That’s what my ex told me. So when I grabbed a fishing pole for the first time in a dozen years and cast, I thought back on that moment we’d disdainfully passed the seafood counter at Publix. Well, fresh fish does smell. And that smell, I have decided, is seafood stank. It lingers in your nose in a nauseatingly self-satisfying way after you haul in your first catch and then your second.
No matter if you catch and release or catch and stow, your hands are getting up in that fish’s business. There is no stopping the slimy oddness from imprinting in your pores. And even though the slick gooiness is repellant, the feel of the scales beneath it—just a hint of sharpness and then smooth. Sharp and smooth as the gills flutter and the muscles flex and contract. There is a squirm, your grip tightens and then POP—as if that fish is a bar of soap in the shower, it goes sailing (triumphant) through your fingers, arcs over the dock then SPLAT on the wood planks. It wriggle wriggles in any direction it can, so completely disoriented that it can only hope to be flapping its fins toward water.
I feel for the fish then. It cannot breathe, I remember, without the cool river water running over its gills. I wet my hands and reach down for the creature again. I still its movements as gently as I can. And I wince as I reach for the hook. There is no getting it out without leaving behind a slight tear in the fish’s mouth, my father tells me. He leans in, his hands coming closer as if he would help, as if he would take the fish as his own. But I am petulant. I spread my arms and hunch over my catch, protective like a hawk over my catch, and yet all I want is to free it. No, all I want is to turn back the clock to a point at which my sweet spotted trout would have seen the hook and turned tail, never to have the hole I’m ripping in his tough skin. It is horrible and I have done this, and then it is done. The hook hangs limply, my fish lays still. Dead, nearly, I think. Quickly—I must move quickly! I think. Seconds later, the trout is slipped back beneath the surface and he is gone, returned to the depths. And I stink of fish.