Conscience (Vacation III)

I have a dilemma. You remember how I said we hit a really good crappie bite a couple of days ago? Well, the good news is that it’s kept up, and even when J went out by himself last night he came home with more eating size to add to the cage. We’re up to about 15, I think, which is more than enough for two people to have nothing but fish for dinner.

But the second night, after we already had some crappies in the cage, I made a mistake. I reeled in a good-sized crappie, one of the biggest so far. It was the first keeper of the night, so J moved to fill the five-gallon bucket that serves as our live well in the fishing boat, with lake water to keep it in while we fished. While he was doing that, the crappie wriggled free of the line and I caught it in my arms, kind of in a hug. More like how you hold a baby in your arms. I pressed it against me to keep it from wriggling and I looked at it. It turned it’s eye and looked at me. I had a maternal moment.

“It’ll be okay, little crappie,” I said.

This was a mistake. Number one, I should not have looked that fish in the eye or held it like a baby to my chest but most of all, I should not have told it that it would be ok even though it was going to the bucket, which goes into the cage, which goes to the fish fry.

I’ve been fishing all my life. I can remember catching the smallest sunfish and practically begging Grandpa to keep it because we (we being me and my sister) wanted a fish fry SO MUCH. We’d cheer when he’d make the assessment that we had a “keeper”, but sometimes he’d put his foot down and tell us “That one better grow up a little more” and we’d sadly set it free.

I love everything about fishing. Being out on the water, in the woods. The surprise of each catch, the moment when you pull it up or it jumps and you see what it is. The thrill of the hook set. The peaceful therapy of watching a bobber.

I can still smell that fish on my coat. It’s still in the cage. J has added at least seven more crappies since that night. I can’t tell which one is the fish I made a promise to. Tomorrow will be the day we will have a fish fry, because it’s the last full day of our vacation. That fish is weighing on my conscience. I had a dream about it, even.

In order to keep my promise to the fish, we are going to have to let all the fish go. This might not make me the best wife ever, and also will result in zero fish fried, even though we’ve been having a killer week of fishing.

But that fish, it looked at me. And I looked at it. I told it that everything would be ok.

And now I can’t go back.

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