Quinn is four.
When the rain subsided, her father Don, my wife's sister's husband, suggested we go to the sporting goods store. Quinn said she wanted a fishing pole.
We went to Dick's Sporting Goods, where an array of child-sized rods and reels awaited. Quinn chose a colorful number called Rainbow for her own, and got her 2 year old brother Bennett one with a Spiderman theme.
Don pulled into a grocery store, to get hot dogs. He explained that Quinn might be unable to handle working with worms (and in particular their entrails), but could handle hotdog bait. Don asked if I knew of any other grocery items that made good bait. Drawing on my great store of useless facts and untried theories, I said "Cheese".
We set out for Don and Kim's place on Lake Weatherby. Lake Weatherby is a private lake near Parkville, Missouri. Don and Kim own a home there, though they are now in the process of getting it renovated. They live in a smaller rental nearby. Lake Weatherby is one of those places where Harry Trumann played poker.
It's a charming lake surrounded by homes.
Don got out two adult-sized chairs and one Quinn-sized chair and placed them on his little pontoon dock.
He handed me a Zebco 404, a simple rod-and-reel of roughly the type I used when I was 9 years old. I put a hook on. We all baited up (Don assisted Quinn with her hot dog) and began to fish. The dog Calypso, a cattle herder cross-breed from the animal rescue, let us pet her as we fished.
Quinn is a spirited, talkative girl. She found great delight in the fact that our baits were often nibbled and stolen by passing fish. "Isn't fishing fun?", she asked, with the ring of contentment in her voice.
Don went to see about something. A fish successfully liberated a hot dog from Quinn's line. Quinn was excited to see the empty hook dangling.
"Daddy! Daddy!", she yelled, quite pleased, "I catched a fish! He took my bait!". She loved having seen stark evidence of the one that got away.
A few moments later, I hooked a large bluegill sunfish on a hook baited with a hot dog and cheese.
The fish fought hard, as this small, hardy breed does. I brought it to dock.
Quinn found the fish not at all to her liking. She felt the fish a major disappointment. She did not wish to touch the fish. I threw the fish back into the water. When asked about the matter, Quinn explained that the fish was "ugly" [to my eyes,it was a particularly lovely and rather colorful bluegill]. The fish, she explained, was not rainbow colored or anything.
We continued to fish. Don caught a bluegill on a jig. Don's wife Kim, my wife, and 2 year old Bennett drove up. Don went to get Quinn and Bennett life preservers to wear. I continued to fish, switching to pure American cheese, conveniently sliced in little plastic coverings. I might have skilleted up grilled cheese sandwiches with them.
My cork went solidly under the water. I began to reel up, and realized I had a heavier fish than a bluegill in tow. The little Zebco 404 strained mightily under the burden. I used a reeling trick I had been taught by a fishing guide in Kansas during a bass fishing trip a few weeks earlier. I managed to get the fish to the dock.
The fish turned out to be a nice one-pound channel catfish. I grew up with catfish, catching them at my grandfather's ponds. A channel catfish is a lovely fish, with whiskers and a storm-cloud gray-blue sheen.
A catfish, though, has stingers in its fins. One must grasp the catfish in just the right places to avoid getting stung. I know the lore, and never get stung.
I found the catfish easy to grasp, but hard to unhook. This is not uncommon for catfish. I asked Don if he had needle-nosed pliers, which can be a help in this situation. Don went to his toolbox in the house to get them. As I waited, the catfish wriggled its way from my grasp. He fell to the floor of the dock.
Quinn and Bennett were a few feet away. They immediately began to squeal in excitement and fear. The scene was out of a children's cartoon. My wife took Don's suggestion, stepped up to them, put her arms around them, and made sure they did not back off the dock.
I re-grasped the catfish, worked out the hook, and placed the fish safely back in the water. The catfish swam away, to face another day.
I caught another bluegill that day, as did Don. We did not cause any further stir. When Don sought to show Quinn that a bluegill may be touched with impunity, Quinn declined to touch the fish.
On Sunday, we went to a brunch to celebrate my wife's Aunt Beverly's 82nd birthday. The kids were with their grandparents.
Don explained, though, that Quinn made the catfish a source of much discussion. She told her friends at the Saturday night gymnastics play session all about it. She told Don's parents about it in detail, even getting on the ground to illustrate how the catfish flopped.
I find in life people worry about the one that got away. People scan the horizon, looking to see if the bobber will sink or merely bob.
Quinn reminded me, though, that sometimes you catch something, and it's not what you expect at all, and yet the telling of the story is worth the uncertainty of it all.