish gave me the same, pleading look: “Kill me, now. Please.” This was a 30-plus-pound redfish, one my teenage daughters Jaime and Jordan helped me land at the beach. At the time of his begging, the poor fish was on the end of a long stringer. My kids thought he was so pretty, they didn’t want anything to happen to him. They were walking him up and down the surf, the fish following like a puppy on a leash. They’d even named him — ChadBob, for reasons only their weird minds could explain — meaning I couldn’t eat him as planned. Apparently, there’s an unwritten rule of Dadhood stating we can’t eat anything the kids name.
My girls were with me the morning a sea turtle got my hook snagged on the edge of his shell. We reeled him up to the beach, where my girls proceeded to lavish the beautiful creature with love — and kisses. Wet, salty, fishy kisses. When we released him, I had to hold them back from trying to swim out to sea with him. They wanted to make sure he got “home” OK.
Had a pelican land right on top of my line right as I was battling a big fish. All his flapping made his entangling even worse, so Jordan and I had to reel and wade until we reached him. The big bird actually let Jordan hold him — yes, and kiss him — while I removed the line. When she sat him back in the water, he hung out with us for a few minutes. He seemed reluctant to leave her. They’d experienced a moment.
So many stories ...
From the time I was old enough to walk, I was fishing with my dad. From the time my girls were old enough to walk, they were fishing with me. Our trips together have always been my favorite Father’s Day gifts. When they were too small for the wade fishing in the Gulf I love so much, I tied to my waist one of those tubes people drag behind boats. Jaime and Jordan sat in the tube. They covered the bottom of the tube with water, sand and their newly caught pet hermit crabs, just so they could stay out with me, bobbing on top of the water. If I hooked a fish, I handed them the rod and let them land it. We were fishing, and we were together.
So, so many stories, written with nothing more than a fishing pole and some worms or bait fish caught in the surf — I threw out the net, my girls reeled it in to see what we’d caught.
Memories. Little Mermaid life jackets. Beauty and the Beast fishing poles. Jaime’s “lucky” fishing outfit. Little overalls with a floral pattern. She’d caught her first bass — almost by accident — while standing next to me wearing that outfit. On our next trip, she insisted on donning the same duds. Sure enough, she landed another one. She outgrew those clothes years ago, but if we were on our way to another fishing trip right now, she’d find some way to wear them.
Jaime nearly falling out of the boat when she hooked her own big red. Exhausted, she tried handing me the rod, but I told her if I reeled it in, it would be my fish, not hers. An hour later, she nearly danced herself out of the boat celebrating her victory.
Fish stories and memories ...
My father passed along to me so many life lessons, but few have stuck with me as much as “Spare the rod, spoil the fun.” From the full family trips to the one-on-one escapes, Dad’s love of fishing created a lifetime of memories: sitting on the lake shore with my siblings late into the night — and griping when my sister Darlene caught more and bigger fish (the ultimate insult to a boy). Spending an entire night on an island with my brother Randy. I was 12 and he was 10, and we were in boy paradise. Nothing but a Coleman lantern, two fishing poles and two miniature pirates battling the beasts of the wild. Heaven.
I never outgrew any of it. So when my girls hit this planet, there was no doubt they’d learn to fish. They didn’t always understand why, when they were fishing, I wasn’t. They didn’t quite get how my thrill came from seeing them experience theirs.
They probably thought it was all about whatever we caught. They were wrong.
When Jordan was 16, she reminded me she’d never caught a shark. Pretty much all the other kids could boast of landing at least one baby Jaws. All my “acquired” children — Jay, Erika and Aimee — had their turns fighting sharks. The friends they brought along for trips went home with stories and pics to impress their friends. How many teenagers have shark pics to show off at school? My adopted niece, Michelle, even caught a stingray. You don’t think she flashed that pic around her classmates? Her coolness factor blew through the roof.
But Jordan’s luck hadn’t extended that far. She’d caught nearly every other kind of fish, but had yet to experience a shark fight.
So I took her out one evening, just the two of us, and stood back as she landed several. She fought those monsters like a pro. No fear, just sheer determination. She wanted to know why I wasn’t fishing. I was too busy watching her, relishing the moment and trying to absorb every image.
On the way home late that night, over her nonstop, excited chatter, she heard the Trace Adkins song on the radio: “Just Fishin’.” He sang, “She ain’t even thinkin’ ’bout/ What’s really goin’ on right now/ But I guarantee this memory’s a big ’un/ And she thinks we’re just fishin’.”
Jordan stopped talking mid-chatter and looked at me.
“I get it, Daddy. We weren’t just fishing, were we?”
No, child. We surely weren’t.