“Kay, you wanna go fishing tomorrow morning?” Dad surprised me with his suggestion.
“Me, Daddy? But is there enough room in the canoe with you, John, and Dave?” I felt a bit awkward reminding him of his words on previous occasions when I’d begged to join them.
“Nah, there’ll be plenty of room—just you and me.”
I was stunned as only a nine-year-old girl with three brothers in 1970 could be. John and Dave were in their early teens, automatically claiming my father’s attention merely by being male. Though Dad had taught me with my younger brother the basics of fishing, never had only the two of us gone. Grinning, Dad coaxed me into agreement, tucked me into my sleeping bag, and, seemingly only minutes later, whispered for me to get up.
We snuck from the camper into the early June frostiness of an Ontario morning along the northern shore of Lake Superior. I blinked my eyes, wondering at the fairy land shimmering about me, preternaturally quiet. No other campers stirred. The pine trees paused in mid sway, scattered dark pillars, part of some ethereal architectural home. I inhaled tart verdant green, tangy with smoke from dew-ridden campfire coals. Faint mauve tendrils of dawn entwined with wispy water plumes above granite black water. Ripples lapped the pebbled shoreline docilely, a few sparking dully from the fading full moon. The lake appeared strangely alien, nothing remaining of the dashing playmate that had tumbled us with crashing waves the afternoon before.
A plash made Dad murmur, “The fish, they’re waiting for us.” I clambered into our heavy wooden canoe. Dad shoved it with slight grunt into the lake, sloshing through the shallows to swing aboard.
Gliding into the hazy mist toward purple-pink, fuzzy-peach fingers of dawn tickling the water, we wove an ever-widening whorl behind us. After a time, Dad handed me a pole, and I rooted for a worm, poking the hook through it with a satisfying pop. We trolled on either side. When my line came up with only half a worm, Dad chuckled, “Hey, Kay, he’s tasting your line, waiting for ya.”
I giggled at his foolishness, slapped on another worm, and carefully tossed the line outward, with plopping splash into the icy-cold, now golden-coffee-brown water. After several minutes of serene floating, I saw my pole tip slightly and squeaked, “Dad,” as the bobber dunked itself a half-inch into the water.
“Careful. Hug your pole and ease up,” Dad’s way of telling me to set the hook without wrenching.
“Oh,” I breathed when I felt weight, the pole angling itself sharply horizontal, the line slowly, steadily unwinding itself from the reel.
“Give him space, Kay. Then we’ll convince him to come to us.”
A dancing tug-of-war ensued, and I soon weakened, so Dad wrapped himself around my back, a warm-overcoat embrace. Together we wheedled and cajoled the fish into the net: a pike, over three-feet long, fiercely flapping, its alarming mouthful of teeth grimly chewing the line.
Dad crowed as he painstakingly maneuvered it onto the stringer. “We’ll haul him home, sweetie, cuz they’re not going to believe you caught this.”
“We’re not going to eat it, are we?”
“No way, a pike is too bony.”
The return journey seemed interminable, the sun spiking hard arrows off choppy indigo waters. We named the pike Pete, Dad pausing periodically to check on him, explaining you could drown a fish. By the time we reached our campsite, I believed him for Pete was drooping, gray around the gills.
My brothers swarmed around, shouting congratulations but I barely heard them, dismayed to see the released pike hobble awkwardly under the dock as if he had forgotten how to swim. The enchantment was broken, the world too real and present, exploding into sharp edges, harsh sounds. Dad directed John to swirl water gently around Pete to keep him upright, stable and to oxygenate him. I sprawled across the dock, dizzily watching Pete upside down while John’s lips turned purple, goosebumps peppering him until Mom shooed us all into the camper for a morosely quiet breakfast.
Afterwards, I crept back to find Pete still motionless, except for fins slightly twirling. As I peered down, he glared up, our eyes glittering at each other for a long moment before Pete snapped his tail haughtily and disappeared in a blurry whirl. Gulping back tears, I stood, wobbling until Dad swooped me into the air and we bellowed with jubilation.
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