The Biggest Catfish

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“The Biggest Catfish,” Friend, Aug.–Sept. 1981, 34

The Biggest Catfish

I guess the fish just aren’t hungry today,” Don sighed. “Anyway, not the big ones.” He propped his cane pole on the creek bank and sat down on a large flat boulder. Summer showers had turned the clay banks into mushy red mud. He picked up a stick and began to peel the thick layer of mud from his shoes.

“I wonder why the little bait-stealing fish are always hungry and always bite,” Gary complained. “Why not the big ones? I’ve lost track of how many little ones I’ve thrown back, and I’m running out of worms.”

“Me, too,” Don said. “In fact, I’m out of bait. That’s why I pulled in one of my lines. I only have a chunk of wiener on the other hook, but I doubt that even the little ones will try for it. With two empty stringers, I think we may as well quit for today and go home.”

Don threw away the stick. But as he stooped to pick up his pole, he gasped when the cork suddenly disappeared. The line sang and it whipped through the water. The limber pole bent in an arc and was almost yanked out of his hands. “I’ve got a big one!” he shouted.

Gary dropped the pole he was reeling in and raced over to watch. “Get him! Don’t let it get away!” he hollered as Don slipped and almost fell into the water.

Desperately holding onto the pole, Don twisted like a cat, got to his feet, and braced his muddy shoes against a boulder. “He’s still on the line. And what a fighter!” he exclaimed.

The dark-haired youth gingerly tested the pole, but it bent too much when he tried to pull the fish out. What a monster it must be! he thought. This was his newest and strongest pole, and he knew that the only way to land this fish would be to drag it onto the bank. Otherwise, the pole would break and the fish would get away. He carefully lowered the pole, keeping the line taut, and began to back away from the creek.

“Wow! I’ve never seen such a big catfish!” Gary cried. “He must weigh fifteen or twenty pounds!”

“The way my arms ache, it feels more like thirty,” Don said breathlessly. Awed, he stared at the fish he had dragged away from the edge of the creek so it wouldn’t flop back in if it threw the hook. “Gather up the equipment and come on,” he said jubilantly. “I can’t wait to show him to my dad. I’m sure this whopper weighs more than that big one he caught last summer!”

On the way home, Gary offered several times to carry the fish, but no matter how tired he was, Don wanted everyone to know he had caught it. He beamed with pride when people admired his catch and asked where he had caught it. They always laughed when he told them the bait he had used was part of a wiener.

“Let’s go in and ask Mr. Evans to weigh it for you,” Gary suggested as they neared the neighborhood grocery store. “I can’t wait to find out how much it weighs.”

Mr. Evans whistled in surprise when he put the catfish on the meat scales. “Seventeen and a half pounds, boys. And I didn’t weigh my thumbs!” he chuckled. “I’ve fished around here for twenty-five years, but I’ve never caught one that big. You’re some fisherman, Don.”

Don smiled. “It sure wasn’t easy, Mr. Evans. That rascal nearly jerked off my arms and did his best to pull me in. He seemed to think he was the one who had caught me!”

Three blocks from home, Don leaned against a tree to rest a moment. The big fish seemed to gain a pound for every block they walked. He was exhausted, but not too tired to cross the street when Mr. Andrews called out and asked to see his catch.

The frail old man in the wheelchair was delighted. “I’ve taken many a fish from that creek,” he sighed admiringly, “but not since I was crippled in a truck wreck ten years ago. There’s nothing tastes better than deep-fried catfish!” Then he added wistfully, “Makes me hungry just thinking about it.”

“I think he was hinting for you to give him your prize catch!” Gary whispered indignantly as they walked away. “By the way, what are you going to do with it? If I caught a winner like that, I wouldn’t just eat it. I think I’d have my picture taken and put it in the newspaper. Then I’d have the fish mounted and hang it in my room.”

“I’m going to show it to Dad first. Then I’m going to clean it and take it back to Mr. Andrews. He can freeze part of it in his refrigerator and it should last him a long time,” Don said quietly.

“You’re going to give it away to that old man! Why would you do anything so dumb? We can catch him a mess of fish anytime. Besides, people can buy fish. Your family likes to eat fish, too, so why would you want to give it to him?” Gary asked disgustedly.

“Because I just thought of a boy who gave away his fish hundreds of years ago,” Don said. “You remember. It ended up that the few fish he had were enough to feed a multitude. Mr. Andrews only gets a small pension each month. Maybe he can’t afford to buy fish, and he can’t go fishing anymore. I may never catch another one this big in my whole life, so I want to do something special with it—like giving it to Mr. Andrews.”

Gary thought it over and nodded. Mr. Andrews was a proud old gentleman.

Gary grinned at his friend. “You’re right, Don. I can’t think of anything better to do with such a special catfish!”

Illustrated by Shauna Mooney