One of my favorite pastimes if salmon fishing on the BC rivers with my family. We take my dad’s flashy red jet boat and cruise up and down the river, in search of “the big ones.” Some days, the fish are so thick, you just look out the side of the boat and can glimpse 3 or 4 of them swimming by. And these aren’t little lake trout, either. The King Salmon in the rivers we fish average 30 pounds, and they’re nothing compared to the Sturgeon that often measure 9 feet long. It makes me think twice before going for a swim in the murky water.
Last weekend, we took the boat out for the final fishing trip of the season. The water level is rising, and the fish are spawning and dying. It’s sad (and a little stinky) to see the dying fish wash up on shore after doing their procreational duty.
Early in the day (and I mean early, since my folks believe in hitting the water shortly after the sun rises), I had my first fish on the line. I’ve come to realize that landing a King Salmon is a team sport. I was the novice in the boat, and my folks jumped to assist me, once I announced, “fish on!” After reeling in their lines, they manned their battle stations for the fight that was about to ensue.
It’s not hard to realize that you have a King on. King Salmon don’t fight like any other fish. They are 30lbs of pure muscle, and they don’t give up without spending all of their strength swimming as far and as fast as possible. It often becomes a battle between who tires first, you or the fish.
I wasn’t making much progress with the fish in the first couple minutes. The King seemed to be winning the battle. He’d take the line and run, and I couldn’t do much about it except listen to the shrill noise of my line rapidly spooling off my reel. If you try to grab the line, you end up burning yourself or breaking it (I learned this the hard way once), so it’s best just let the fish take it for awhile. Thankfully, I was using my dad’s rod and reel, and he’d loaded a lot of line on it, anticipating a big King.
Eventually, the King stopped running and started fighting with me a bit, so the wrestling match began. I’d reel a little, he’d run a little. I’d reel a little, he’d run a little. Back and forth we went. My biceps were burning, and I sat down on the boat’s engine mount to get some leverage and prop the pole against something. Sweat started pouring off of me, and not so nice words were coming out of my mouth, directed at the fish, of course.
It was a cold morning, somewhere in the upper 30s or lower 40s, so I was wearing my winter gear. My glasses fogged up from my exhaling, so I had a hard time seeing much. I had my parents remove them, since I couldn’t take my hands off the pole. I couldn’t take off my layers of clothing, though, so the heat was becoming pretty unbearable.
About fifteen minutes into the fight, I hadn’t made much progress with the fish. I felt like I’d gotten him about five feet closer to the boat, but that wasn’t much. He’d splashed his tail out of the water once or twice, as if to spite me, but other than that, he was winning.
My dad was standing behind me with the net, coaching me on how to tame the wild beast. He talked about tightening the tension, when I needed to reel, and when I should let the fish run. I’ve never realized how important fish psychology is in this whole endeavor. I tried to think like the fish, but honestly, I was so tired that I could do little else but try to hold the rod upright.
A couple times, dad saw my struggle and offered to take over. I happen to be just a wee bit stubborn, so I wasn’t about to accept defeat, not yet anyway. Sure, I couldn’t lift my arms up anymore, I was out of breath so much I couldn’t hold on a conversation, the fish was doing the dance of joy at the end of my line, but I wasn’t about to give up.
So, dad continued to offer his encouragement from behind me. After a couple more minutes of pathetic fighting (on my part, the fish was doing fine), I started thinking about how much better it would be to get the fish, even with a little help, versus lose it because I was too stubborn to accept any assistance.
Exhausted and sore, after about 20 minutes, I gasped “help!” and my dad took over. I got a drink of water and peeled off about 5 layers of clothing. While I massaged my sore muscles and rehydrated, I watched as my dad skillfully played the fish and expertly demonstrated all the techniques he had been describing. In the few minutes while he took over, he got the fish closer to the boat than I had in the entire 20 minutes before that.
Once I was ready to enter the ring again, dad handed over the pole, and I resumed the fight. Since I’d paid attention to his method, I think I did a better job of handling the fish the second time around. I was feeling pretty confident about getting it into the boat, when suddenly, the reel separated from the rod, and I quickly grabbed it before the fish could take off like a bullet again.
Once again, I yelled, “help!” and dad reattached the reel. Thankfully, the fish didn’t seem to notice, but my heart was beating 10x faster.
After a few more minutes, I finally got the fish close enough to the boat that my dad could scoop it out of the water with the net. A 30-40 pound fish, thrashing and wiggling, isn’t an easy thing to pull out of the water, so I was lucky to have a 6’6″ dad along to assist. I helped pick up one side of the net to pull the monster into the boat.
As I stood there, holding my fish, the biggest fish I’ve ever caught in my life, I realized that my victory wasn’t diminished by the assistance I received. In fact, I wouldn’t have caught that fish at all, without some expert help from my dad. I just needed to be willing to hand the pole over for awhile.
Do you know how many times this happens every day in my life? My father in heaven sees me struggling in the battle, on my own terms, and he longs to offer a helping hand. I’m so stubborn and “self-sufficient” that I’m determined to do it myself. But the end result would be better if I’d hand it over to God and let him help me out.
God longs to help his children. Jesus talked about the gifts and assistance that God wants to offer us, if we’d only ask:
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:9-13).
This daughter asked for help with a fish and got one, a bigger one than she’d ever imagined catching that day. How much more will your father in heaven help you, if only you’d ask?