The One That Got Away: A True Story of Fishing Incompetence

Although I’ve gone fishing about two dozen times in my life, I am by no means what you’d call a good fisherman. I can cast and reel a lure in, sure, but ask me to string a reel, hook a worm or select even a halfway appropriate lure for conditions, and I’m lost. And knots — don’t get me started on knots.

My son, however, seems to have the fishing bug big time, for every time we’re near water he asks if we can fish. Being a Good Dad, I of course say yes, but these times have come when I have a more experienced fisherman around, which is great at subtly masking my incompetence while still allowing my son to think his dad is his own private version of Bear Grylls.

Last weekend, we participated in a charity Jeep off-road event for cancer research. We stayed at a friend’s cottage on the water, and my son brought a friend with him for the weekend.

Within five seconds of arriving at the cottage, the boys asked if we could go fishing. Without thinking, I said yes, which frankly was a pretty stupid thing to do, because I had not properly assessed the reel/rod situation at the cottage. (I sure didn’t bring any with me. Why? I don’t own any, thanks for asking.)

Thankfully, the owner of the cottage actually knows something about fishing, and he had a wide array of both closed- and open-bail reels for us to use.

After picking up some Canadian crawlers at a local bait shop, we found ourselves at the cottage boat dock, reels in hand. A tackle box full of arcane, sharp items was present too, but I know what to do with a tackle box like a dog knows what to do with a dual-clutch transmission.

The boys were both actually quite adept at casting, until my son’s reel got totally hosed (sorry to drop the technical lingo on you like that) and I had to fix it. It was a simple tangle, and once I straightened it out, I threw a few test casts into the water.

Boom! Immediately, my son points down to the water and says, “Dad! Ohmygod! You caught a fish!”

He’s right. Somehow, a clearly very stupid ten-inch smallmouth bass decided to jump onto my hook with an open mouth, and now here I was, pulling him out of the water.

The problem: I had never taken a fish off a hook before. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. But my son and his friend were right there, wide-eyed, and they each wanted to take a picture with the catch.

marc and bass

Like any rugged outdoorsman, I grabbed a pair of fuzzy gloves (??), some pliers, and I held the fish gently while trying to remove the hook from its lip. Thankfully, it wasn’t hooked in a wonky way, and the hook came out easily.

I let the fish back into the water with a casual “Fly! Be free!” Mork & Mindy reference. The boys thought I was awesome. I had handled the situation with zero issues, and maybe — just maybe — I was better at this than I thought.

But probably not.

The Dusk Trip

After dinner, the boys wanted to go on the boat for another quick fishing excursion. It was dusk, and I remember my hardcore fishermen friends saying dusk is a good time to fish based on some labyrinthine logic, so we grabbed our reels, piled into the boat, and headed to a quiet patch of water near the far shore, about 600 yards away.

Let me tell you now that I am so experienced, so good at fishing, that I forgot to take with me:

  • The tackle box
  • Pliers
  • Gloves
  • Fish-catching accessories of any kind

I briefly thought about turning back to get all that gear, which was sitting on the dock quitely mocking me, but I thought the chances of anyone catching a fish are slim and none, because we’re using random lures, tossing lines about in random directions, and we only had about 15 minutes before nightfall. What could go wrong?

My son had a light lure on his line, and was having trouble casting it against the wind. “Dad,” he says, “can you cast this way out there for me?”

So I did. I cast his lure close to shore, and told him to reel it in slowly.

A few moments later: “Dad. Heydad. I think I have a fish.”

“Buddy, there are a lot of weeds over there. You’re probably just snagged a little.”

“I don’t think so Dad. It’s pulling — hard.”

I smile and tell him to keep reeling. “It’s just some weeds buddy. Reel it up and we’ll re-cast.”

“Dad, I’m telling you, there’s a fish. I can’t even hold it anymore.” I look at him and he’s really struggling.

I take the rod from him and look down. In the time it took me to assure him he caught a bunch of weeds, he managed to pull in a 15” pike.

A pike. I don’t know much about fish, but I could see the rows of teeth on this guy, and I wasn’t in the mood to lose a finger, to say nothing of my son’s respect. Ruh-roh.

But what to do? Unanchor the boat and drag him back to the dock, where the tackle box was? Cut the line and let him go with a hook in his mouth, which seemed stupid and inhumane?

My son and his friend were staring expectactly at me while I weighed my options. I had a Dad Hero image to uphold, and this wasn’t looking good for me. Even less so for the pike.

Mercifully, the pike decided, “Oh man. I’ve been caught by a 44 year old dude who has no idea what to do. Here, let me wriggle violently so as to dislodge myself from this hook.”

And he did. With one sharp convulsion, the pike bucked free of the hook and dove back into the water. I thought I heard him say, “You owe me one, jerk!” as he disappeared into the dark water.

Was I getting lucky or what?

“Oh MAN buddy! DARN IT! The fish got away!”

My son stared into the water, as if tracking his mortal enemy. “Dad, we almost had that guy. We’ll try to get him tomorrow, OK?”

“Sure buddy. Let’s get moving now, because the mosquitos are getting nasty.”


For the record, if that pike is reading this, I’d like to say thanks, because not only did you allow me to remain Hero Dad, but even with tackle and gear, things would have been ugly. For everyone involved.

Have a good weekend, everyone. And to our U.S. readers, have a happy and safe Memorial Day.

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