"Do not tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish."
For Christmas one year, Dad gave me my very own kid-sized rod & reel, complete with tackle box. I thought this was the coolest gift ever. Until we spent a whole, entire afternoon sitting side by side with our lines in the water doing nothing. Saying nothing. Catching nothing. Where was the magic I had envisioned?
There was one fishing episode, I recall however that was quite exciting. We were night fishing for snook off the north bridge. There was the long, interminable silence broken only by water lapping at the pilings of the bridge and the occasional boat motor, the smell of vaguely fishy saltwater wafting around us like perfume that had gone slightly rank. Then, all of a sudden something huge hit and caught my hook firmly in its jaws. I was thinking it must be a shark at least, or maybe a sailfish like the stuffed one on our Florida room wall. I hung on for dear life while the line spun crazily out of the reel, with its accompanying high-pitched whine singing loudly in my ears, the pull of the beast so strong it nearly took me right over the bridge rail.
Dad grabbed onto my waist, preventing me from taking a 30 foot dive, yelling for me to let go of the fishing rod. There was no way on earth (or in the water) I was about to let my prize possession disappear into the deep! I'd take a plunge and go skiing, face first, behind whatever this was before I'd let go!
We continued in this tableau: fishy creature grabbing the hook, me grabbing the fishing rod, Dad grabbing me, for some minutes until the line was finally reaching the end of the reel. Dad made a lunge for it, setting me back on the bridge, and started to reel in the beast. He fought and reeled and pulled and I was thinking about the great contests of which Papa Hemingway wrote, man vs. giant fish. Instead, what eventually appeared above the surface was...a manta ray. It was a BIG manta ray, but still, a manta ray. Sigh. No sailfish, swordfish, shark. No worthy creature from the depths of the ocean. A manta ray. My budding fisherman's enthusiasm was dashed in disappointment. I think this childhood trauma is likely why I now buy my fish in a cardboard box or plastic bag.
Dad did have some great fish stories, though, and in at least one case, he had the photo documentation to back it up. When he first told us he had caught a 6-foot wahoo, we all thought he was joking. I mean, really - a wahoo??? Have you ever heard of a wahoo fish? Sure enough, it turned out there is actually a fish called a wahoo and he'd caught a whale of a wahoo, as pictured above. So, there are fish stories, and then there are FISH stories.