When I was twelve years old, I said “Jesus is Lord”, and Rev. Bill Anderson held my nose and lowered me into the baptistry of Calvary Baptist Church. I remember being submerged and rising up again, the crimson robe floating around my elbows like a giant sea flower. Later that same year, “Brother Bill” taught me to throw a cast net, coaching me late into a summer morning, until I finally dropped a few almost-perfect circles over the concrete sea wall into Clearwater Bay.
A few weeks ago I was back in Clearwater. We visit my parents and old friends there at least once a year, and my oldest two kids always ask to go fishing. Usually we make time for it, but I don’t ever hope for much action. For me, fishing is a lot like songwriting. First you prepare, then you sit and stare, time passes, nothing happens, and then you move on to something else. For this reason, I’ve been reluctant to encourage my kids towards it on their vacation. Thankfully, they’ve found the bug on their own and my oldest friend Dan always lends me all the fishing gear we need whenever we visit.
On the last morning of our trip, I woke the two big kids before sunrise and we walked down to a quiet place on the beach with Dan’s rods, reels, bait net and bait bucket. It was a beautiful cloudless morning, and as the sun rose behind us I waded out into the surf and pulled in around 30 little shad and a pinfish with the first throw of the bait net. I threw a few more full moons but came up empty, so I baited Jonah’s hook with a shad and Livi’s with the pinfish and we waded out together, though careful to stay apart enough to avoid catching one another.
It all happened so fast, I can hardly relate the next bit with prose. The lines were out, and then they were singing! A school of yellow-tailed jack ran by at just the right moment (or the wrong moment, if you’re the jack or the bait fish) and hammered both baits, swallowing them whole. With a high-pitched whizzzzz like two tiny mopeds, the reels spun against the drag as the jacks began to panic and pull and test the strength of my kiddos.
After about ten glorious minutes of fighting, we landed both fish (pictured). We then returned to the bait bucket to find all our bait fish belly-up. (The aerator, which pumps oxygen into the water, had run out of batteries). But we were getting hungry anyway, so we packed up our gear, headed in, and within an hour the fish fillets were in the fridge.
There were three other fishermen out on the beach that morning, but their reels stayed quiet while we were out there. For once, the morning was ours, and in it, we lived a little story – one my kids can tell for the rest of their lives, and pass down like an arrowhead or a shark’s tooth or a song. Two casts, two great fish, and back to the house in time for eggs and bacon.