Sunday, September 22, 2019

White Bass and a Fish for Zander

It was Saturday, August 27th, 2016. Late afternoon/evening, and U.E. decided we should go tight-line fishing or “tightlining”. In this first year of our relationship, I was finding myself introduced to so many different types of fishing. I was excited that we were going tightlining. Why? I’m so glad you asked. Tightlining is done from SHORE, meaning no boats on the big lake, and no sea-sickness. I was definitely ALL in on this beautiful Saturday night in August for some “normal” but new fishing.

The park he was taking me too, was a familiar park. Close by and local. Located on the channel from Lake Michigan to one of our bigger inland lakes. I had grown up just down the road, and he and I had been spending many lunch hours together at the picnic area enjoying the summer weather. The weather was perfect, the water in the channel was calm and there were plenty of local residents walking by to say hello. It was just a great evening to fish.

Once he got me trained on how to tie up a tightline and get them casted into the water, It was a small lesson on the underwater terrain and what to expect. Before I knew it we were fishing and catching fish after fish after fish. Almost faster than we could get the line back out we were reeling them back in. We even had bobber lines on the side, and couldn’t keep up with the tiny blue gill bites, and ended up giving it up. Our bucket was filling up with white bass, and we were having an absolute blast doing it. There would be lulls in the catch, but ultimately, we were having a great night of fishing.

It doesn’t take much but the sound of a reel to catch the attention of passerbys. We happened to notice a family walking toward us. I would describe the crew as a Grandma, with her young adult children and their spouses, pushing a stroller and a chatty 5-6 year old little boy leading the way. They walk by conversing to themselves, say hello, and continue on the sidewalk.

A short time later, they are on the return trip down the sidewalk behind us, but this time, Grandma and the little boy are separated from the other adults, and he has a small onion net hooked to a stick and is determined to catch a fish. He would stop and try to dip his net in the water to see if he could pull something out, but between the reach down to the water, and Grandma’s unease for how close he was, he only got small snippets of time to try.

They finally make their way to us. We had just put a couple in the bucket and the bite had seemed to slow. The little boy was admiring how full it was. He demonstrated to us his makeshift fishing pole, and was absolutely determined to catch a fish with it. Just then, U.E. gets a bite and starts reeling it in. We shuffle the little boy around the bench, but not in front of the safety cable. Quickly, knowing we’re strangers, I ask him his name and introduce myself and U.E. He says his name is Zander.

We hurridly get Zander ready to reel in this fish and it just stops. Gives up the fight. WHAT? Are you kidding?? You could split the disappointment with a knife. U.E. pulls it out of the water. It’s a burbot. A dogfish. So he shows it to the little boy and tells him what it is. Zander, in stunned amazement, says he has never heard of a dogfish. In true U.E. form he says to Zander “Of course there are dogfish, something has to be in the water to chase the catfish”. Zander shoots a look at Grandma as she laughs and nods. At this point, I don’t think I have ever prayed so hard to hook a fish. This little boy NEEDED to reel in a fish. Just then, my line goes off and we have another opportunity. Zander takes the rod and reels as fast as his little hands can manage, chattering the entire time in excitement. His energy is lighting up the entire evening.

We get the fish to shore, and it’s a white bass. A keeper. Thinking to myself “Now what do we do, we have to send this home with this little guy and we have no way to clean it”. We ask Grandma if she has a way to get this fish clean at home, and she says “his dad fishes and would have what they need”. Okay, great. Now we need something to put it in….. “Ah, yes” i think to myself. One last cookie in the Ziploc. “Hey Zander, would you like to take your fish home?” I ask. With wide eyes and a big nod he says “YES!” “Well, then I have a really big job for you to do first.” “Okay, he says” with so much body excitement it could be compared to a full body tail wag on a dog. I tell him, “You have to eat this cookie so we can have the bag for your fish”. He looked at his Grandma for approval, and she smiles and nods that it’s okay, and I am pretty sure he never tasted that cookie as he devoured it and watched U.E. put his fish carefully in the bag.

Just about this time, the rest of the family caught up with Zander and his Grandma, and he had to show all of them his catch. Proudly lifting that bag up for all to see. It’s getting late, and the sky is dark, so they say their good-byes and thank yous and head toward the parking lot. After they left, the catch pretty much dropped off for the night. We had plenty of fish in the bucket. None of that mattered though. The experience with Zander this night is more than I could have ever dreamed of for a chance encounter to see the light in a little man’s eyes and put a fire in him for angling.

We don’t know who they were, if he was able to eat his fish, and what he remembers of that day. Maybe someday someone who knows him and remembers reading this story will share it with him. I can certainly say that that night of fishing is hands down my favorite trip. Can I just add Best. Date Night. Ever? There is no expensive dinner, no highly paid actor/actress in a movie, no play, no concert, no festival or establishment that can give you the experience of spending quality time with the one you love, doing what you love, catching your dinner, and having an experience with Zander, a young boy, that will carry with the both of us for the rest of our lives. We enjoyed the fishing, but we loved the excitement and sharing the love of the sport with that little guy. We can only hope and pray that he continues to love fishing with the same energy he had on August 27th, 2016.

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