We were the most inexperienced gaggle of fishermen that had ever sailed on the large pond, but the owner had said, “If you cast out, you will catch a fish.” Our team leader, Drew, was the only one who knew how to drive a pontoon, so he drove us out to the middle of the owner’s pond. It was the owner’s boat as well, and when Drew slammed on the breaks, sending the whole front part of the pontoon into the water and making all the girls scream, I wondered how he had ever secured the position of team leader.
Despite his recklessness, the front of the pontoon popped back out the water, but the three girls continued to scream. Lacy, the only one in the group which I never flirted with, started yelling at Drew. She made a racist comment about Drew not being able to see because he was Asian, and the goofball of the group, Bradley, laughed boisterously.
Drew ignored her comment and walked around to the rail to join Paul and I. Bradley was standing next to Lacy, Caroline, and Allison, and as usual, Matt was by himself toward the back. We each had a rod, but only Paul felt it was beneath him to worm his hook so Drew helped him.
“Trick is to poke the middle of the worm, so the fish has to swallow the whole hook to get the worm. If you put it too far back, they may bite off part of your worm and get away,” Drew said, imparting words of wisdom like he enjoyed doing.
Paul kept the same straight face that he always did, but cast out with the rest of us. With all 8 of our lines in the water, Drew was first to crack open a beer. He tossed one down to me, and I gagged at the brand. I wasn’t uppity or anything, but Budweiser was the only non-craft brew I enjoyed. Milwaukee’s Best just screamed watered-down-beer, but at least it would help pass the time. Only Caroline was too young to drink, but she had made it clear in the past that she didn’t mind if we all did.
There was just the one seat on the pontoon, and Paul thought it was his right to be the one to take it, so he did. The rest of us stood and waited, and less than five minutes elapsed before each of us had caught a largemouth bass. None of them were longer than 8 inches, but for most of us, it was the first fish we’d ever caught. Excited, we continued to fish, and everyone re-wormed before casting out again.
Again, within five minutes everyone caught a fish, even the princess of the pontoon, Paul. We tossed all the fish in a bucket and continued fishing until the bucket was full.
“This picnic is going to be epic,” Drew said, flashing his near-perfect teeth as he tossed the last fish in the bucket.
I bent down and stuck a hand in the murky pond water, rinsing it off and doing the same on the other side before standing up again. When I pulled out my hand sanitizer to disinfect, Bradley made a joke about me being afraid of germs. I insisted I was germ aware, ignoring the rest of the group’s jeers as I finished sanitizing.
Drew guided the boat back to shore, and we all hopped off. I kept quiet about how afraid I’d been of sinking with Drew at the wheel, but happy to be back on the dry ground I couldn’t stop smiling.
The owner of the pond and the pontoon had a house less than 20 yards from the shore of the pond, and he’d left a long table and a grill out for us. The table was just a log that had been flattened on one side, supported by two crudely inserted metal legs on the curved side.
The owner had seen us all in our AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps uniforms cutting down invasive species in a Wisconsin state forest. Moved by our willingness to help, he offered to let us use his boat and lake for our picnic.
Drew was the one to lug the bucket of fish, setting it down hard at the end of the table and sloshing out some of the water. None of the fish were moving anymore.
“Well, today we all become men,” Drew said, sliding down some of the knives the owner had left on the table for us. “We’ll gut these fish ourselves, fry em’ up, and eat the fruits of our labor before sundown.”
“Can I opt out of becoming a man?” Allie said, rubbing a hand over her hip. “I think my adoring public will disagree with that move.”
I shook my head and turned my attention to the table. I felt like a boy scout but picked up the knife. Being the goofball of the group, Bradley pretended his knife was a sword, poking at the air and receiving a scolding from drew.
“It’s way too easy to poke out an eye. Use it properly,” Drew said. “On second thought, just make sure you’re playing with that near Lacy.”
“Oh, yeah, real mature, Drew,” Lacy said.
Paul stood off to the side with his arms folded, watching us. Bradley was still the first to start cutting into the fish. It flopped, still alive, and he jumped a solid two feet into the air, throwing his knife over his shoulder.
“What in the—” he said, his animated face yielding a laugh from everyone.
“Oh, right,” Drew said. “You have to bludgeon them to death first.”
We all looked at him like he was crazy, but after watching him take his fish by the tail and beat it against the table, we all suddenly lost our appetite. After his fish was thoroughly bludgeoned, I tried my hand at it and felt guiltier than I’d ever felt before. I thought all the fish had died in the bucket, but apparently, they had just been stunned by lack of oxygen.
We all proceeded to beat and slice open our fish, and Bradley constantly complained about how traumatizing the whole ordeal was. For once I agreed with him wholeheartedly, but when all the meat had been put in a pile drew started up the grill. The smell of the cooking fish pushed all our anxiety and guilt to the side, and when it was done, we all got back on the pontoon.
Matt was the one to lay out the picnic blanket, but only Caroline and Allison sat down on it. The rest of us sat around it. We had some apples and peanut butter to pair with our meat, but that’s all we could afford at the time, so the fish were really the main course.
Drew had to run up to the owner’s house before we cast off, and he grabbed us a little salt. Back on the boat we cast off and dug in. It had been traumatizing, but the day ended up being one of the more pleasant ones. I didn’t always see myself as close to my team, but on this day I felt like we were all good friends.