Looking through old family photos can be fishy business. I mean those little black and white, bordered-with-white-wavy snaps of a moment eons ago. The kodak kind, now gone forever. The sort your mom posed you for. The kind one of the siblings always hated, always turned away from, always made faces about, always said aloud, “not one more!”
But now and then you find one that is worth all the pouring over pages, trying to identify long-gone relatives, charting relationships on the back of an envelope that happens to be within reach. Afraid everyone will forget who the person was. Somehow it matters to you the investigator, even if your mom (now ailing) has assigned you to the task.
Because, suddenly there you are. Sixty years younger than today, your little face is there. You recognize yourself and pause. Such innocence, such joy, such baby youth.
And of all things unexpected you are holding a fish nearly as large as your 2.5 year-old frame.
You ask your dad what’s the deal, and he can’t quite remember. He can’t at first remember what state it might have been in, let alone the river, let alone the species of fish.
You scan and post the image, right from the album, without even removing the photo because it’s stuck with glue in the middle of a page of images. Suddenly that photo has become gold.
But you dig a little and bring in your cyber-fishing resources. It doesn’t take long for Facebook to solicit a response– less than a minute.
First is the river guide you know from Montana. He comments on the size of the fish. Then he comments on the species. Then he asks where the heck the fish was taken. Taken, because we can all tell that fish is rigid. Before catch and release. When fish caught were for eating.
Friends that think the photo is cute respond next. And then my fishing-women friends, because maybe they realize the sweetness of it, a little girl with a big fish in a mostly male-dominated fishing time. Even if obviously she could not have caught it. But somebody thought to pose her, concentrating only on the humor of it perhaps.
The votes on species roll in. My friends-the-guides state: “That’a girl, could be a steelhead”, and “Torpedo, unforked tail, that’s a steelhead for money!” and “Square tail, good lateral line, dark top shiny bottom, all add up to it…But what state was this in?”
And there the mystery remains. Based on the clothes the little girl is wearing and her shoes and the surrounding photos, she seems to be less than three, the age when her brother was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. He’s on the facing page.
By genealogical deduction then this is a photo from near the Fort Lewis/Madigan Army base, circa 1954, near Tacoma, Washington where we lived for one year. The story is confused from there.
Dad insists it was from a lake.
“Steelhead don’t migrate up to lakes,” says my fish-biologist friend from the fishing club of which I’ve been a member for fifteen years. “Your dad’s memory must be a little wrong. Maybe he caught it in salt water near Tacoma, plenty of that there.”
I have no idea. And it really doesn’t matter from which water it was drawn. What astounds me is that I am posed with a fish nearly my size at less than age 3, a huge fish, and that I am smiling.
It matters because 40 years later I believed I was holding a big fish for the first time, as I dragged a Humpy salmon out of the Skagit River on my own. I was just as enamored that September day, totally unaware I had a fishing past. And that moment so electrified me that I have not stopped fishing since.
But what charms me is the smile. I clearly loved posing with that fish. I still do. Even if I have no memory of the original, it takes me to a place I recognize. Happiness, victory over struggle, breathing the wild air of special places. And my dad.
Category: Indie It Travel