The Day Dad’s Girls Caught Fish
We always tested Dad’s patience; this day, we rewarded it
by Michelle Steel
The light flashes on, blinding me at 4am. I bury my head into the pillow. “Ouch, that hurts my eyes,” I grumble.
“The biggest fish bite early. Five minutes and counting,” Daddy says, pulling the light blanket off my body.
A carpenter by trade, Daddy was a fisherman by heart. Contending with his wife and three daughters on a Saturday fishing excursion as he tried to relax, his endurance and patience were tested.
At 4:05am, the count is on in the life of a fisherman.
On the two-hour trip to the Bay, we stop at The Tackle Shop to pick up pork rinds with buck tails and heavy weights. The guy behind the counter suggests we add bloodworms, peeler crab and shrimp.
“Real fishermen know the best bait to catch fish,” Daddy says.
It’s my responsibility to secure the cardboard box of squirming worms. I cringe at the thought of baiting them onto my hook.
Mr. Bowles, at whose pier our boat stays, greets us, wiping his hands down pants legs covered in fish scales and worm guts. He spits brown wads of tobacco into a paper cup while we fill up the boat with fuel. We cannot decipher what he says because his speech is distorted with tobacco spit.
The Bay is rough. Wind tangles my hair, and saltwater burns my skin and eyes. Whitecaps churn the scrapple sandwich around inside my stomach, tie my intestines into painful knots and toss me around the boat.
Farther out, the waters calm down. We stop. “The perfect spot to catch white perch,” Daddy says.
He dresses my rod with crab, shrimp and bloodworms. We wait patiently. Nothing happens.
I cast my line into the water and wait, again. This time, something tugs on my line. A bite? No, I have tangled my line with mom’s, and she has tangled hers with my two sisters’. We shake the levers on our reels, trying to loosen the lines and disconnect from each other. It’s a futile effort. Daddy cuts the tangled lines, then re-threads them and adds fresh bait to all four of our rods. This happens five times.
Everyone is ready for a break. Daddy drops us off on a secluded island accessible only by boat and ventures off to fish solo. When he returns two hours later, we board the vessel, eager to fish again. My sister, slathered in suntan oil, slips off. This happens four times.
Twenty minutes later, we are on board.
Still, I am Daddy’s target for the day. In less than one hour, I lose several fish, accompanied by precious bait.
“Som a beech,” Daddy curses at me and slaps my hands with his sun-spotted, calloused one. They remind me of the spotted white perch. “You’re no fisherman,” he says.
We cast again. Another tug on my line. This time, the line drags heavy into the Bay. Wrestling with my rod, I reel one in, shining of metallic blue and green. Protesting, it squirms and pulls on the line. Screeching with delight, I pull the hook from its mouth and toss it into the cooler. Daddy’s eyes shine approval at me; acceptance by the fisherman.
After my catch, we all struck gold. Maybe we hit a good fishing hole or Lady Luck was just on our side. Whatever the case, Daddy fought to keep up with us. We filled two coolers with dozens of white perch, a handful of rock and a single flounder. Fishing regulations were different on the Bay 30 years ago.
The number of fish filling the coolers exceeded Daddy’s expectations that day, the count near 50. For the next several weeks, fish filled our dinner plates and were shared among friends and neighbors. Daddy’s girls were fishermen.