The Art of Zen Fishing

I propose the following recipe for hilarity: Take one 4-year old, add a fishing pole and little-to-no knowledge of fishing combined with an intense apathy about the actual workings of the process while still maintaining enthusiasm about actually catching fish. Then, to make things even more amusing, add two men with varying levels of knowledge about fishing and capacities for patience. Finally, find some very, very dumb fish.

The morning after we first arrived at the cottage, the itty child spent the lion's share of it playing in the water with a toy fishing pole with an orange plastic fish attached to the end of the line. It did not take long for that to no longer be a satisfactory method for passing the time. Instead, she planted herself on the end of the dock next to Grandpa and contented herself to watch him fly fish. Then, he got a fish. Not an orange plastic fish. A real fish. And then he let her lift it out of the water. That was it. Itty needed to fish, too. Not play fish … real fish.

After bait was procured and an itty-sized fishing pole, complete with hook for said bait, was produced, Itty set about to fishing. Being entirely new to the process, she got a lot of help from Grandpa. That is, Grandpa baited her hook, cast her line and tried to explain what was going on with the bobber in the lake. This all seemed well and good, except Itty was having nothing to do with the activities of said bobber. It would dance and dart about in the water and she would hold the pole, watching the bobber flit about in the lake.

And then, when it seemed like all hope was lost and this was merely to be an exercise in feeding hungry panfish lots of bait, Itty would reel in the pole. And there would be a fish on it. If it happened once, it could be dismissed as beginner's luck. If it happened twice, it might simply be a coincidence. But it happened a lot. Alongside the edge of the dock, a fenced box began to fill with little panfish. One. Two. Six. Eighteen. It was unbelievable. Her fishing technique -- if it could even be called a technique -- was working!

This fishing scenario repeated itself over and over during our stay at the cottage. Grandpa spent a few days trying to convince Itty that doing something about the dancing bobber was an important part of the process. She would have nothing of it. He concluded, at one point, that she simply didn't have much of a grasp on how step one (baiting the hook), step two (waiting for the bobber to dance) and step three (hooking the fish when said bobber was dancing) were related. Don't get me wrong. She was having a grand time. All smiles as she produced fish after fish after fish. Eventually, Grandpa figured the itty child had determined her method and he wasn't going to have much impact on it all. So he sat back, replaced bait and removed fish as needed, and laughed a lot.

Right about that time, the itty child's father entered the picture. He's done some fishing, too, but is not the seasoned veteran that Grandpa has become. That said, he definitely has some opinions about how fishing ought to work. Unfortunately, they don't align very well with Itty's method of Zen Fishing, which boils down to careful meditation about what's happening with the fishing pole and little or no action about it. So he sat alongside Itty and attempted to coach her on the intricacies of fishing. This frustrated them both, but was incredibly entertaining to watch. Grandpa, who had given up the fight much earlier in the vacation, simply giggled and pointed out that Itty was, in fact, catching fish, even if it was frustratingly unbelievable. The bobber would dance and Itty would watch it or talk to the fish in the little blue holding container on the dock or watch the ducks nearby. In the meantime, her father would point and say, "Now! Reel it in now! Aren't you going to do something?" And Itty would look at her feet or the ducks or the fish in the blue holding container. Or, more annoyingly, she'd watch the bobber dance. And do nothing. And then, when things seemed entirely hopeless, she would reel in her line and, bingo, there would be a fish!

At one point, as the bobber was dancing wildly about, I asked her what the dancing bobber meant. "There's a fish," she replied. And yet, that didn't mean she was going to do a thing about it! Her father would plead with her to take some kind of action, but it merely resulted in him staring at his offspring in bewilderment and Itty making amusing frustrated sighing noises. And still, she kept reeling in fish after fish. Zen Fishing was working for her.

In the end, she had an incredible fishing experience, even if she never did quite get the concept of it as a sport, per se. Grandpa had a theory that what we were witnessing were a pile of pretty hungry, determined, stupid fish that would spend a bit of time nibbling at the bait on Itty's hook and, upon realizing they'd found food, get super excited, grab the bait and attempt to head for the hills, only to hook themselves as they rushed off with the bait. I have no idea if Itty's Zen Fishing will ever work again or will work anywhere other than the cottage, but while we were on vacation, the stupid fish along the dock on Waneta Lake gave a 4-year old itty child a great deal of joy. And really, they managed to entertain the rest of us, too!

You'd think with all of this talk of fish, we would have been dining on it regularly during our stay. That might have happened if the stupid fish were not also itsy bitsy. The triumphant pile of fish that was Itty's catch were allowed to spend a little time in the fenced box by the dock until we all gathered to release them and bestow upon them a ceremonial goodbye and thank you for being such good sports about all of the laughing.

That said, we did manage to enjoy one fish-based recipe during our stay. A family and friends gathering while we were there left us with a fair bit of lovely smoked salmon. It was enjoyed a bit with crackers, but it wasn't until a few tweaks were made and it was served as a creamy spread that it disappeared over the course of a single meal. So now, as I bid you farewell until next time, I leave you with Smoked Salmon Spread, Waneta Lake style:

Smoked Salmon Spread

  • 1 c. crumbled smoked salmon
  • 2/3 c. canola oil-based mayonnaise (we used canola oil mayo to cater to food allergies)
  • 2 T. finely diced onion
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients and mix until a spreadable consistency is reached. Chill or serve immediately with crackers or cucumber slices. Refrigerate any leftovers.

  • Yields: about 1 1/2 cups
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

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