Every family has a thing.
You know, as in that family that drinks vegan shakes three meals a day, the family obsessed with dogs, cars, saving people, hunting things, or the family business.
My family, as you may know from previous posts, has been greatly influenced by the outdoorsman that is my father. This affects things that would otherwise be more normal. Our living room walls, for example, are a zoo, but the dead kind. Our vacations revolve around my dad being able to catch a fish at some point. And my sisters and I have to shoot a deer and catch a Steelhead before we are allowed to move out, or as Dad has since put it, before he will consider his three daughters adults.
I got my hunting license at twelve, and therefore dropped my first deer that year as well. Half-way done.
But the Steelhead? Not so much.
On my way to my first Steelhead trip when I was fifteen or sixteen, Dad warned me about their catch difficulty, saying, “the Steelhead is the fish of a thousand casts.” So eloquent. It was like the opening line of a poem. I lifted my head and silently accepted the challenge just before Dad continued, “So count.”
Oh, you’re serious.
I got up to eighty-five that day. No bites.
The next time I think I raised it to one hundred thirty. Maybe a couple hundred fifty next time? Who knows.
My counting only grew less enthusiastic and/or accurate. And of course, the Steelhead continued to swim around me like they could smell my naivete. She’s only at four hundred seventy-nine, I heard them gurgle to each other once. What a child. Hold back, Jim, let her sweat a little.
The best part was that at this point in my life, I wouldn’t have called myself the world’s most talented fisherman – not for lack of practice, mind you – so with every new person we had along on our endless stream of fishing trips, I had a new tutor who thought they were going to turn my sad, unskilled form into some sort of angling wizard who can call fish like a mystical freshwater siren.
If you have not been raised the way I have been, let me explain you a thing: I have been fishing (and just fine, thank you very much) since I was two years old. Two years old. So when any fishing guide who had never met me, looked at the way I held a rod, he would deduce that I didn’t even know what a fish was, and it got more than a little frustrating. No amount of authoritative “Uh-huh”s, “Yep”s, or “Mhm, Got it, thanks!”s will get you anywhere in this position.
It was a thought process that infected most guides I’d fished with by this time; it happened again a little while back, on the day I finally ensnared the elusive Steelhead.
We started the day off in a boat with two hours of rain, followed by two more hours of radio silence, briefly interrupted so my dad could reel in a Steelhead. (Factor these in if you’re doing the math on my mood)
When my fish hit, it took several minutes to reel the angry thing in, amidst the constant coaching of our guide, who seemed to be under the impression that at any moment I might give up and toss my rod to the retreating fish. But when it was near enough, he grabbed the net, dipped it in the Nestucca River, and pulled out the Steelhead I’d been waiting for.
My dad was nearly as excited as I was. I had done it. I was on my way to adulthood.
As Dad went for his camera, the guide posed next to me, cradling my catch. I motioned for the guide to give the slimy symbol of maturity to me. This fish, right here, this is my crowning achievement! The fish of a freaking thousand casts. My fish. Let me hold my dang fish.
He gave me a skeptical look and conceded a small part of its belly for me to hold on to for the picture.
“Should I -” I began, still motioning. I want to hold my fish.
“It’s pretty strong.” He said with a touch of finality, holding tighter to the fish’s tail.
I am a very short girl and I detest confrontation, so I am not often intimidating. But the eyes are the windows to the soul, so, even non-verbally, I must have said something vile to that boy.
Therefore, I can only assume that fish was fighting his poor wrist something terrible (without actually moving) and the young man had far too much chivalry to allow me to suffer as he did. With my fish. My fish. Those two words echoed in my head. You know how you don’t care about something until it’s threatened? The rapport I formed with this fish in the eleven seconds the guide and I jointly held it for pictures grew as strong as that which I share with my dearest possessions.
So when he said, “Okay,” hefted it from my empty hands, and turned to the side of the boat to let it swim free, I went full-scale three-year-old on him.
My fists balled up. My jaw dropped. My eyebrows furrowed so hard I believe I grew a unibrow. It’s a bit of a blur now, but I think I may have stamped my foot.
The guide’s back was turned and, unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to say a word.
But my performance only needed one audience member. My darling daddy, formerly occupied watching the fish just nearly escape, glanced up at my face and his eyes widened. In that moment, he didn’t need to see a fast-maturing seventeen-year-old. He needed to see his youngest daughter wearing an expression he recognized from years and years of the cruel world mistreating her.
“Hey, oh, can she let it go?”
So I, and I alone, let go of my lady fish’s tail to set her free.
Steelhead caught. Rite of passage finished.
And that’s how I threw a tantrum in an effort to convince my father that I was an adult.