MONTHS before the neighboring lake is thawed out enough for us to go fishing, our family is busy with the annual ritual of restocking tackle boxes and restringing fishing rods. This always stirs a bit of restlessness in my husband, and he starts showing signs of what some may term ``cabin fever.'' Not satisfied with merely watching Sunday afternoon outdoorsman programs, he is eager to join them. When not able to contain his enthusiasm any longer, Michael, an avid angler, starts casting his fishing pole in the house. I hold my breath hoping he won't snag the sofa. A quick flick of the wrist and a bass jig whizzes down the hall and plops inches from our cat's paws. Michael reels it in slowly, jerking the line ever so slightly, to see if he can lure the cat into pouncing. This scene continues until the cat decides he has better things to do.
This is the year my two older sons graduate from using a mere drop-line (consisting of a stick, line, and bobber - but no hook) to a full-fledged fishing rod. We've also equipped them with their own tackle boxes. Pleased with their presents, they both chimed: ``Now we can catch some real fish!''
The long-awaited fishing trip came. It was a bit more breezy than usual at our favorite spot. Not much of a fisherman myself, I perched on a rock, happy to be an observant spectator. Michael helped them bait their hooks, and after a few casting lessons Daniel and Peter were ready to ``catch a big one.'' The effort of casting their lines seemed to set them off balance at times, so I watched intently just in case I was needed for a quick rescue.
Michael placed the two boys some distance from each other so as to lessen the probability of getting their lines intertwined. They were both fascinated by the newness of being able to reel in their lines, so they gave the fish only about 10 seconds to nibble. Most times it was long enough, though, because they'd find their worm was missing. Then, of course, they needed help getting another worm on their hook. ``Daddy, a fish ate my worm,'' one would say. And invariably the other would also need assistance. ``Daddy, I got my hook caught on some branches.'' Michael very patiently attended to all their needs and didn't get much fishing of his own accomplished.
Shortly Peter yelled out, ``I think I caught a fish!'' And he reeled his line in as fast as his little hands could go. We all scrambled over to help. Indeed, a nice-sized bluegill came up out of the water. Peter caught a few more bluegill before Daniel was able to snag some yellow perch. At day's end we had a nice catch and when asked what we were going to do with all these fish, Michael, proud of his sons' efforts, exclaimed, ``Take them home!''
At home, Daniel ventured into the kitchen to check on the progress of dinner. He looked at the pile of fish on a platter, floured and ready for frying, and said, ``Mommy, I don't like seeing our fish on a plate like that.''
Knowing Daniel's love of all animal life, I shouldn't have been surprised by this comment, but it wasn't until then that I'd really linked the leisureliness of fishing with the starkness of hunting. I asked, ``But Daniel, I thought you liked fishing with Daddy.''
``Oh, I do but - why does Daddy love to fish so much?''
``If you don't want to go fishing with Daddy again I'm sure it will be OK.''
``Somehow I don't think Daddy would understand.''
``Would you like me to talk to him?'' He nodded yes, happy to let me be the diplomat.
Michael seemed to know exactly what the problem was and called Daniel over to him. ``Daniel, the next time we go fishing we're going to try the catch-and-release method. That means we're going to catch a fish, let him go, and then watch him swim away. Does that sound better?''
By the look on Daniel's face I could tell that the happy ending to this fish story is that we're going to let the ``big one'' get away.