As far back as I can remember, there has been a large wall board at our family cottage with a version of the popular fisherman’s poem:

“Behold the Fisherman”
He riseth up early
in the morning
And disturbeth the whole
Mighty are his preparations.
He goeth forth full of hope
And when the day is far spent he returns…
And the truth is not in him.”

When is the last time you heard a good fish story? They have always been a part of my life as my father signified the term “avid fisherman.” Being self-employed, he spent time fishing if the work was light and the weather was right. His work ledgers often have entries, “fishing today, good” or sometimes “fishing today, no luck.” By his 40s, he purchased a lake property and built a cabin that enabled him to fish a lot more in the summer.

My mother also enjoyed sitting on the dock on a peaceful fall day, sometimes catching a Northern but mostly panfish which she cleaned and cooked for the next meal. We always had fresh fish on those meatless Fridays, and often neighbors were supplied with the extra catch.

My sisters and I weren’t excited about fishing. My preference was fishing on the dock because you could get someone else to watch your bobber and take a break once in a while.

Sitting with a pole in hand for hours in a boat in the sun was OK, but sometimes we brought along a book to pass the time – talking might disturb the fish. However, the fish always seemed to bite better when there were small children. One time, the family took the pontoon boat out because the 4, 5 and 6-year-old grandchildren wanted to fish. We probably hit a “school” as fishing was great. It wasn’t too long before there was a small chorus of “We’re hot, I’m tired, etc.,” and the boat was turned to shore. After depositing the complainers, Gramps headed back to the hot spot. Too late. The fish had moved.

Through fishing, we learned the value of silence and patience, but also the virtues of hope (for a good day) and faith (that we would catch “the big one”). I’m not sure I connected these early experiences to Gospel stories until later.
Near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus is often pictured going in a boat with the apostles, sometimes to get away from crowds, other times to encourage their faith as in calming the storm or testing Peter’s walk on the water, or just possibly to spend teaching time in a place they wouldn’t be disturbed by the constant crowds that followed them.   

Although Peter and the apostles “left all to follow Jesus,” it appears they also periodically returned to their boats to fish. It’s a rare fisherman who can never look back. Did they still supply their families with food since fish was such a staple for them? Who cooked it? Jesus was waiting on shore for them one time with fish cooking on a charcoal fire. Did they use a pan to fry their catch or a pot to boil it? We use charcoal grills and aluminum foil.

Fishing connects people – enjoying a day on the lake or on a dock, later cleaning the fish and sharing the meal it provides. Rest, peace, meditation, time together.

The afternoon after my father’s funeral many years ago the family gathered at the lake cottage. The kids went out on the dock to fish and started catching perch and sunfish as soon as the hooks went into the water. This kept up for about a half hour – it was “catch and release” for them but they had a great time thinking that Gramps was baiting the hooks. Of course, we attributed it to his spirit providing a happy time when we were already missing him.

My mother cautioned me to catch fish and cook them, but don’t learn to clean them or I’d be stuck with the job, as she often was. Fortunately, those in our family who wanted to fish learned to clean their catch.

Fish stories are still plentiful. A fellow in our parish reminds me of my father as he is always fishing, sometimes very early in the morning before he comes to daily Mass and brings a package of freshly caught panfish for the pastor or another parishioner. And sometimes there is a fish story to go with it.   

(King, a member of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, North Lake, is married to Thomas. They have seven children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.)