91: Grandma’s Catfish

91: Grandma’s Catfish

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

Grandma’s Catfish

Success seems to be largely a matter of
hanging on after others have let go.

~William Feather

I was living my dream, working as a state park ranger in Lake Tahoe, California. I spent my spare hours crosscountry and downhill skiing during winter and fishing the nearby Sierra streams all summer and fall.

My mother lived in Sacramento, the hot valley a short two-hour drive from the high country. She called me one day and said that my grandmother’s already frail health had taken a major turn for the worse. My grandfather had died years before, and now the doctors were saying they didn’t expect Grandma to live past the end of the day. I headed down the mountain.

When I arrived at the nursing home, I was welcomed by several members of the staff who told me of a near miracle. When informed about the promised arrival of her first and favorite grandson, Grandma suddenly grew stronger. When I entered her room, she looked up at me, her eyes instantly brightened, and she squeezed my hand as I hugged her. Her voice grew stronger as she spoke to me, telling me how excited she was to see me. We chatted for a while as my mind raced back over the years. She and Grandpa had taught me to fish, first on the local rivers and sloughs, then at Clear Lake where they lived following Grandpa’s retirement, a two-hour drive west into the coastal mountains from Sacramento.

Her smile suddenly broke into a big grin. “Do you remember that big old catfish that broke my fishing line?” she asked.

I assured her that it was a summer morning I would always remember. She insisted that I retell the story for the benefit of the staff who had gathered around to witness her miracle recovery. I thought about that day more than twenty years earlier and launched into the tale:

Early one summer morning, Grandpa, Grandma and I loaded ourselves and our fishing gear into their small wooden boat. The air was crisp and clean as I let my hand hang over the side and splash in the cool water during the torturously slow, five-mile-per-hour ride out of the marina toward the main lake. My ten-year-old patience was really being tested. Soon enough we were speeding through the open water, finally turning up into a narrow, tule-lined slough where we coasted to a stop. Grandpa tossed the homemade anchor — a coffee can full of concrete — into the water.

We baited our hooks and cast them into the water, setting the bright red and white plastic bobbers so the chunks of old, smelly bait hung just off the bottom of the shallow greenish water — there was nothing clear about Clear Lake’s water. We soon caught several channel cats, some reaching a pound or so.

Suddenly, Grandma’s bobber dove underwater. A huge blue catfish had grabbed her bait and headed up the slough. Grandma got really excited having such a big fish on her line, yelling for Grandpa to grab the net. It was the biggest fish she’d caught since the five-pound bass she’d landed the year before. Just as the battle got going, she moaned disappointment when her line snapped — but it broke above her big red and white plastic bobber. After it appeared that the bobber and her trophy catfish had headed for deeper water and safety, it happened! Her bobber popped back to the surface and began circling about ten feet from the side of our boat. Grandma still had her fish!

“Grab my bobber, Kenny, hurry!” Grandma frantically yelled to me. “Get him before he gets away!” She was trying to stand in the small rocking boat, pointing to the erratically darting bobber. I was stretching out as far as my short arm could reach, but the bobber was starting to move farther away, and with it any chance of me grabbing her errant fish.

“Walter, you start that motor!” she yelled at my grandfather in her excitement. “Get us closer so Kenny can grab it!”

Grandpa rolled his eyes, but after several yanks on the starting rope, fired up the boat motor.

“Hurry up, Walter, you’re going to let him get away!” Grandpa began maneuvering around closer to the fleeing bobber that periodically disappeared underwater, only to reappear farther away several seconds later. Every time the bobber reappeared, Grandma pointed in another direction and yelled at Grandpa that he was going the wrong way. Grandpa would mumble something about not being able to read Grandma’s mind, let alone the fish’s mind, then he’d reverse direction and head toward the bobber’s last known location. Finally Grandpa got lucky: The fish turned the wrong way and headed at us.

“Kenny, grab the bobber, grab the bobber!” Grandma yelled repeatedly. “Grab the bobber! You be careful and don’t fall in, now. There it is again, get it!” She was jumping up and down in her seat and rocking the boat as she pointed at the approaching bobber. “Walter,” she ordered my grandpa, “you get Kenny closer now. Don’t let my fish get away.”

After a couple of near catches, with Grandma continuing to yell directions to which the fish paid no attention, I managed to stretch my arm out far enough over the side of the boat and grabbed the fleeing bobber. By some miracle, the fishing line didn’t slip through the bobber as I tugged and strained to pull the huge catfish to the water’s surface. Grandpa netted the monster and dropped the huge, flopping, whiskered cat into the middle of the boat, adding to the water and fish slime that already covered the floor. We all yelled in celebration as we watched that monster catfish flop around, not the least bit aware that he was going to be dinner in a few hours.

The retelling of her favorite fishing story had worked its magic, putting the biggest smile imaginable on Grandma’s face. But it was one of her last smiles. Grandma only lived a couple of days more, but they were days the doctors had not originally given her. I still smile when I think about the joy derived from fishing with my grandparents, and especially that single summer fishing adventure. I’m sure Grandma’s still smiling — and Grandpa’s still mumbling something about not being able to read minds.

~Ken McKowen
Chicken Soup for the Fisherman’s Soul

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners