We grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas and my family had a lovely 1960s condo on Lake Hamilton.
At seven, Liz was our beautiful blond brutal dictator, I was the goofy looking six year old and Mikey was a scrawny tough ass five year old who would bow up on a bus or throw down with a bear. He was too stupid or stubborn to realize he only weighed fifty pounds. Mike thought he was Tarzan and Cold Stone Steve Austin rolled up in a taco with hot sauce. At five he was a hard core bad ass.
We were young but together we were formidable and frightening, full of really bad ideas and virtually unsupervised for weeks at a time. At my house the only adult who ever attempted to keep an eye on us was Louella, our friend and maid for more than thirty years.
There was a lady who lived at the end of our boardwalk named Mrs. Williams. Every day at four she would lovingly feed all her “pet” fish in Lake Hamilton. She tossed out hand fulls of corn and bread then watched as schools of fish appeared. There was one massive, elephant sized catfish who showed up every afternoon, named Big Willie. He was nearly as long as a baseball bat and as fat as a foot ball. This guy was beautiful. And Mrs. Williams loved him.
Liz, Mike and I were not allowed to fish anywhere near her end of the boardwalk but one day…Mrs Williams went on vacation.
Brown and barefooted, wearing nothing but groovy swimsuits, we hauled our fishing gear to the end of the boardwalk ten minutes after Mrs. Williams backed out of her parking spot.
Mikey bounced up and down on his skinny little legs as we watched the fish circling under the dark water. We threw in a hand full of corn and the fish went crazy. Lake Hamilton boiled with fishy action.
Liz packed a piece of hot dog and a bread ball onto a hook and dropped the line in. Mikey and I were lying on our bellies, staring at the fish. Then it happened. The line went taunt and Liz sarted saying, “Holy crap, holy crap.” Reeling hard, Liz leaned back and Mike and I jumped to our feet. Instantly,we realized she had hooked Big Willie on the first try. It was unbelievable She cranked on the reel and we saw the massive gray fish rise to the surface then pull back on the line. The reel screamed. We were no match with out K-Mart Rod and Reel. Big Willie pulled line like a yo-yo. Liz screamed at Mike, “get the net, Michael Clark get the damn net!”
The net was taller than Mike, but he snatched it up then stared into the water, waiting for his chance to scoop up Big Willie. Liz made an executive decision, we couldn’t wait any longer. She shoved five year old Mikey into the lake and started screaming at him. “Scoop him up, Mike. Catch him.”
I helped her hold the rod as the fish tried to get away from Mike, his net and kicking legs. There was fishing line, splashing, screaming and then suddenly Mike yelled, “He’s in!”
Tiny Mike tried to hold the net up as he treaded water but the fish weighed too much. Liz dropped the pole and stretched out on the boardwalk to grab the net. She pulled the net and the gigantic fish onto the hot wooden planks while I helped 50 pound Mike out of the water.
Liz had Big Willie, flopping furiously in the net. His catfish mouth gaped open, he looked so angry and slimy. His whiskers were at least three inches long and we had no idea what to do with the monster. The hook poked though his cheek and the bread ball was still on the hook in his mouth. His eyes rolled in our direction and we all stepped back.
Liz pushed Mike. “Get the hook out.”
“Hell no. He’ll get me .”
“You get the hook out,” I said to Liz. She looked at me as thought I was made of cat poop and stupid. Then she picked up the net, we had to help her. And we walked toward my condo as Big Willie flopped.
Finally, we got Willie back to the condo. Liz looked at me. “We can put him in the bathtub right? He’ll be ok.”
I nodded stupidly.
Then we smuggled Big Willie into the condo, we made it upstairs to the bathroom. I filled the bathtub with cold water and Mike leaned against the door so Louella couldnt’ push it open Finally, it was full. Mikey held the net as Liz and I raised the fishing pole Big Willie was still attached to.
We got him out of the net into the gleaming white tub. And for a little while, we all held the pole and watched him swim slowly around the tub. The hook was poking out of his face and he was tethered to our pole but he didnt seem to mind
Ginally Mike stepped into the bathtub and started laughing as the big fish swam past his leg. Liz and I got in too and we giggled like maniacs as Big Willie swam between and past our legs. Liz had the reel, then let line out, we picked up our feet so the line wouldn’t get tangled. We laughed so hard Mike started peeing in the tub. The we laughed even harder…until Louella walked in.
It was terrible. She screamed until my Mom arrived. We had to take Willie to the lake, cut the line and let him go. Then I got a spanking and I’m pretty sure I could hear Liz and Mike laughing in the next room.
It was a great day