Our Outdoors: First Fish

AJGill (1)
The author’s son, AJ, examines his first fish, a feisty bluegill from a farm pond. 

Fishing began for my son on the cool tile floor of our kitchen shortly after he received a Spiderman spincast combo last Christmas from my brother.  From time to time throughout the winter and spring we’d sit together, getting ready to cast.  I would push the blue button before flipping the rubber fish-shaped practice plug out into the dining room and he we would slowly crank on the reel until the fish came back into view.  For just a hair under two years old, he had pretty good command of how things worked and was only slightly dazzled by the strobe-like flash of lights built into the handle that would go off each time we made a cast with his superhero combo.
As the rubberized fish would make its way up to the tip of his rod, we’d talk about what kind it was, as I suggested all sorts of species – crappie, bluegill, sea trout, sturgeon – whatever was on my mind that particular day.  He’d laugh at how it slowly crept along the floor before pulling it back toward us, shooting the practice fish up onto the counter above or smack dab into his lap.  Sometimes the cat would give chase on the retrieve, other times the dogs would join in, and once in a while the line would wrap around the leg of a chair or get caught in the heat register at the edge of the kitchen and I’d have to undo the snag.  It was all good practice for the passion I hoped to pass along to him.
So when we were situated this weekend on the edge of a small farm pond loaded with eager panfish, he in his green fold-up frog camp chair and me on an upturned five-gallon bucket, we readied for our first cast after the real thing, leaving the kitchen floor behind for good.  He laughed and recoiled when he tried to grab the squirming nightcrawler from my hand which left a shiny, slimy trail between his thumb and index finger, before I pinched a small section of the worm off and speared it on the hook of his tiny chartreuse jig. Putting his hands under mine and around the rod handle, I clicked the button and flung the offering over the wind-dappled water in front of us.  The rod lit up in blue and red, and the slip float splashed down in a blur of yellow and orange, pulled upright by the weight of the tiny payload below.  We didn’t have to wait long for a fish as bluegills swarmed his set up.  Quickly the bobber dipped and then disappeared in an orange streak under the surface of the pond.
“Oh, reel…REEL!” I excitedly advised with significantly more enthusiasm than on the floor at home.
In a manner not reflecting my apparent urgency, and more akin to our evenings in the kitchen, he slowly cranked on the blue and silver handle as the fish broke the surface with a flip and a splash just a few feet away from us and the overhanging willows that shaded us from the mid-day sun.  But as the fish continued splashing, his eyes lit up with the realization that what was on the end of the line wasn’t just some plastic practice fish and he began turning the reel with greater gusto until the greenish-gold bluegill flipped and flopped in the last few inches of water on its way up to the earthy edge of the shore we sat on. He lifted the rod up and the fish swung toward us, and instinctively I raised my hand to prevent the flopping pendulum from smacking either of us in the face before grabbing it.  Following suit, he placed his hand around the bottom of the fish, and then ultimately held it himself.
I explained that it was a real bluegill, and was his first fish. These facts held his interest for all of four seconds until he looked up at me and said questioningly, “more bluegills?”  I smiled and gave him a reassuring “yes” after snapping a quick photo and letting him send his first fish back on its way into the pond, content that he was hooked on his initial experience…in our outdoors.

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