“You’d Better Be Careful Dad. If You Mess This Up, You Could Wound Your Son Badly!”

Story by Jerry Miller

It was a perfect day, just the kind of October day to go fishing. My 13-year old son Jonathan and I had been planning this trip for weeks, and now here we were sitting on the shore of this beautiful lake. As we looked across the glassy-smooth water we could see the nearby mountains, smothered in green pines and boasting the bright yellows and reds of various groves of Aspen trees. We could hear the loons on the lake, and we watched large flocks of Canadian Geese heading south.

We fished and talked, and once when I turned my gaze back to the water, all I saw were ripples where my bobber had been. I waited, thinking it would pop right back up again, but the bobber stayed underneath the water and my heart started to pound. After a few more seconds, my pole was suddenly yanked off the stick it was leaning on in front of me as it was being dragged towards the water. As I lunged and grabbed the pole, I knew I’d hooked a monster! I firmly grabbed my fishing pole and raised up, setting the hook in what I knew had to be maybe the biggest trout I had ever caught. My hopes were confirmed when this magnificent fish rose out of the water in an attempt to throw the hook, and I will never forget to this day the vision of that enormous fish hanging in the air over that cold water, with willows and beautiful mountains in the background.

As I began to live every fisherman’s dream, I told Jon to grab the net and climb down the rocky bank to the water. He was bouncing up and down like a ball. As Jon inched his way down the rocks, I was doing everything I could to keep from breaking that line. Slowly, I worked the trout towards the shore, where Jon and I got our first real look at him. This fish was huge! He had to be five or six pounds if he was one! My heart felt like it would pound right through my chest!

Cautiously I worked the lunker to the bank where Jon could net him. Slowly, my son balanced on two rocks and leaned down to scoop the giant up into his net. For just one second, he lost his balance and reached up with his right hand to steady himself, grabbing the fishing line for balance, and immediately removing the flexibility and elasticity that a fishing pole tip gives fishing line. At exactly that second, our huge trout snapped his body and the fishing line with one motion, and slowly started to swim away. As Jon saw the escaping fish, he tried to lean forward with the net as quickly as he could, but it was too late. In horror we watched our trophy swim away into the deep, cold water.

Now I’ve hooked and lost a lot of fish in my lifetime, but never have I had one like that get away. My mind was racing with thoughts as my heart sank, “Didn’t Jon know better than that? How could he have done that? We’ll NEVER get a crack at that fish again!” These were the things running through my mind. My eyes fixed on Jon as he clambered back up the rocky bank, shoulders slumped, head down. As I watched him approach, my mind was suddenly filled with one thought and one thought only, “You’d better be careful Dad. If you mess this up, you could wound your son badly!” With that thought now filling my mind, I looked into Jon’s tear-filled eyes as he stopped in front of me and said, “Dad, I’m sorry. I’ll never be able to make this up.” He was on the edge of a sob.

Suddenly it was clear to me what I should do. I reached out, put my hands on his shoulders and held him at arm’s length. The words came out of my mouth almost without thinking, “Jon, how did you feel while I was reeling that fish in? Were you excited?” He nodded and said, “Dad, I’ve never been so excited in my whole life!” I replied, “Jon, wasn’t that about the most fun thing we’ve ever done together?” and he shook his head in agreement. Then I said, “So why should we let a fish getting away ruin possibly the best experience we’ve ever had? We had those feelings. They were there whether we landed the fish or not! So let’s be happy about the fun we did have, It’s okay Jon!” My son looked at me, and throwing his arms around me said, “Dad, I love you so much!” I hugged him back and said softly into his ear, “I love you too, Jon. I love you, too.”

We never did catch that big old fish. But I’ve realized ever since then that I didn’t let the most important thing get away that day. I’ll forever be grateful for a book I had read that talked about enjoying the journey, and not getting hung up on the little things. On that October day a trout took a journey that forever cemented a relationship between a father and his son. It was a perfect day.

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