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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Like a Fish Out of Water (10/24/13)

TITLE: Cutbait
By Frankie Kemp


Suckers are ugly fish. I don’t even know their scientific name, but that is what we called them when I was growing up in southwestern Colorado. Their mouths are designed to siphon nutrients from the muddy bottoms of lakes and slow moving river waters. They are scaly and bony. Few people catch suckers for their dinners. My dad caught them to use as “cutbait” for the catfish he was really after. I knew that. I had even watched him attach chunks of their flesh on a hook for me.

Fishing was one of the things we did as a family, and even though I never really had much patience to sit and wait for a catfish to snag my line, I relished our outings. They were a way to know my dad, a way to share something he loved. I never truly developed a passion for fishing, though. I couldn’t help it. I felt sorry for the fish.

This strange quality of feeling compassion for fish confronted me head on one tell-tale late afternoon on the banks of Navajo Lake. We had arrived before suppertime, just like we always did, so that we could start the fire, set up the poles, roast our hot dogs, and catch the cutbait all before the dark set in. One of my sisters and I, uninterested in the catching of the suckers, were engrossed in some other kind of adventure that I don’t remember. Maybe we were looking for arrowheads or interesting rocks along the banks. What I found was a sucker that my dad had caught and tossed behind him to wait for the others that he would catch and then take to the tailgate of his pickup to be cut up for catfish bait.

I peered down at the fish. It was still alive, its gills working frantically back and forth and its tail weakly flopping. I had learned enough in science about fish and gills that I knew that the fish was suffocating. Perhaps, my child’s mind had previously revolted at making the connection that a sucker had to die before it became cutbait, never lingering on that prospect until I saw it happening. I couldn’t stand it.

Without even thinking, I rushed to my dad and grabbed his attention with snotty tears. “Daddy, Daddy!” I begged. “That sucker is dying. Please, can I throw him back in the water?”

“We’re going to use it for cutbait. You know that,” I imagine his response because I don’t remember his exact words. I only remember that Daddy never could stand to see us cry. He relented to my tears and gave me permission to throw the sucker back in the water. Unfortunately, I was too late to save the fish.

The significance of this day comes back to me often—not because it turned me into a vegetarian or made me hate my dad. Strangely, remembering it helps me understand myself in a way that most people don’t. Every time a well-intentioned person says, “You trust too easily,” “You’re a lot nicer than I am,” “You’re too patient,” “You need to lower the boom more often,” a part of me begs to cry out in self defense. Patience, niceness, and trust have nothing to do with it. Just ask my sons. Can’t you see? I can’t help it. I feel sorry for the fish!

I live every day with the sweet and the bitter taste of my own desire to protect. It is bitter when the fish I am working so hard to reclaim fights against being rescued. It is bitter when I get lost, the compulsion to save causing the lines between myself and the fish to blur. It is bitter when no matter what I do, the fish dies. The sweetness comes when I can latch on to truth. The greatest of all Fishermen would never throw a suffocating fish back into the murky water to suck mud and droppings. He would, instead, give the bottom feeder a new existence. Before this resurrection, though, the fish has to die. The Fisherman’s compassion is the real kind. Remembering this makes it easier to walk away or to stop gasping for air myself. Both acts require a lot of faith in the Fisherman. Good thing He knows what it is die to like a bottom feeder, even though He never was one. Good thing He knows what to do with my empathy for suffocating fish.


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Member Comments
Member Date
Virgil Youngblood 11/03/13
I like to fish so your title caught my attention. What a great memory you shared of your father, and a message of what true fishing is all about. Well done.
C D Swanson 11/04/13
Excellent story. Interestingly enough, I wrote about a Summer long ago which concerned a fish I was crying about!

Anyhow, good job with the topic and great segue into a powerful close.

Great job.

God bless~
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 11/08/13
Congratulations on placing 6th in your level and 16 overall! (the highest rankings can be found on the message boards)