What a catch: What happens when you fish with a 7-year-old

I can’t write about every daddy-daughter date.

We do this one a month, during the soccer offseason, my girls and I.

Each girl has her day. Teaching Marie to score a baseball game made such an impact, I had to write about it.

As the dude in the adjacent cubicle would say, “you GOTTA blog about THAT.”

I do, dude. I do.

Grace wanted nothing more than to fish on her first daddy-daughter date of this offseason. Her shins still bruised and scraped from the rigors of the season, she’d set her sights high on reeling in tiny fish on a Friday evening.

Oops, that’s Marie’s team banquet night. But when you get to terrorize a pizza line and attack the game room Reno-style, you can postpone your dream date by a day, apparently. (Especially if cupcakes are involved.)

Finally, there she stood in the doorway on a Saturday afternoon, flip flops, knobby knees, jean shorts, a Dutch soccer shirt and a pink-and-black baseball cap, waiting to cast some lines into the deep.

Right at that moment I’d love to have unzipped her head, to snap a picture of what she envisioned the day to be.

There she was, head full of dreams, cup full of worms, window down, breeze in her face, and a pond of unsuspecting fish ahead. She went right for the bait in the bait shop, forgoing the kiddie poles with Barbie, Dora and Spongebob in full endorsement.

Just give this girl a cup of worms. And a pond full of hungry brim.

I wonder what she thought when the muddy pond came into view. They’ll never tape Dangerous Catch in these waters. It’s a puddle, really, lined with trees and backyards and a slab of concrete we’ll call the dock.

This won’t be a chronicle of all the things said between a dad and a kid on her first fishing outing, but I did have questions of my own: How would the kid who spontaneously combusts into a cartwheel; who will make a jump rope out of anything she can swing and jump over; or seems to have two speeds – sleeping and turbo – handle the quiet and discipline necessary to fish?

Marvelously, as you can see.

As I fumbled in the tackle box, with a steady stream of accidental finger hooks and dropped lead weights with muffled curse words, she cast, and reeled in, using that perfect motion she used for soccer throw-ins to cast deep into the murky waters.

When a misfired cast nearly dropped hook, line and sinker on top of her head, I took the rod and reel, and gave it a good daddy cast – whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr – past a lazy turtle and into the snack zone.


Before I could hand the reel back to Grace, the bopper dipped, the rod bent, and the chase was on.

“You got one!” I told her, handing her the rod. “Reel him in!”

She smiled and leaned back, then reeled in like a champ with a form I can attribute only to the Wii. We hadn’t covered this part yet.

In she came, a decently-sized brim destined for mobile-phone pics and the distinction of being Grace’s first. Then, a kind release back to the muddy waters.

She posed and grinned with the prickly-finned prize, and, one not-so-graceful attempt to de-hook and release that left the fish agitated and dad’s shirt slimy, it was right back to how nature intended.

Grace cast her line again. And began to think.

“Dad,” she said, that look of disappointment on her face like she’d just chomped a broccoli stem she thought was a green M&M, “you really caught that fish. Not me. You threw out the line, and it bit while you were holding it.”

“But honey, it was your rod.” (This is fallible, as any good Latino knows – if you’re wearing the Lakers jacket with the switchblade in the pocket, it’s your switchblade, no matter who owns the jacket. Ergo, he who casts … )

“I’ll catch more,” she said. “Remember the lunch I just ate? And how I scored a hat trick the last time?”

How could I forget? Here’s all you need to know about my failed track record as dad – Grace equates gluttony and regurgitation with athletic glory, ever since the day she downed 10 McDonald’s chicken nuggets, upchucked, then turned in a three-goal game, all in the same day.

I looked over at the cleaned-out nuggets box and defiantly crumbled McDouble wrapper by our tackle box. That’s not such a bad display of gluttony, is it?

Then I remembered the bag of sour-cream-and-onion chips and bottle of Bug Juice she conned me into at Bi-Lo …

(What would Dr. Oz say?)

I’m happy to report this story ends not with daddy holding the baby’s ponytail, but the baby’s line, six times. In between a wrangle of hooks out of fishes’ mouths, she asked about water snakes, marveled at a blue heron that flew overhead, attempted three times (OK, five) to convince me a brim would make a marvelous pet, wondered out loud how a nightcrawler could survive a triple impalement, water-ski action and constant nips from from hungry turtles and fish.

As dinner time approached, she insisted on one more cast. I wondered about the monster I’d created. Something right out of a country song.

When the lid finally closed on the tackle box, she’d collected (and released) six fish, two turtles, one tree branch that for just .002 seconds convinced dad it was a water moccasin, and about a million stories.

Fish tales.

“Looks like you’re daddy’s little fisherman,” I told her as she wrote a sweet thank you note to the friends who let us fish here.

“No daddy,” she answered.

“Fisher girl.”

And you don’t need a Barbie rod and reel to be that.