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How one dad let the big one get away

Thanksgiving is past and now it’s on to great sandwiches, turkey divan and of course pie for the next two weeks.

With December here, my thoughts turn to God, family and perhaps a late season sheep hunt between the quail and duck outings.

When I think of hunting, fishing and family my thoughts often turn to my fishing pal Mark Fiorentino. This is one dad who has his priorities right. He works long, hard hours in the business world, but makes sure he has plenty of one-on-one time with his wife Kristal, son Gage and daughter Ellie.

Mark’s a good storyteller too and writes better than most. So here is my Christmas present to you, a children’s story that can be enjoyed by all — perhaps while sipping hot chocolate and of course eating cookies around this year’s Christmas tree.

Enjoy!

“The Great Perch Tragedy”

By Mark Fiorentino

I suppose there are lots of times when you don’t need to know exact numbers. The length of my driveway, the number of cookies I had for dessert and the amount I spent on THE PANHANDLER (a double-edged, single-action fish filleting piece of genius that I have never used) all come to mind.

But, let me tell you something. When it comes to perch, exact numbers are very important. I learned this the hard way in what will forever be known as “The Great Perch Tragedy.”

It all began a few weeks ago. My daughter Ellie and I were fishing one of our favorite lakes and were down to the last few casts. We were due home so I could clean up before taking my wife to dinner for our fourteenth wedding anniversary (anniversaries being one of those times when exact numbers, and punctuality, are critical). Ellie pitched her worm next to a submerged boulder and almost instantly yelled: “Dad, I got a nice one here.”

When she got it on board, I saw she was right. “That is a huge Pumpkinseed. I bet it qualifies for the state’s trophy fish program. We have to photograph and measure it.”

I explained to Ellie that the state issues a certificate and pin if you catch a fish of sufficient size. There are two ways to qualify: by weight and by length. To qualify by weight you must have the fish weighed on a certified scale. This usually requires killing the fish in order to transport it to an approved scale. Or, you can release the fish if you take pictures of the angler holding it and clearly showing its length. We keep a yardstick on the boat for this exact purpose. (My buddies alternatively refer to me as “insane” and “well-prepared”).

Killing the fish wasn’t an option for me or Ellie, so we carefully took the required pictures. We haven’t heard from the state yet, but her Pumpkinseed was clearly a qualifier. The minimum length is nine inches. This one was a shade over ten.

That fish triggered something. Now, Ellie can’t get enough of fishing. I am convinced that the prospect of earning trophy pins has replaced the desire to occasionally humor me. I am convinced because she told me so.

“Dad,” she says, “we have to get back out on the lake and do some more fishing.”

“Really, you enjoy fishing with me that much?” My heart, ignoring signals from my brain, was swelling.

“Well . . . sure. But, don’t you think we can get some more pins? You have always said there are some huge fish in that lake.”

And so, about a week later, we were back at it. I wasn’t optimistic about our chances. The wind was blowing really hard. I knew I could put us on one of the honey holes, but I didn’t think I could keep us there long enough to catch a fish.

Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Ellie made her first cast, and before I could even put bait on my line, she said: “Oh my.”

Those were her only words as she hoisted into the boat the largest yellow perch I have ever seen. I mean, it was a monster.

Twenty full seconds of stunned silence passed. And then:

“Does it qualify?”

“I don’t know. Let’s take some pictures and measure it.”

It was no easy task getting a good shot of her holding a fish whose girth was three times the size of her forearm. Twice, it powered its way out of her grip by flicking its enormous head. Finally, with her arm shaking, she was able to hold it just long enough for me to snap a picture.

We then carefully laid it on the yardstick. Sensing, I’m sure, the magnitude of the circumstances, the fish lay still; seventeen and one-half inches.

“Is it big enough?”

“I’m afraid not. It needs to be twenty-one inches. Sorry, honey.”

“Shouldn’t you take a picture of it on the yardstick just in case?”

“No need. I’m sure. Twenty-one is the minimum.”

We made the drive home in silence, each lost in our own thoughts. And my thoughts were consuming me. What started as nagging doubt was quickly turning to sheer panic. “What kind of idiots set these standards? How can a perch that exceeds seventeen inches not qualify? Wait, I was also looking at the standard for smallmouth bass — please tell me that I didn’t confuse the two. Why, oh why, didn’t I just open the book I keep on the boat? Better yet, why didn’t I just take a picture like Ellie suggested?”

I waited until the next day to tell her. “I made a mistake. The minimum is only 15 inches. Your fish easily qualified.”

In response, she stared at me with a mixture of shock, anger and pity. I’ve never seen that expression on her face before, though it is commonplace with my 13-year-old son.

And then it passed.

“Well dad, we’ll just have to go catch him again.”

That’s Mark and Ellie’s story I hope you enjoyed it. If you have stories of your own, share them with me and perhaps I can pass them along.

My Christmas wish is that we could all have dads like Mark and daughters like Ellie.

If you have a story or a comment, please e-mail me at dansimmons@sportsmansquest.org or visit us at www.sportsmansquest.org

What’s New

Looking for a gift for the hunter or fisherman in the family?

If you enjoy this column, Sportsman’s Quest, the book, a hardcover with stories and over 100 wild game recipes, and will be available this week.

It will take you to places you remember, and places you dream of going. The backdrop is hunting and fishing adventures, but you will meet extraordinary people who you will get to know on a first name basis.

There is Genoval, an Amazon native who was raised in the jungle, but became the well-known river pilot of the Amazon Queen.

You will meet Chris Klineburger, who is a pioneer in exploring and opening new hunting regions, introducing the world to international hunting as we know it today – He was the first.

There is “Buck” Bedard, a Marine Corps General who, along with his sons, is a passionate conservationist and sportsman, or the lady librarian who has an extraordinary passion for bow hunting.

They and many other friends are exceptional individuals; you will join them as they hunt, fish and explore not only the world, but what it means to share in man’s heritage and traditions.

They also share with you many of their favorite wild game recipes which they’ve enjoyed around the campfire and in the kitchen.

For more information call Dan at (775) 727-9777.

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