Great, I thought. I’m probably going to be on the news tomorrow. “Kentucky woman has mental breakdown in the middle of Lake Erie.” I was teetering on the brink of hysteria and my friend Marquita was humming a tune I recognized as a 1960s hit, “When you’re feeling low and the fish won’t bite, a little bit of soul will put you right.”

It had seemed like such a good idea when Marquita and I plotted it. Our husbands and sons could enjoy a a day of fishing on Lake Erie, and the fishing guide we’d hired could drop Marquita and I off at Put-in-Bay on Bass Island for an afternoon of bike-riding, sight-seeing, and shopping at the island’s quaint shops.

The day of the trip, the seven of us got up at 3 am and staggered around her kitchen eating breakfast and then packed for the four-hour-drive to the lake. When we arrived, the guide told us that the water was quite choppy and recommended we take something for motion sickness. We climbed into the boat and headed out. Ten minutes later, one of the boys, who’d declined the motion sickness medicine, was hanging over the side of the boat, violently parting with his breakfast. His brother endlessly repeated, “I have to go to the bathroom!”The bathroom facilities on the boat were primitive and not hooked up yet, so the guide told him to try to wait.

Forty minutes later, we anchored and the guide began setting us up. None of the kids or women would touch the bait or the fish, so the guide was busy taking care of us. After all, Marquita and I had plans to be dropped off at the island. We weren’t interested in any fishing. We were just marking time.

The water was so rough and the boat pitched and rolled so violently that it was impossible to stand upright for long. We were thumping and rolling around the boat’s deck like marbles in a glass jar. We kept getting our lines tangled, breaking them, and losing bait. I broke my line twice, fouled it around the motor once, and accidently let all the line in my reel unwind, even though the water was only a few feet deep. The men were doing ok, but the boys still were vomitting and had to go to the bathroom.

The guide was a model of patience, although when I miscast and embedded my hook in his sleeve, I thought I detected a strained look. And when the youngest boy dropped the guide’s best new reel overboard, the fellow looked like he wished he’d taken up a different line of work.

To top it off, the fish weren’t biting. I assumed they were down there laughing so hard at our ineptitude that they’d lost their appetites. I managed to catch a few, who probably took pity on me, but the guide kept throwing them back, because they were “the wrong kind” or something, which was really starting to tick me off.

The motion sickness medicine affected Marquita strangely and she kept nodding off and falling against me. Her oldest son was still vomitting over the side and the younger one still had to go to the bathroom.

I whispered to Marquita, “I think it’s about time to announce that you and I want to be dropped off at Put-in-Bay.”

Then one of the boys said, “Hey, look at those neat purple and black clouds!” Within minutes, a torrential downpour swept over us. The guide, a die-hard type, never mentioned going back to shore, so we all sat there fishing, if you want to call it that. Our shopping trip to Put-in-Bay was now out of the question, since the weather was not conducive to bike-riding and shopping.

Twenty minutes later, someone suggested that we head back to shore, and I watched the shore of Put-in-Bay disappearing into the distance. In the frigid, driving rain, teeth-chattering misery soon set in. All seven us were huddled under a small tarp, sitting on two large coolers bolted to the deck. Each time the boat rode a wave up and banged down, my knees slammed against the cooler, until I had bruises the size of saucers on both knees. We were thoroughly soaked and the kids were sobbing. Next to me, Marquita was singing softly to herself , and I recognized the aforementioned 1960s tune.

All we had to show for this adventure was one fish in the cooler on board. I don’t even remember who caught it, but I knew it wasn’t me. It was a good-sized fish, but by the time we fried it, provided we could find a place dry enough to do so, and divided it seven ways, we should each get a portion the size of one fish stick, which we could have “caught” in the frozen food section at the grocery store for a lot less money than we’d spent on this disastrous trip.

When we arrived back at the dock, the guide refunded part of our fee because the trip was so short. No one mentioned our single fish, which was still on the boat. The guide said if we were ever up that way again, “Give me a call and we’ll try it again.” Is it bad that my first thought was, “That man must have fish bait for brains. I hope he eats our fish for lunch and chokes on a bone.”

By now it was noon and no one had eaten since 3 am. It was still raining and there wasn’t a picnic table or shelter in sight, so we huddled around the trunk of the car, shivering like chihuahuas, eating soggy sandwiches. No one spoke. We were beyond words.

After lunch we exchanged goodbyes and my husband, son, and I headed south on I-75. No one spoke for at least a half hour, when I said, “Well, that probably was the worst time I’ve ever had in my life.” And my husband, who looked surprised, said, “You didn’t have fun? I had a good time.” That says a lot about the differences between the sexes, doesn’t it?

From now on, the only fish I’ll eat will be on a bun from a fast-food restaurant. The next person who invites me on a fishing trip is going to be clobbered between the eyes with a frozen flounder.


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