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The Miracle Catch
The waves and the ripples in the lake hypnotize me, like a gold medallion waving in front of your face would. The only thing bringing me back to reality is the tug of my fishing pole. But lately, getting pulled back into reality was a rare happening.
I have been out on these rickety docks since dawn, and I have caught nothing but sunburn. But who could catch a big fish with a fishing pole that looks like a taped together stick? To add to that, the green neon paint makes it resembles a piece of moldy cheese. To top it off, the rust has traveled from the reel to the very tip of the line.
I pulled my cap over my tangled nest of hair, hoping the shade from the hat would decrease the amount of sun burn my face had already received. I decided to call it quits for the day. I packed up my tackle box, my worthless fishing pole, and headed up the road, where 1856 Eastern Drive was; my home.
Up ahead, Eric’s (My brother) rustic, grubby 1984 flat bed Chevy was parked just outside our 3 bedroom ranch. I through my pole just outside the door, and plodded into the house.
“What’s the matter dear?” my mother inquired.
“Ahh… nothing, I just didn’t catch anything today….”
“Maybe next time.” my mother said gently.
“Well it’s almost 10:00, you should go and--“
“Oh, I almost forgot!”
I raced down the hall, and into my room. My favorite fisherman, Don McLain, was on TV everyday at precisely 10:00. As long as my blank schedule allowed it, I watch the show almost everyday.
Don McLain is the only fisherman in Wisconsin that has ever caught Big Blue. Big Blue is the biggest fish in Wisconsin; it’s the length of a station wagon, and the weight of a basketball hoop! It is said that the name “Big Blue” came from the Algonquin Indians. They figured they would name it the obvious, Big (because it’s huge) Blue (for its color) Big Blue is what sky rocketed Don McLain’s career. Without Big Blue, he would probably be where I am right now; fishing in your spare time at the nearest lake!
“Today I’m here to tell you I will be making a special appearance at Rambo Lake in Wisconsin! While I’m there, I will be attending the fishing derby. The best part is, the winner, or the person with the biggest fish gets a signed, one of a kind McLain fishing pole!! See you soon!”
My mouth was wide open, I think I started drooling, Don McLain was going to be Rambo Lake, the lake I was just fishing at, not even 10 minutes ago! Before I could let Don McLain finish talking, I bolted down the hall, almost running over Eric in the process.
“Hey! Watch where you are going! You almost knocked me over!” Eric was half laughing as he spoke.
“Sorry, it’s just I found out Don McLain is going to be at the fishing derby at Rambo Lake!”
“You mean that fisherman that you like so much?”
“Ya Eric, that’s him…” Eric isn’t as familiar with fishing as me.
“Over at Auto Parts (His job) they have a big bulletin board, it has a hand full of sign up sheets. If you’re interested I can give you a ride, I’m on my way their any way.”
“Oh would you!! Thank you so much!”
“Name here, sign here.” The registration seemed to last forever. Finally the last T’s were crossed, and the final i’s were dotted, it was complete. I slide the form into a box that was labeled ABMISSIONS. Done! I would be at a derby next Sunday, meeting my favorite fisherman, Don McLain, I was getting goose bumps.
That night the knot in my stomach was beginning to form. How could I present myself to Don McLain with a fishing pole that looks like it should be used to unclog a toilet? “Fresh air, that’s what I need,” I whispered to myself. I headed towards the lake.
Before the glistening lake and sandy beaches come to view, on the right of the dirt road is Johnny’s Lure & Bait Shack. I had nothing else to do, I decided to stop in.
Johnny is a dangly, gawky looking man, he is middle age, with wrinkles as deep as the Grand Canyon, and a smile as bright as stars, and a big heart to match. He welcomed me in with his grin, and asked, “What will be today? Bait? Lures? A simple hello to a good friend?” I smiled, “maybe some new bait, not that it would help my crummy fishing pole.” I declared. Johnny wiped his smile off his face.
“Your pole isn’t so bad! It’s got character! The things you don’t like, such as the rust and the neon paint can be fixed. I’ll tell you what; I’ll give you some of my finest Rust-no-More bottle, and a can of black spray paint with no extra charge!” Johnny had to be the nicest man I knew.
With a bag filled with fresh bait, spray paint and Rust-no-More; I headed out the door, waving good-bye to Johnny, who happened to be in aisle 3, stocking up on line cutters.
In my backyard, on a tarp laid out in front of me, were my fishing pole, spray paint and Rust-no-More. I gradually and slowly raced up and down the pole spraying on an even coat of Rust-No-More on both sides. The rust slowly disappeared, looking as if it seeped through the pole. Next step: painting. I shook the can a few times so it made that annoying clanking noise. Up and down, up and down I moved the can. The neon paint was erased from the pole like a pencil mark.
Once the sun did its job, the paint was dry. With the neon paint gone, along with the rust, the pole didn’t look half bad, or half good. But it was the best I could do.
The sun somehow found its way through my curtains. I bundled out of bed; I slept in my clothes, so I could get a fresh start for that today. I pulled open my curtains, the hot sun blinded me. In my window, the thermometer read 92 degrees. I ran down stairs, overwhelmed with the smell of pancakes. “Sunday, the day I’ve waited for! Derby day! The day Don McLain would grace me with his presence!” I sang. “Settle down and eat your breakfast!” My mother interrupted.
“Hurry up Eric! The derby starts in 20 minutes! I need to get a good spot!” Eric came stomping to the car; he was still trying to get his shoe on.
“You should really clean your truck. It’s disgusting!” I pointed to the half eaten sandwich on the floor.
“Shut up, when you get a car you can keep it clean” he muttered. Eric turned the key in the ignition.
“Ehhh….ehhh,” it screamed. I held my breath…. It has to start. Eric tried once more, it fired up. (Thank God!) He patted the dash board as If it was a living thing needing praise for something it has done well.
The competition floating the air was overwhelming. I felt like an illegal immigrant, I didn’t belong here with all these boys. I was the only girl participating! I swallowed the cold facts, and headed out to set up my fishing post.
The docks seemed stuffed to the gills. I had to settle on a dock at the far end where practically nobody could see me. I set up my lounge chair, and I prepped my fishing pole.
Next to me was a blonde haired boy, near my age. Unlike me, he had a new top of the line fishing pole, one I would only see in my dreams. But even his fishing pole doesn’t compare with the McLain fishing rod.
“You’re a nice sister.” The boy next to me inquired. My face twisted and turned. “Why would you say that?”
“You’re setting up your brothers fishing station” he declared. I glared at him.
“I’m fishing, not my brother. Is that a problem?”
“I don’t have a problem with it. It’s just girls don’t fish. It’s a man’s sport,” he scoffed. I smirked.
“Then why are you doing it.” His green eyes glared at me like two daggers.
“Begin!” the referee shouted. I don’t understand why they would need a referee in fishing. Nevertheless, they do. I didn’t waste any time. I casted my line, and hoped for the best.
5 minuets in the derby, a little boy, no older then 9 years old, caught a small mouth bass. Nothing big, but more then what I caught.
25 minutes into the derby and my line was still limp. Maybe a new lure will help me out, I thought. Quickly I changed my lure and casted my line as far I could. Every minute I didn’t catch anything, the more and more the kid next to me cheered up.
“What are you all happy about? You haven’t caught anything either!” I barked at him.
“You wait! This line will be going crazy with fish,” he squawked. I waited, and to my surprise that snot nosed kid did catch a fish, and boy was he proud of it. He held that 4 pound blue gill up like a trophy! I got to hand it to him, that’s the biggest blue gill I had ever seen.
Throughout the hour the biggest fish caught was a 14 pound musky. My hope and self confidence rocketed—strait to the floor.
My pole was like a magnet that repelled fish. 10 minuets left in the derby and I have nothing to take home with me. No prize, not even a small fish--nothing---nada---zip---whatever you want to call it, it all means the same thing, I’m a failure.
The lucky winner was the boy who captured the 14 pound musky. He was grinning ear to ear as my idol handed him the Don McLain fishing pole, my pole. Don McLain should be handing that to me!
The ride home was silent. Eric didn’t talk, and I didn’t talk, but I’m pretty sure the year old sandwich on the floor was saying a few things.
I mopped around all day, nothing could cheer me up. Or at least that’s what I thought. At 4:00 Eric came bursting in the door, waving something around in the air.
“Look what I got, it’s a second chance!”
“A second chance at what?” I barked.
“At a derby! Don McLain is coming again, you not only get a Don McLain fishing pole as a prize, but you also get $250 if you catch any fish over 20 pounds!”
It was too good to be true! But could I handle the embarrassment if the past repeats itself? I would have to take a chance… I would----- “One small detail…” Eric interrupted.
“How small?” I questioned.
“Well, it’s a boy’s only derby, no girls.” My face fell. “Why would you tell me this?” I screamed.
“It’s obvious I’m a girl! I can’t compete!” This sneaky, smug overpowering look took over Eric’s face.
“We can change that.”
Was that really me in the mirror? How could I look that much like a boy? Eric was right; making me look like a boy was easy. I wore a wife beater, a flannel and a pair of Levi’s, your regular casual wear. A ball cap hid the evidence of me having long hair, and Nike sneakers topped off the whole look, I was your average, ordinary guy. My high voice could easily be corrected, and the only thing I have to remember is to never cross my legs. (It’s girly)
“Eric we better get going, the derby is going to start without us.”
“Hold your horses,” Eric scowled. He was pulling on his windbreaker as he climbed into his truck. The ignition was filled with rust; the key had to break through it. “Ehhh….. Uhhhhh…klklklkl…”
“Uh Oh” Eric muttered.
“What do you mean “Uh Oh,” it will start. Right?” Eric twisted his lips.
“I don’t think so; looks like you got to walk from here. Sorry kid.” I thought my mind was going to erupt. I glanced at my watch, the derby was about to start in exactly 7 minutes. I could never make it.
Walking up the gravel road, I looked back at the rusty piece of junk blocking a perfectly good parking space. Sun dug into my skin like nails of a bobcat, I should have brought sun block and water with. It would take my 15 minutes to get to Rambo Lake. My hope sunk so low, I couldn’t even see it anymore.
I strolled past Johnny’s Bait and Lures store; he was of course in the front window, sprucing up the show window. He waved at me as if there were no problems in world. I faked a smile and walked on by. “Wait a second!” I yelled out loud. I ran into Johnny’s store.
“JOHNNY!” his neck twisted towards the door so fast, I thought he might have whip lash.
“I need a favor Johnny,” I managed to say.
“Who are you?” Johnny casually said. I forgot I was dressed as a boy.
“It’s me!” I pulled off the hat. Johnny chuckled,
“I’m not going to ask.” He was concentrating on the fishing pole he was polishing in the window.
“Eric’s truck broke down, and I need a ride to the derby, or else I’ll be late,” I gulped, and waited for an answer. Johnny stared at me for a moment,
“Well, my place isn’t too busy, I guess I could close it up for a while,” Johnny smiled.
“Thank you Johnny! This means so much to me!” My heart was pounding so much; I thought it would pop out of my chest. Just as I was about to bolt out the door, Johnny stopped me.
“Wait a second, come back here.” He was standing behind the clerk’s desk, facing a backroom that I have never noticed. Curiously, I matched him step for step back into the room.
Fishing poles surrounded the walls like body guards. This had to be fishing pole heaven; poles of every brand, color and size were lined up. My voice was temporally gone, I stared in awe.
“Rarely anyone comes back here, except for me of course.”
“Then why are you showing me this Johnny?” I questioned.
“Look at all these poles. Do you see them?” I nodded my head.
“I’m only one person, I don’t need them all. Take anyone you want, anyone that catches your eye.” Was Johnny thinking correctly? He really wanted to give me a fishing pole?
“Johnny, you don’t have to do this, these poles are worth a bundle, I could never take one away from you.”
“You don’t think I know this? I told you, I don’t need all this.” Johnny was a mysterious man, who didn’t allow nonsense. “Just take a pole, you need it more then I do.” I didn’t waste anymore time. I glanced through the poles, one pole, blue and green caught my eye.
“It looks just like the Don McLain pole!” I exclaimed. It looked barely used, shiny and glossy. Johnny pulled it off the rack, and handed to me. “Johnny, this is the best gift in the history of gifts!” I pulled him into a hug.
“Oops! We better get going, 4 more minutes left until the derby.” Johnny cut in.
“I almost forgot!” Johnny and I ran out to his brand new truck, which (thank god) started.
The sweet smell of fresh water filled the humid August air. Johnny parked in the gravel parking lot, and we both climbed out. Rambo Lake glistened, and shimmered like a diamond necklace. The docks were filled; once again I had to settle in the far right corner. Johnny followed me like a shadow. I smiled at the judges, hoping they didn’t notice anything feminine about me.
I scooted on back to my post just in time for the derby to start. Next to me, I recognized the same jerky kid I became an enemy with my prior derby. His face was stone, not a smile or a laugh slipped through his chapped lips. When I looked away, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him staring at me. I gulped; I wiped away the sweat forming on my brow.
The whistles sounded, and I casted my line far into the lake. The kid next to me was staring at my fishing pole, I smirked. ”Keep on staring,” I whispered under my breath.
The tension was rising. With 20 minutes killed, only 1 boy had caught a fish. A large mouth bass, 4 pounds. His father was proud, hugging him and slapping him on the shoulder.
Johnny stayed by my side, and coached me through the derby. The smile painted on his face didn’t fade; I was beginning to think it never would.
An hour into the derby and history repeated itself. Not one bite. While Johnny went to get a hot-dog I changed by lure to a simple worm. Nothing fancy—just a worm. I positioned my hat back on my head and casted my line back into the blanket of water.
10 minutes left, you guessed it! Nothing. Maybe fishing isn’t my thing. Maybe I should pick up sewing, knitting, something that is more girly.
Johnny was snoring up a storm in the chair next to me. “I’m going to cast my line one more time, and then I’m going to pack up,” I whispered to Johnny. I new he couldn’t hear me. I casted it one last time with all the force I had left in me. The line went so far, I could barely see it. I felt a slight tug, was I imagining this? The force got stronger and stronger.
“Johnny! Johnny! I think I caught something!” I tugged and pulled, I couldn’t see my prize just yet.” It pulled and tugged; I jumped up and fought to stay on the dock. A crowd was forming around me like a gate with no way out.
In the distance, far behind the pushing crowds, I heard Johnny’s faint voice
“Put on your hat!!” My hat? I quickly brushed my hand across my head, no hat, just my wavy, brown, girly hair. BUSTED.
“She’s a girl!” a couple boys cooed. The judge blew a whistle that stuck inside my brain like a knife. “Disqualified!” the judge barked. My world was spinning, but somehow my line had not snapped yet, my fish was still on the line! I reeled in slow and even. I still couldn’t believe it, but I pulled on to that rickety deck, a huge blue beast, nothing other then Big Blue. Big Blue; the rarely seen or caught dangerous king fish of Wisconsin!
The boy I had fished next to sulked like a child, and glared at my catch. Being disqualified wasn’t so bad, going down in history as a fishing legend, was much better then winning a fishing pole.
Don McLain was no exaggerator; Big Blue is the length of a station wagon and the weight of a basketball hoop.
The afternoon whizzed by like a falling star. Towards the end of the afternoon, reporters from the Wisconsin Weekly stopped by and snapped photos of me and Big Blue. I felt like a movie star just stepping out of a limousine.
Approaching me was a tall man holding a McLain fishing pole. Could it be? Yes it was! It was Don McLain!
“That’s a big catch you got their.” He smiled. “I know you were disqualified,” I looked down at my feet, “but you deserve this pole more then anyone here.” He placed the fishing pole in my paralyzed grip. “Don’t think I forgot about the money.” Out of his back pocket, he placed in my sweaty palm a check for $250.00 I was stunned; my eyes were dry from staring. Don McLain broke the silence by asking, “What are you going to do with your catch?” I had almost forgotten. I managed to ask him “What did you do?” He grinned.
“I let him go. Let someone else get a chance to feel the sense of accomplishment and pride like you and I have. I’d hurry; he’s been out of the water for quite some time.” I didn’t waste any time. I cut the line and watched Big Blue slowly disappear into the vast, mysterious lake. The crowds had died down, I was free to relax. I plopped down in my lawn chair and stared back at my old friend, Rambo Lake and thought, good thing those reporters came, or else this would just be another fish story…