When I was a young man, somewhere around the age of 10 I’d guess, I learned to fillet a fish from my older brothers, who had no doubt been taught either by my mom, my dad, or maybe even Homeboy, a family friend who was an uncle of sorts. In those days, he wasn’t the only family friend whom my brothers and I called “Uncle.”
A couple months back, on a Sunday after church, I made the roughly 500-yard walk down to a pond behind my house with a couple of fishing rods and reels. I typically carry one rigged for live bait, and the other rigged for my go-to bass and crappie lures. I also had my tackle box with me, with any number of jigs, spinner baits, plastic worms, you name it, although in the back of my mind I was really hoping I’d need my crappie jigs the most.
It wasn’t two minutes after casting out the pole rigged for live bait, this time with a regular old night crawler, that the bobber disappeared and I had a fish on. It turned out to be one of the largest bluegill I’ve ever caught, and I was careful as I filleted the meat out later that evening to get every bit that I could — bluegills are mighty tasty, if you can get enough of them. It felt nice to be giving thanks for the fish and perform a chore that takes me back to boyhood.
That was the only bluegill I caught that day, but I still managed a dozen or so fish that made good fillets. After only about an hour, I texted my wife, Gwen, asking her if she’d bring a bucket down to the pond and meet me, and she graciously showed up a few minutes later.
As I filleted the fish that evening, I felt a huge sense of redemption over the day before, when my brother Josh and I met at our favorite little lake for a morning of crappie fishing. Using minnows, jigs, and about everything else in our repertoire, Josh caught one good-sized crappie, and I got skunked — a far cry from my claims to Gwen the night before that we’d catch a limit of crappie and not to worry about any more Friday fish fries during Lent: I had us covered.
But although the fishing was slower than we’d ever experienced on that lake — which might have had something to do with the 30-degree temperatures and the snowstorm I towed our boat through on the way back home — the day I got to spend with my brother on the lake was every bit as fun and rewarding as the following day, when Mother Nature and the fish complied. I can honestly say I enjoyed the first day more, catching zero fish but catching up on the latest goings-on in each other’s lives, my brother smoking cigars and me chewing tobacco, and simply being in the presence of one of the people I respect and love the most in the world.
And the following day’s bounty enabled me to look Gwen in the eye and feel like an OK fisherman again.
It reminded me of a short verse I used to keep in my tackle box, a Babylonian Proverb that says, “The gods do not deduct from man’s allotted span the hours spent in fishing.” After the day with my brother on the lake — fished hard but came up empty — I understood that a little better. I need to schedule more of those types of outings with the people I love the most.
If you can relate, or have a similar account, I’d love to hear about it. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, with a photo if you have it, and the whole works might wind up in a future issue of the magazine.
Until next time,