By Marvin Payne
Why do you call guys who go fishing “fishermen”? You don’t call guys who go hunting “huntermen.” The Savior called them “fishers.” He should know. I think maybe calling them “fishermen” is the first step on the road to apostasy.
When I was a Boy Scout, we had a scoutmaster who was a fisherman. Or a fisher. He was a guy who tried to catch fishes. So every scout trip was a fishing trip. We hiked high into the Sierra Mountains above where trees grow and that’s where I caught my first fish. Moose Lake. All the rest of the time that I was a kid I caught about eight more. Fish, not mooses.
When I was first married, I went to California to make a record of some music. One morning while I was there, I drove up into a canyon that I knew when I was a kid. There was a river in the canyon, and I suddenly wanted really bad to go fishing. So I pulled into a little mountain store and bought a pole and a reel and the kind of lure I used back when I was a Boy Scout, called a “Super-Dooper,” which is this little folded metal thing with hooks hanging off of it, and went fishing. And didn’t catch anything.
At the very end of that summer, back in Utah, I figured I ought to go fishing at least one more time with my new stuff. So my wife and I drove up Provo Canyon to Deer Creek Reservoir – where, in a couple of hours, I didn’t catch anything.
Driving back down, I saw a place in the Provo River that looked to me like the kind of place I’d like to be if I were a fish. So we stopped and I climbed down and didn’t catch anything. I was getting pretty mad and I thought, “Okay, just one more cast and then we’re going home.” Well, I caught one! So I thought I’d try again. Just then a guy in a uniform with a badge appeared and said, “Did you know you’re not allowed to fish here?” I said I didn’t know and he said, “Well, that’s an honest mistake, better pack up.” He walked away about twenty steps and then turned around. “Hey, do you have a fishing license?” I said no and he said, “Well, that’s a dishonest mistake.” And he wrote me out a ticket.
So the next two things I did in my life were buy a fishing license, and pay the fine. Well, the fine was about thirty dollars. The fishing license was about twenty dollars. The pole and reel and Super-Dooper had cost about twenty-five dollars. And the one time I went fishing after that, I didn’t catch anything! So that one fish I hauled out of the Provo River cost me seventy-five dollars! And while I was talking to the guy with the uniform and badge, my wife felt sorry for the fish and let it go.
Fast forward thirty-five years. Now I’m a multiple grampa, even though I have three little kids at home, who are named Aunt Cait, Uncle John, and Aunt Baby Adwen. Being an MG (Multiple Grampa), I found myself feeling that maybe I was working too hard. You know, making up stories, practicing the guitar on my front porch, singing and dancing and pretending to be kings and lovers and prophets for money. I figured I needed a hobby. Well, fishing! So I went to our new Cabela’s, the Disneyland of fishing stuff and the only man-made feature in Utah besides the Kennecott copper mine that can be seen from outer space, and got a pole, a reel, and a Super-Dooper. I got a license right along with the stuff, and now I go fishing about three times a year from the shady north shore of Tibble Fork. Most times I go, I don’t catch anything. But altogether I’ve caught about five fish. I snip off all the barbs from my hooks so I can get the fish off easy, and I always just say “Hi, no offense,” and let them go. I figure I’m doing them a favor by showing them what scary things can happen if they try to eat things that look like they’re made out of metal and have hooks hanging off of them.
Once I told my current little kids the story about that first expensive fish that might still be lurking in the Provo River, about three feet long by now, telling his current little kids about the embarrassed fisherman with the compassionate wife. They liked the story. They asked me for another. I didn’t really have another, unless you count the one about catching a halibut when I went fishing in the ocean with my friend and his dad.
Baby halibuts swim around like regular fish, sort of fish color on both sides and one eye looking out starboard and the other looking out port. But they glide along the bottom of the ocean and scoop up whatever looks yummy down there, even if it looks like it’s made out of metal and has hooks hanging off of it. (Except they like anchovies better, which is what we used for bait. Which is what anchovies should be used for. Bait is the fulfilled measure of an anchovie’s creation.) So that halibuts can get their mouths closer to the bottom, where their favorite food is, they start swimming on their sides. Since one side is down all the time, away from the sun, it turns white, just like you would. And since there’s nothing to see right exactly underneath the halibut, where it’s dark because of the halibut’s shadow, that under eye travels around the edge of the halibut’s face and settles next to the other one, so that both eyes can gaze up into the gauzy light. So the white side has no eye, and the fish-colored side has two. Halibuts look really weird. That’s the other fish story I could tell that’s true.
So I had to make up new fish stories for my kids. Usually they ask for them on the way to Kohler’s, our friendly store out by the traffic light, so I don’t have to make up very much. It’s when we’re on the way to Arizona that I’m in trouble. Since I can’t make up plot very quickly, a lot of the appeal of the stories is in the names of the fish heroes and fish heroines, which alternate with exactness, seeing as how my audience is precisely half male and half female. The names are like “Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg.” When your hero is named “Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg,” you hardly need a plot. I mean, if it goes like,
Once there was a lonely little fish named “Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg,” who asked his mother where he could find a friend. Well, Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg’s mother looked at Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg very tenderly and said, “Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg,” have you introduced yourself to all the little fishes in the neighborhood? Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg said, “Gee, I don’t know how, Mom.” So Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg’s mother said, “Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg, it’s easy! First, you just say, ‘Hi! My name’s Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg…'”
And hey, here we are at Kohler’s!
But then my kids wanted these fish stories at bedtime. I couldn’t count on Kohler’s to save me, so now there really had to be stories in the stories. Something really had to happen to the fish. Since I haven’t the vaguest understanding of the life of a fish (the only time I see them is when they’re staring me in the face sort of saying “Hey, get this hook outa my lip!” – and that’s only about twice every summer), I have to borrow stories from other animals. One night I got pretty far into The Three Little Fishes, where the first little fish (I’ll skip his name, for now) built himself a little house out of bubbles, the second built himself a house out of seaweed, and the third cemented himself a house out of coral, barnacle belly, and Spanish doubloons, before the kids caught on and stopped me. “Da-a-ad, that’s supposed to be pigs! Duh!”
Sometimes the bedtime story I’m stealing isn’t as easy to figure out as that one is. You can just about get a kid unconscious with something like, “Then Whinngg-doop-doop-doop silently swam out onto her balcony and called out, in a soft bubbly voice, ‘Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg, Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg! Wherefore art thou Sheeowwm ba-dat-dat-dat Boinngg?'” In this story, Sheeowwn ba-dat-dat-dat Boingg does finally get a friend, which is good news! The bad news is that both of them die, in each other’s arms – fins. Of course, that still might be better than trying to eat things that look like they’re made out of metal and have hooks hanging off of them. (Shakespeare, y’know, borrowed all his plots, too.)
Okay, let’s see if you guys are sharper than my kids. I’ll tell some fish stories, and as soon as you can recognize the story I’m stealing, holler out what you think it is.
Once there was a little fish named Jorge LaWhirlpool, who’s father had a beautiful grove of seaweed. One day Jorge LaWhirlpool’s father gave Jorge LaWhirlpool a pet. It was a pet swordfish. Jorge LaWhirlpool named his new pet Excalivorpal Glamdring. One day, while they swam happily through his father’s seaweed grove, Jorge LaWhirlpool grabbed up Excalivorpal Glamdring by the tail and swung him over his head and whacked one of the seaweeds right in two! The whacked-off part floated like a dead rag up toward the surface of the water. Now Jorge LaWhirlpool’s father was out for a swim too, and suddenly found himself nose-to-nose with the whacked-off piece of his prize seaweed. Down below him was his son, Jorge LaWhirlpool, holding the tail of Excalivorpal Glamdring, whose edge was stained with seaweed sap. Jorge LaWhirlpool bravely looked up into the angry eyes of his father and said, “I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped off the seaweed.”
Once there was a little fish named Finderella. She had an evil crab for a stepmother, and two crabby…
At least you could have let me get to the part where she lost her glass flipper. One more:
Once there was a great big fish named Leviathan Blubbertooth. If Leviathan Blubbertooth had one fault, it was that he was thoroughly non-religious. He never went to church, wasn’t a bit reverent, and thought that saying his prayers was a waste of time. One day, when a storm was raging in the distant sky overhead, Leviathan Blubbertooth glided peacefully through the dark water when suddenly, right before his big red eyes, floated a strange little thing he’d never seen before with four skinny tentacles, rags wrapped around its middle, and a beard. Being a rather intelligent fish, as all agnostic fish imagine themselves to be, Leviathan Blubbertooth said to himself, “This doesn’t appear to be made of metal with hooks hanging off of it – I think it may be safe to eat.” And he swallowed it in one gulp, without even saying a blessing. “Yuck! Tastes kind of religious!” thought Leviathan Blubbertooth. For three days Leviathan Blubbertooth swam around, feeling sicker and sicker and sicker. Finally he threw up his lunch onto the beach, and it scurried away.
Of course, what Leviathan Blubbertooth didn’t know was that Jonah was scurrying off to become a “fisher of men.” I think he’d had enough of fish to keep him out of Cabela’s for a long, long time.
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)
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