"CATHY! SAM! GET OUT HERE! GET THE CAMERA! I GOT HIM!"
Hell's bells, can't a person even loaf around on the internet for five minutes without some kerfuffle?
Dave's face is positively fuchsia. His eyes are as round as tennis balls and he's got this shit-eating grin on his mug.
"I got the fish!" he says as we run to the dock.
"THEE fish?" I ask.
"Oh YEAH," says Dave, without any regard to his daily limit on all-caps.
THEE fish is the fish of local legend. It is the Catfish Hunter to Dave's Grumpy Old Man. He has been trying to land this elusive pike since we moved here, almost three years ago. So many times he has been so, so, so close: a spit hook; a line severed by the pike's sharp teeth; divine intervention, oh, who knows?
Dave isn't the only one who has tried and failed.
"I had something on my line and there was this huge swirl, something BIG right at the surface, and then it got off," says Vic.
"I had the !$#@$%#^#%& on, too," says Dick, the sultan of swear.
(Just a coincidence that our friends' names rhyme? I think not.)
Perhaps destiny was simply waiting for Saturday to arrive, when all the seaweed was aligned and Dave's Green Hornet was perfectly attuned to the cosmic tides of the river.
"Where is it?" I ask.
"In the canoe!" Dave says, like I'm stupid because where else would a fish be than in the canoe? Next time he asks where his keys are, or where the clicker is, I'm gonna say, "in the canoe."
Sure enough, there's ol' Catfish Hunter floundering in a few inches of water in the bottom of our boat.
"I had to put him somewhere. I yelled and yelled for you guys to come and you didn't hear me so I had to put him somewhere and run up to the house. Quick! Take a picture!"
Dave picks him up and hoists him proudly in the air. It's definitely not the biggest fish I've ever seen – pike can grow to be enormous. But he's bigger than most of the small bass we catch in the river and he was certainly a scrapper.
"Hurry up," Dave says. "I need to put him back. He's been out of the water too long."
I snap a couple of pictures and Dave places him in the water. We wait for Catfish Hunter to swish his mighty tail and disappear but he rolls belly-up instead. His gills are moving and his fins are waving slowly but this is not a good sign.
Sam and I say "oh no" in unison.
We all wanted Dave to snag the big fish but nobody wanted the big fellah to die.
Dave jumps in the canoe and paddles to Catfish Hunter, who is floating downstream belly up and whose fins are no longer moving. Things do not look good. Dave pulls up alongside him and grabs his tail and turns him upright. Then he swishes the fish back and forth in the water for a minute or so, to push water through his gills and oxygenate his bloodstream. Sam and I hold our breath.
"Is he...." I ask.
"I don't know," says Dave, and swishes the fish through the water some more.
It's like he is doing CPR on the fish; such is his determination. He is applying the same will to saving Catfish Hunter as he used to catching him.
He lets him go, waiting to see what happens. Waiting to see if he floats belly up again.
The fish swishes his mighty tail and disappears down into the black water.
"Woo HOO!" We all say.
Sam and I give Dave a standing ovation.
The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of that which is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.