I remember back when my good friend, Jimmy Brewster, bore witness to the birth of his second son. He was glowing when I talked to him the first time after the big event.
“He’s absolutely gorgeous,” Jim said. “I can’t wait until he’s old enough that he and Jordan can go fishing with us. We’re going to have a blast.”
Back then, I was certain we would (and we did). I knew that I loved fishing with Calito, and our adventures have been the grist for many a column. The memories were thick and colorful, especially when we embellished them a bit.
Don’t look at me like that. When you’re a parent, and your kid fishes, you learn to do certain things, like let him fish his way, even if it means catching a trout on a Cheeto (my boy did that once; much to the chagrin of many a trout aficionado who thinks that trout are too worthy to be insulted that way). You also learn that, sometimes, it’s necessary to lie.
I remember something I saw when I was nineteen. By then, I had a car and my parents begrudgingly gave me permission to make the hour-long drive to South Padre Island to surf fish. I spent several Saturdays in June, July and August of that summer fishing the beaches up and down the Island. If I caught any fish, I’d drive over Jim’s Pier to clean them before I drove home.
Jim’s Pier has a fish cleaning area that is four tables surrounding and opening in the dock that led out to the bay. You clean your catch and drop the remains through the opening, where everything is promptly eaten by some of the biggest hardhead catfish you’ve ever seen.
Some those gnarly buggers were easily over two feet long. Throw a handful of guts down there, and the catfish would converge on them and thrash, and roll, and lunge while fighting over the stuff. It was actually a little scary to watch the show. What would happen if someone’s pet chihuahua fell in there?
This one time, I was cleaning a few flounders I’d caught when Captain Roman Stockton’s boat pulled into one of the boat slips. Roman, his two clients, and one client’s five-year-old son hopped onto the dock. They had a good day, or at least the kid thought so. He’d caught his first fish: a six-inch croaker.
He was very proud of his catch, and was running around showing the now very dead and very stiff fish to everyone. It didn’t matter to this little boy that the grownups had caught a cooler full of speckled trout. He had his fish, and there was no other fish on the planet.
Except the catfish.
They were swimming around underneath the dock, waiting. About this time, the boy decided to let his croaker go—right into the opening the catfish used as a buffet. The croaker floated for a couple of seconds. Then, a catfish as long as the boy came up, took the croaker sideways in his mouth, and swam off.
I’d swear you could have heard the scream five miles offshore.
The boy’s father came running, a look of terror on his face. He found his son stomping his feet in place, face bright red, and tears pouring, pointing at the hole in the dock.
“Oh my God, boy! Did you fall in?” he asked the screaming child, looking him over for missing body parts or exposed bones.
When he was satisfied that his boy was intact, he cupped the kid’s face in his hands and asked, “What happened, Kevin, what happened?”
Kevin pointed to the hole in the dock. “I put my fish in there so he could swim and a big fish got him.
Now the father’s face began to alternate between relief and amusement. “A big fish did what?” he asked.
“A BIG FISH ATE MY FISH,” Kevin bawled.
“Oh, no, no! Kevin,” Pop said. “He just took your fish to the fish hospital so he could get better.”
Kevin stopped crying and wiped his nose with a bare forearm.
“Really?” he asked
Then Pop looked at me and asked, “Right?”
Now, I had a choice to make, the first meant that Kevin would know the truth, but probably be so traumatized that he’d never fish again, put a bolt through his nose, date a bald girl, and join PETA.
I could see the man was very close to drowning, so I chose the second option and threw him a line.
“Oh, yeah, yeah!” I nodded, confirming to the boy that his croaker was going to recover to lead a productive life of spiritual fulfillment.
The man sent the now smiling boy to the waiting arms of Mommy, who had just shown up.
“Mommy!” Kevin blurted as he saw his mother. “I caught a fish! And a catfish is taking him to the fish hospital so he can get better! My fish is going to grow up to be a big fish, and I’m going to catch him again!
Mommy just nodded and smiled, and let her son babble on about the croaker that was on its way to a long recovery.
The dad brought me a soda and clapped me on the back.
“Man,” he said, “thank you for backing me up. The last thing I need is for that kid to be traumatized about fishing because of those damn catfish.
I shook my head. “Lying to a little kid. What is this world coming to?”
“Hey,” he said, “If you’re going to have kids that want to fish with you, you’re going to lie. And if you don’t lie, you’re a damn fool or a heartless s.o.b. Either way, your kid ain’t gonna fish very long.
Kevin is somewhere in his mid-20s now. I hope he’s still fishing with his dad. If I’ve let the cat out of the bag well…Kevin, your dad did it for you!
Email Cal Gonzales at
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]