“Biggest Fish in the Ocean,” Friend, June 1985, 10
“Wake up, partner,” Daddy whispered. “It’s time to get ready.” I looked out my window and saw stars twinkling in the dark sky. Inside, our house was as quiet as could be. Mom, Grandma, Robby, Paul, and Jonathan were all fast asleep.
“But, Daddy, it’s still nighttime,” I said, rubbing my eyes.
“Not really,” he said, laying my clothes on the bed. “It’s just very early in the morning, and according to the fishing forecast, that’s when the fish are supposed to bite best today. So hurry and get dressed while I make our lunch.”
When I got to the kitchen, Daddy was putting our lunch into the cooler. “All ready, Lucille?” he asked, closing the cooler and grabbing his camera.
“All ready,” I said. “I’m going to catch the biggest fish in the ocean.”
Daddy laughed. “That’s what all the fishermen say.”
By the time we stopped for breakfast, I was starved. I had eggs, sausages, milk, and a yummy doughnut that dripped grape jelly all over my new white jacket.
“But, Daddy,” I said as he rubbed and rubbed the purple spots with a wet napkin, “aren’t you glad I ate all my breakfast?”
“Very glad,” he said. “You have to be strong to catch fish. Early, too, so let’s go.”
It was almost light when we got to the marina and carried our fishing rods, the cooler, and Daddy’s camera down the long wooden dock.
Our boat’s name is Fish Tales, and it’s printed on the side in bright blue letters. Fish Tales is seven years old, the same as me, and Daddy has taken our whole family for rides in it lots of times. But today he was just taking me.
Daddy unsnapped the canvas cover on Fish Tales and folded it neatly. Then he lifted me into the boat, tucked the fishing rods and camera inside a compartment, and put the cooler beside them. Finally he slipped the key into the ignition.
“Here we go,” he said as he turned the key. But nothing happened. Daddy tried and tried, but Fish Tales just wouldn’t start. Daddy lifted the engine cover and sighed a big sigh. I sat in the driver’s seat and pretended to steer. While Daddy worked on the engine, I pushed some buttons. Maybe I can get the boat to work, I thought.
“Don’t play with the controls, Lucille,” Daddy said. But there was a black box with knobs that I hadn’t tried, so I turned one of the knobs and heard crackling noises. I turned it some more and heard voices talking about the weather out on the ocean. I remembered what the black box was for and pushed the button next to the knob.
“Hello,” I said into the box. “This is Lucille, and my father’s real mad ’cause our boat’s broke.”
“LUCILLE! Please don’t help!”
I turned off the radio and didn’t push any more buttons or turn any more knobs.
“I’m hungry,” I said after a while, “and thirsty too.”
“Help yourself,” Daddy said. “But choose something nutritious. It’s still pretty early.”
I picked chocolate cookies and cream soda, and I really didn’t mean to spill the whole can of soda all over the boat.
“Lucille,” Daddy said when we finished wiping up the mess, “I’ll get out a blanket, and you can catch up on your sleep while I fix the boat.”
I didn’t want to sleep, but the blanket felt soft and Fish Tales rocked so gently. I dreamed I caught the biggest fish in the ocean.
A loud noise woke me. Fish Tales was fixed and ready to go.
“It’s almost nine o’clock,” Daddy said. “Let’s hurry before all the fish are gone.”
He unhooked the ropes that held us to the dock, and we went slowly past the other boats at the marina. Then we went fast. Then faster. I sat very still and watched the foamy path that Fish Tales left in the water. It was a wonderful, bouncy ride as we cut through the waves, looking for just the right place to fish.
Finally we slowed down and stopped where other boats had stopped too. But the waves didn’t stop, and it was hard to stand while the boat swayed from side to side.
“You’ll get used to it,” Daddy said. But I wasn’t at all sure of that. I looked up and tried to find the sun, but all I saw were big, dark clouds.
Daddy put a piece of slippery, white fish on the end of my line and dropped it over the side of the boat. Down, down it went until it hit the ocean’s bottom. Daddy handed me the rod and told me, “Hold on tight.”
“You’ll know when a fish is nibbling, Lucille,” he said. “You’ll feel a little tug on your line. Tell me when you do, and we’ll catch the first one together.” Then he put bait on his own line and fished from the other side of the boat.
I waited and waited and waited and waited.
Then I waited some more.
Not even a little fish tugged on my line. But raindrops sure dribbled on my head.
“Come on, Lucille,” Daddy said. “Let’s eat lunch. We’ll try again when the rain stops.”
I wasn’t too hungry, but it was dry inside Fish Tales’s cabin, so I sat and tore the crust off my bologna sandwich and tossed it through a porthole into the water. Then I pressed my sandwich flat and tried to eat it. But the boat rocked and rolled, and so did my stomach. Even the green grapes and cream soda didn’t taste too good.
“Daddy,” I said, “my stomach feels funny.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “The water is getting a bit choppy. Forget about lunch, partner. We’ll eat later.”
“Are you sure there’re fish in this ocean?” I asked.
“I’m sure,” he said. “Look. It’s only drizzling. Let’s fish again. If we don’t catch anything in ten minutes, we’ll go. Sometimes, Lucille, they just don’t bite.”
My stomach felt awful as I stood in the rain and lowered my line again. I yanked on it, but just a little, to get the fishes’ attention. Suddenly it felt heavy, so I pulled harder—and harder. Something really gigantic was on the end of my line. I just knew it was the biggest fish in the ocean.
“I got one!” I yelled, and Daddy dropped his rod and hurried over to help me. Together we reeled and pulled and reeled and pulled. I was glad I’d eaten such a good breakfast, because it took all our strength to land that rusty old kitchen chair.
“Can we keep it?” I asked.
“Well … Sure, why not?” Daddy muttered. “It’s the only thing we’ve caught all day.” He unhooked the old chair, and my line fell back into the water. “Let’s go home,” he said. “We’re both soaked. I guess today is just not our day. We’ll come back another time.”
I began to reel my line in, but I didn’t think I would ever want to go fishing again. And my stomach felt worse than ever.
Suddenly my line went taut, and my rod bent into an arch.
“I think I caught another chair,” I said.
When Daddy saw my rod bend almost in half, he scrambled over to help. “Something is definitely on there,” he said, “and it’s not a chair.”
“Oh, boy!” I said. “I’ve finally got a fish. Maybe the biggest—”
“I don’t know,” Daddy interrupted. “It’s not tugging on your line like a fish would. But I’ll tell you this, Lucille: It’s big!”
Slowly we reeled and pulled. I was so excited I could hardly wait.
The people on the boats around us stopped to watch Daddy and me reel in our catch.
I forgot the pouring rain.
I forgot the rocking and rolling of Fish Tales.
I almost forgot my terrible stomach.
I could think of only one thing: I had probably caught the biggest fish in the ocean.
Then I saw it. It wasn’t a chair. Or a fish. It looked like a dinosaur!
“Huh!” Daddy said. “Quick, Lucille. Get my camera.” He pulled the creature close to the surface. It was green and scaly, and it had dark eyes and a huge, round body.
“Hold the rod tightly, Lucille,” Daddy said, letting go. “It’s only snagged under its shell, and I want to take a picture before it breaks free.”
I held the rod steady. “It’s a dinosaur!” I called to the other boaters.
“It’s not a dinosaur,” Daddy said, and he laughed as he snapped an instant picture. “It’s a big sea turtle, and it came up to see who was on the other end of the line.”
The turtle must have seen my bologna sandwich crust floating on the water, because with one, quick move it was free, and, snatching that soggy crust, it dove back to the bottom of the ocean.
“You’re quite a fisherman, Lucille,” Daddy said, hugging me. “You’ve caught the biggest turtle that I’ve ever seen, and we have the picture to prove it. Let’s go home and tell everyone. They’ll be so surprised.”
Well, today I caught the biggest chair and the biggest turtle, and next time I’m going to catch the biggest fish in the ocean. But then, that’s what all the fisherman say.