A Worthy Fish


[Worthy Fish Ring :: sterling silver]

It was my father who taught me to use a spinning reel.  Oh, I don’t know, I must have been four or five years old.  In return, I taught my dad how to catch Northern pike.  I schooled him.  I showed him how I could cast my trusty five of diamonds long and far, reel it in steadily, adding a little herky-jerky action with a repetitive wrist flick.  Reeling, reeling until the leader ran up fast to my rod tip and bumped into the smallest eye on the rod.  Then I’d cast again.  And again.  And again.  Until I caught a fish.  I had the patience and faith of a saint.

The rest is history, as they say.  I brought them in little.  I brought them in big.  Those pike snapped their heinous teeth at me, howled at the moon like water wolves.  They bit me and drew blood.  Oh.  It was a wild battle every time I caught pike.  Every now and again I bonked one on the head, cut it to pieces with my little red Swiss army knife and cooked those white, shimmering fillets over a fire on an outcropping of rock, by a set of rapids on the Churchill River system of Saskatchewan or a quiet shady lake.  I cooked my fish.  Slapped at mosquitoes.  Listened to the wind in the jackpine and birch.  Then I ate that hot fish, picked the bones off my tongue tip, watched the rapids, heard the water thunder, and felt that wild pike in my belly willing me to reach up, shining and narrow, to snap at the clouds in the Northern sky.

That’s why I ate them, you know, especially the fierce little ones that tried to bite my fingers off.  I ate them because I wanted that wild ferocity inside of me, mingling with my DNA, billowing my lungs like the pedals on an old Anglican church organ.  I wanted the fuel of fierceness, the wild and insane fight of a pike in my belly.  I ate a lot of pike the first twenty years of my life.  It’s  probably why I’ve such a stalwart spirit of rebellion inside the cage of my bones.

After pike, I moved on to walleye.  You know you have walleye on the line when you feel them slam into your hook and then fall suddenly silent.  You wonder if you bumped a rock with your lure, or a big patch of weeds.  You wonder.  You wonder.  You reel in some line, carefully, tentatively and suddenly your walleye will begin to fight.  And it’s a good fight.

Walleye.  Pike.  The fish of my younger years.

——————————————-

Somewhere in New Zealand, on a backcountry hike lit up at night by the Southern Cross and glow worms, I fell in love with a boy when I saw him fly fish for the first time.  Imagine A River Runs Through It, but cut and paste a handsome photograph of Robert’s face over top of Brad Pitt’s and you’ll be able to imagine what I saw.  I sat down in tall grass, biting bugs be damned, and I silently watched his manly poetics as his fly line flashed like yellow silk ribbon between 10 and 2.  Rhythmic.  Controlled.  Effective.  Oh, heck.  I was hooked.  That boy caught me a twenty two inch rainbow trout one day when I was very hungry and we were out of food while hiking the New Zealand backcountry.  That was the best fish I ever ate.

He loved fish.  I loved him.  The fish loved me.  It was a bizarre love triangle.  Eventually, I married him, because I knew if we were ever starving to death he would go out and catch us a fish.  Well, that, and he’s quite handy.

After I married Robert, we moved to Alaska to work for a rafting company.  We lived at the confluence of the Klutina and Copper Rivers — both wild and legendary waterways.  When the salmon started running, we ate fresh caught fish every single night.  Robert was salmon obsessed.  Oh, he had a terrible fish fever.  But me?  In Alaska I fell in love with trout.

It was never too late to go fishing in the land of the midnight sun.  We thought nothing of loading the canoe on top of the rafting van at 11PM, driving for two hours to a lake or river, and fishing until the tiny morning hours.  We were mad for fish.  Robert bought me my first fly rod and taught me how to use it.  He’s still teaching me but I no longer look like a ridiculous bumpkin while casting, as we all do, right when we get started with a fly rod.  Robert was patient and freed my hooks when they caught rose, alder, birch, black spruce on a sloppy backcast.  In point of fact, for the first couple of months, I caught many more trees than fish.  He coached my rhythm a bit, showed me how to give a little action to a wooly bugger as I stripped it in.  He taught me how to tease trout.  How to wiggle a parachute adams above their hungry noses.  How to set a barbless hook in a cold lip and keep tension on the line until I had a fish in hand. He taught me to read water on rivers and lakes.  He taught me so much and I loved landing trout.

At first, I fished with Robert.  After a while, if he was out running errands for our rafting company, I started driving to the small lakes outside of Chitna, just to catch a fish or two, just to see them rising during the dusking hours.  No fish leaps for joy like trout.  I fell in love with their shining, shimmering, silver joy.

We eventually moved, that fisherman and I, from Alaska to Northern California to Arizona — where Robert was a fish biologist for the federal government.  Life in Arizona was pure fishes, every hour, every day, every month, for almost four years.  Robert was growing and researching a crop of 60 000 threatened and endangered fish in outdoor earthen ponds.  At night, while the Arizona sun was setting, I would watch him walk out on the levies with his fly rod.  He’d fish for his endangered fish, in order to inspect them for disease and record their growth.  His casting was as lovely as ever, even in a waterless, troutless land that man found something to catch on the fly.

Eventually, we moved North to Idaho, land of rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, steelhead and salmon.  And then we began to divide our life between Idaho and Washington, a state made of the same kind of fishes.  I am happy to be here.  The fishing is very fine, indeed.

——————————————–

It occurs to me that my life could be measured in fishes.  I can remember fish I have caught in specific places, the weather of the day, the mood of the water, what I was wearing.  Robert is similar.  We can hike a river together and he will point out the eddies and deep bends he has taken fish from.  I wonder sometimes if Robert loves to see a trout in my hand, the way I love to see a trout in his.

Trout.  They’ve been a steadfast part of our life.  A reason for travel and adventure.  A cherry on top of the desserts of life.  I think they’ve made me a better woman and Robert a better man.  Maybe it’s a slippery, rainbow flanked trout between us that ties and binds us like a golden band on a ring finger.  They are noble things, trout, a worthy fish.

Comments

  1. What a fine writer you are you lovely woman!
    Reading that I fell in love with your love. Again.
    It made me want to go to NZ (right next door) and fish near the mountains. Or go to Alaska (Not so next door!) and find those trouts you love. I love trout too, but sadly I’ve only had them smoked, purchased from the supermarket deli section (still yummy though).
    One day, one day, I pray I can experience trout like how you’ve decribed it.
    I love that you’ve made such a beautiful ring that goes so perfectly with this piece of writing!

  2. yesterday, when i saw this posted on your flickr page, i told mister pencilfox you smith’d a sterling silver FISH ring.
    his reply: that girl loves fish, doesn’t she?

    xx

    • p.s. i love trout almost more than salmon. i love the quietude of fishing in eska creek or coyote lake. last week mister pencilfox brought home to me TWO little pan-size trout. i was so happy, i sang as i fried them up, little nonsensical fish songs about trouties. he is as poetic as robert in his fly-fishing, using his father’s cane flyrod.

  3. heather says:

    The way you string words together is breathtaking, and today there was something in what you wrote that caught me at the back of my throat and in the corners of my eyes.

    Oh trout. I’ve only ever fished a few times – when I was *very* young and with my father – and so the first trout I ever ate was not by my hand, but quite memorable as it was at a roadside restaurant in the mountains of Medellin (Colombia), cooked up and presented in its entirety on a little plate. I ate the whole thing! 🙂

  4. heather says:

    p.s. gorgeous ring!!

  5. Love your fishy tales of love and romance.
    xx

  6. “I ate them because I wanted that wild ferocity inside of me”

    How wonderfully said.
    And I agree…

  7. Oh to be a fish woman like yourself, Jillian – what an inspiration you are! Your words and thoughts are absolutely breathtaking XX

  8. Gosh. Before I even got to the part about New Zealand and A River Runs Through It I was thinking to myself, I feel like I’m reading Norman Maclean. Wonderful. You have such a gift!

  9. A joyful fishy tale I loved it!
    The ring is divine too 🙂

  10. I’ve never been fishing. I used to ask my Dad to take me, but he didn’t fish. So…someday. Mike does fish, but hasn’t been in a long time. This was a great read! The ring is spectacular!!

  11. Gorgeous ring!

  12. Gorgeous ring!
    What a special person you are..

  13. I grew up fishing with my father and I remember the laughs and the quiet, but I also remember the impatience I felt. It was a never a sport I fully embraced until now when I have come full circle. My 9-year old son loves it. This mass of energy wants to spend hours not only fishing, but not talking. It’s hard for me and I have often been admonished with an eye roll, “Mom, why do you talk so much?”

    Your words are so lovely. It makes me look at fishing differently, but I would still chat your ear off. 🙂

    And oh my, the ring! Girl….

  14. That is one one-of-a-kind ring, and your very own story. I enjoyed your saintly patience in catching fish…I felt how a certain thing in another person makes us fall in love…for you it was the swish of the rod : )

    xxx

  15. Beautiful ring and beautiful words. Reminds me how much I miss fishing, after I grew up I just grew out of it for some reason, now I’m going to have to go again, so thank you! My first fish was a Sheepshead in the Florida keys and my father “hooked” it for me from under the dock – which at 3 or 4 years old, of course I didn’t know til later – but after that I constantly fished – and you had to battle the pelicans when you reeled in a little pompano because boy do they love them! I remember catching red snapper at the waterbreak all day long by myself with my dogs, happy as a clam. In the summers my family went camping by boat on Indian Lake in the Adirondacks, and my brother and I each had a little plastic boat that just fit one kid, a tackle box and a fishing rod, and he’d paddle one way and I’d go the opposite and we’d be gone for hours and come back with stringers full of trout – makes me amazed how much freedom my parents gave us, what a gift! Thanks for sharing your beautiful summer with us! 🙂

  16. I love how you describe fishing, romance and love. Love of the fish, their tenacity and caginess- just a fabulous weaving of words, Jillian. The ring- oh the ring- what a beaut!! And, the new portraits of yourself are stunning- you’ve got Linda Hamilton arms, girl! We say that guurl, down here. 😉

  17. what an awesome ode to fish, an ode to this passion (among many) you and robert share, casting for those fighting swimmers. wonderful. i’ve finally, finally, got myself set up with my very own fly rod and i’m sure i’ll look a bumpkin to start, but maybe i’ll eventually get some grace as i ply the rivers and lakes in search of salmon, steelhead and trout. i’ve got a passion for those trout too and i’ve never even caught one. but i aim to.

  18. Jillian, your writing transports me to someplace else. Man O Man. I’m just sayin’; we are ALL waiting for that book of memoirs. And speaking of writing…thank you for your thoughtful words. I will put pen to paper soon.

    xoxo Kerry

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