Quietly waiting for a fish to puncture its lip on a barbed hook is an excursion I only tolerate for the sake of tradition. Once a month, Papa and I travel to Crescent Lake, a freshwater lake in North Central, Florida—its name derived from the curvature of the swampland resembling a sliver of the moon. Toting a bucket brimming with minnows and two spinning reel poles, we trudge past palm trees and mangroves, our feet sinking into the loose grains of warm sand until we reach a familiar cedar dock protruding over water. I look away as Papa baits our hooks with calloused hands.
The chime of our plunging bobbers shatters the lake’s smooth surface, carving wrinkles into the water like a crinkled sheet. Our silhouettes become distorted in the reflective ripples, streaks of sunlight blending into billowing waves. Lucent fishing lines interlace with the dance of the lake, and Papa’s freckled face relaxes. Occasionally, I attempt to start a conversation with Papa, but after a few short remarks, my efforts end in silence.
The water’s motion makes it difficult to decipher whether my bobber is bouncing from the waves’ swells or if a fish is nibbling on my minnow, so I wait to pull my rod until the bobber falls with force and the line tightens. A second too late.
“Better hope he didn’t swallow it,” Papa says as I reel in. The fish often do, which prompts an intrusive surgery using rusty pliers. Papa seems to care more about saving his hook than the flailing fish, so when we toss the thrashing creature back into nature’s nest, it twitches on its left side, teetering in and out of the water. I recast and observe my bobber with extra caution, jerking my pole upwards in response to any slight movement. Papa chuckles as I pull my hook into the air every few minutes with no fish attached.
My eyes become tired from the meticulous staring, so I hunt for alligator heads instead, finding four yellow globes peering above the skin of the lake, their scales veiled beneath the quivering surface. I find eight more lustrous eyes as the sun begins its expedition toward the horizon, causing the ripples to glisten with a rosy glow. Mosquitos stick to the water, prompting the fish to bite more frequently. Papa hooks five largemouth bass, and I catch two. When the sun’s shimmers disappear, and our bobbers blend into darkened waves, we reel in. I casually fling my rod over my shoulder and leave with one last glance into the lake, which now resembles a foggy pool of ink.
Now, I trek to Crescent Lake alone. My neon bobber sinks into the water—the knell of a solemn bell. I close my eyes and breathe in its musty scent like incense, listening to the susurration of leaves and the crash of bubbling water striking sand. I begin to enjoy the whispers of the world around me. I search for life underneath the lake’s tempered glass surface, attempting to find transparency amid folding waves, but the mirrored exterior only portrays the wispy clouds above.
Abruptly, my bobber thrusts below the surface, and there is a powerful pull against my palm. Yanking my pole to the sky, I fight a fish writhing in water. Its body jolts downwards—a desperate plea for freedom. The line strains with tension like a tightrope connecting me to the enigmatic world below. With one final heave of my pole, a ten-pound bass ascends into the air. The image of its flight is captured in the glossy waves, its scales scintillating in sunlight.
My rod curls as I undo the hook from the bass’s lips and ease it onto a patch of grimy grass. Its soaking body melds to the emerald turf, swathed by lengthy blades. I watch it flip and spin, its rigid fins whipping against the ground, attempting to fly as it does in water. After a few moments, I grab the bass and hurl him back into the lake, grunting. With a vigorous splash, he is gone.
My hands clutch at rippling memories of Papa as I anticipate another catch.
Sarah Pouliot is a writer from Titusville, Florida. She has poems and essays published in The Sailfish Review and The Living Waters Review with forthcoming work in The Rectangle and Saw Palm. In addition to being a recipient of Sigma Tau Delta’s International Convention award for creative nonfiction, she has been invited to read at their 2023 Convention in Denver. Sarah is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Sigma Tau Delta chapter and works as a managing editor for the campus journal. Majoring in English, she is interested in pursuing a career in editing and education.