|Posted on Tue, Jul. 25, 2006
Cassidy: Surprises fill day of fishing with daughter
By Mike Cassidy
The first sign of trouble came at the end of the pier on a quiet lake in Sonoma County.
``Dad? Is it OK if I name him?''
Name the fish?
At age 8, Riley had caught her first fish. It was one of those moments when a dad feels like a dad. Taking the kid fishing. Passing on wisdom. Talking about life. Wetting a line.
Riley yelped when her bobber went under. She cranked her reel madly. Slower. Slower, I counseled. And there it was. A sunfish. A five-incher.
It was a time of triumph, of celebration, a time to face the fact that some of our food actually had a previous life in a previous life.
``We could throw that one back,'' I said.
``Throw it back?'' Riley looked at me as if I had two heads. ``Dad. This is the first fish I ever caught.''
``Well,'' I said. ``I guess we could have it on a cracker.''
We tied the catch onto our fisherman's stringer and lowered the fish into the lake for fresh keeping.
``I think I'll call him Sunny,'' Riley said. ``Can I play with Sunny?''
I said I didn't think that was such a good idea.
``OK, I'll just visit him.'' Riley jumped into the lake and swam around to where the fish was dangling in the water.
Another little girl happened by.
``Gonna keep it as a pet?''
This wasn't going as planned.
Why Riley wanted to learn to fish I have no idea. Why she thought I could teach her anything about it was a bigger mystery. But when she raised the idea, I felt all Norman Rockwell. A daughter and her dad on a summer lake. Swatting flies. Swapping tales.
It brought to mind a column by the late Red Smith. With heartwarming simplicity, the legendary sports writer recounted a day of fishing with his 5-year-old grandson. I wanted that day.
The two spent most of their time doing little more than feeding the fish -- the same as Riley and I did. We'd put worms on our hooks. We'd watch the fish come and eat the worms. We'd watch the fish swim away satisfied with a meal.
And yes, Smith's grandson caught a fish, a nine-inch bullhead. His first ever. The grandfather and grandson agreed they'd take it home, skin it and cook it.
``My mommy will laugh her head off,'' the boy said. The grandson was jubilant, Smith wrote.
After the catch
Fish skinning. Innards cleaning. I couldn't imagine that Riley's mommy would laugh her head off. And Riley, once out of the water, seemed something other than jubilant.
But she was excited enough to get Sunny back to the vacation home we were sharing with many relatives. Her first fish, remember?
Once back, I spread a newspaper on the picnic table and pulled out a big knife. Immediately, in huge convulsions, Riley began to sob.
``I don't want to kill him!''
``But, honey, we have to clean him if we're going to eat him.''
``I don't want to eat him. I don't want to clean him. I don't want to kill him. Can't we just put him back?''
Suddenly, I was feeling more Norman Bates than Norman Rockwell. I put Sunny in a bucket -- and he seemed to respond to the water.
Riley, the bucket and I got in the car and with water sloshing over the back seat, we drove Sunny back to the lake. We walked to the end of the pier and dumped the fish in. Sunny didn't immediately float to the top, and we hoped for the best.
I was tempted to remind Riley that I said we should throw the fish back. An I-told-you-so moment. Instead, I gave Riley a hug and braced myself for more questions.
``Do we have to fish tomorrow?''