Anchor in place, before a single item of tackle was attended to, Ben Grainger took care of his top priority and popped open a can of beer. He took a long swig and set the can on the bench in front of him. Then, he set to baiting the hooks.
“Stupid fish,” he said to himself after he had properly hooked a minnow and dropped the line over the side.
The white side of the red and white bobber floated upward. Ben set the pole into one of the holders scattered around the edges of his boat then took another long, self-satisfied swig from his beer can before setting up the next pole the same way. After each pole was set there came another pull from a beer can such that by the time all six poles had been set up Ben was downing the last drops from his third can and already opening his fourth.
By this time, the bobbers’ white topsides had begun to dip below the water. “Stupid, greedy fish,” he said and reached to the various poles, setting hooks and reeling in lines, all the while taking swigs from the cans which he let fall to the bottom of his boat as he emptied them.
Ben’s target was walleye, walleye large enough to make a halfway decent fillet. If he found the fish to be too small, he tossed it back in. If it were a different species, back it went also, though he paused for a minute to inspect a rather large perch in his hand before deciding not to settle.
Slowly, the keeper basket tied off the side of Ben’s boat began to fill. “Too easy,” Ben commented, tossing another smallish, but edible walleye into the prison suspended below the lake’s surface. “Fish are so,” he interrupted his own sentence with another chug of beer and a subsequent belch, “stupid.”
And some were not just stupid in Ben’s mind, but also annoying. The countless bluegill and pumpkinseeds Ben caught were cursed at and warned to stay away from his bait prior to their release. But worst of all was one particular rock bass. When Ben reeled it in and quickly, even in his state of increasing inebriation, unhooked it, he noticed a scar on its left side.
“Promising,” he said as he Frisbee-tossed it from his boat. He thought the gash along the fish’s side marked the possibility of something bigger, something predatory, something trophy-worthy trolling the waters in the area of his favorite fishing spot, the spot where he had been coming to for years to fill his freezer with fish fillets. He was less encouraged the second time he caught the same fish. He had almost tossed it back before he happened to notice the same gash along the same side a bit later at the end of the line on a different pole. “That’s what I mean,” Ben chuckled as he threw the rock bass as far from the boat as his arm would allow, “by stupid greedy fish.”
It was still funny the third time, on yet a third pole and somewhat amusing the fourth time on a fourth pole. By the fifth time, on still another pole, Ben was no longer laughing. “Damn...annoying…stupid…greedy…fish,” he cursed it. He stood up and threw the fish so hard back into the lake that he nearly fell over the side from the effort. In frustration he pulled another can from his cooler and chugged nearly an entire beer as he glared at the ripples left from the rock bass’s impact. “And stay out,” he added.
The time of the evening had approached where Ben would need to wrap things up. The setting sun just barely still peeked above the tree line and the hungry twilight mosquitoes were beginning to buzz his ears, though the toasted fisherman barely noticed them. He pulled his keeper basket closer to the surface to inspect his inventory. Just after he decided he had both room and time for a few more, the bobber in his field of vision disappeared below the waterline.
Ben set the hook and reeled in, but could already tell both by the amount of twitching and lack of weight on the line that it was not a keeper. When he pulled the fish above the waterline, he instantly recognized it as the same pesky rock bass. It had now been caught on all six fishing poles.
“Son of a…” Ben Grainger was too upset to even finish cursing at the fish. He unhooked it and watched its tail flip back and forth while he held it in his hand. He contemplated crushing the fish in his palm out of sheer anger for a moment when he heard the call of a gull overhead. He looked up at the white bird, circling his boat and an idea came to him.
Holding the rock bass by its lip, he thumped it against the edge of his boat, knocking it out cold, then tossed it into the water. The fish floated there sideways in a daze, its scarred left side upward, its eye staring back at Ben. The gull called again and began to circle closer to the surface. Ben smiled and watched it as it came closer and closer, then began its dive, headed straight for the little injured rock bass. Just as it was about to snatch the fish in its beak, the rock bass came to and dove into the lake’s depths.
Despite the fact that the fish’s survival meant his plan had been foiled, Ben laughed hysterically. He rocked back and forth, slapping his knee, howling at what he had just witnessed. Tears welled in his eyes and as is laughter subsided, he heard the distinctive slpoosh of something breaking the water’s surface. When he looked in the direction of the sound, hoping to witness the tail of a larger fish heading back into the water, he saw an unopened can of beer floating in the lake.
“Aw crap,” Ben exclaimed. He assumed that during his laughter he had inadvertently knocked it over the side and into the water, though had he thought about it, he would have sworn that he hadn’t left an unopened can out of the cooler. But there was no time to try and analyze what had happened. Ben’s top priority was not allowing the can to drift out of reach.
And so, Ben Grainger leaned over the side of his boat and, just barely reaching the beer can with his fingertips, pulled it closer and firmly grasped it in his hand. As he pulled the can from the lake, he vaguely noticed out of the corner of his eye that a bobber, red side facing up, lifted up from the water, hovering above the meager waves as if suspended by a taut fishing line at the exact same time.
Before he could connect the significance of the two events, Ben Grainger was pulled over the side of his boat and disappeared below the surface.
The next morning, two regulars on the lake happened by Ben’s favorite fishing spot and noticed the unoccupied vessel. “That’s Ben Grainger’s boat,” said one to the other. They found it empty of everything but spent beer cans.
Hours later, as the two fishermen watched the Department of Natural Resources recover Ben’s boat they noticed the keeper basket attached off its side was empty.
“Looks like his spot went dry,” one commented to the other. “Maybe he got depressed and jumped over the side.”
In fact, nobody had any success at Ben Grainger’s favorite walleye spot for the remainder of that season. It would seem that the fish had moved on.
Or they had found plenty to eat.