Do you remember learning to fish? I do. Lesson one, courtesy of Sesame Street, has always stuck with me.
Unfortunately, Ernie’s fish call has never worked for me. In fact, it went quite contrary to my dad’s number one rule about fishing: be quiet or you’ll scare the fish away. Given his track record for fishing, I can’t say that I would recommend taking real lessons from him, but all the important things stuck. First, you never let your fishing pole swing around. Second, your hook should always be secure if it’s not in the water or about to be cast in. Third, if you’re not going to eat it, throw it back. Fourth, stroke the spines down.
There were other lessons, I’m sure. Some of them he merely modeled the behavior, never teaching us explicitly. I realized last week, as my kids were begging me to take them fishing, that I had no idea how to tie a hook onto a line. I remember watching Dad do this a thousand times growing up, but if he ever taught me outright, it went in one ear and out the other. I’m not much for fishing, so what use would I have for it?
Fortunately, while I was up at camp this weekend, my uncle showed me how to tie a decent knot in fishing line to attach the hook to the line. I have enough practice messing about with string that I picked it up quickly. When Monday morning came, I was eager to show off my newly acquired skill of awesomeness to my kids, so I grabbed the hooks, line, and a pair of safety scissors and marched them out to the fishing pond.
Life Lesson #Umpteen: if you try to prove that you’re cool, you will regret it. My first fail of the day was the classic error of assumption. We’re only supposed to use barb-less hooks at the camp, so I assumed that the person who purchased them had bought barb-less hooks. Apparently, however, our local department store doesn’t carry such things, so he bought regular hooks that we were supposed to flatten with pliers. In my excited attention to tying line to sticks and hooks to line, I somehow managed to completely overlook the fact that I was giving the kids barbed hooks.
Through sheer dumb luck and rigorous consequences held over the heads of anyone who failed to follow the safety procedures, no one was injured horrifically by the barbed hooks. Unfortunately, through another stroke of sheer dumb luck (and a bit of cruel ingenuity involving a rather large ant), one of my kids actually caught a fish. At that moment, I remembered another lesson I had learned by observing my dad: the most experienced grown-up takes the fish off the frickin’ hook.
My co-counselor is 19 or 20 and built like a brick wall. Given this and the fact that he’s a guy, I held the line gingerly and looked at him imploringly to take over and get the fish off the hook. That was another incorrect assumption – he had never been fishing before. Dad, I know you’ll laugh at this, but I was the oldest, most experienced fisher in the group. I had to dig down deep to get through what happened next. As calmly as I could manage, I told my cluster of campers what Dad had always told us about smoothing down the spines from the head to avoid being stuck and did my best to mimic the practiced care with which I always watched Dad release a fish. I held the line with one hand then gently grasped the fish with my other. I moved my hand down the line to the hook to remove it…
And that’s when I realized we were not fishing with barb-less hooks.
At first, I tried to remove the hook with minimal damage to the fish’s lip. That might have worked, by the fish freaked out and flopped and I freaked out and dropped it. I directed the successful fisher to drop the line back into the water to let the fish (and I) breathe before the second attempt. I then resolved that quicker was better, for myself and the fish, and decided that I wouldn’t worry about how chewed up the fish’s lip got in the process. I was on my way to succeeding when one of the girls (looking in through the gills), decided to start describing in detail what she could see of the fish’s inner workings.
Plop! Back into the water he went. I suggested that we let the fish swim around for a minute to see if he would free himself from the hook, but apparently the injured, oxygen-deprived, six-inch sunfish was not more capable of disentangling himself from a hook meant for a heavier, meaner, smarter fish. His little swim did give me enough time to come up with a plan: I’d hold the fish while my co-counselor used the safety scissors to cut off the offending end of the hook.
Lesson #Duh: Safety scissors will not cut through a stainless steel fish hook.
On the fourth attempt, I finally managed to yank the hook out of the poor suffering fish and toss him back into the pond to nurse his wounds in peace. The positive outcome of the event was that my kids were utterly convinced I’m mad cool for about twenty minutes. The pragmatic outcome? They are going to have to be angelic paragons of good behavior if they ever want to convince me to take them fishing again.