Upon Receiving The California Department of Fish and Wildlife Angler Update

by Lynn Mundell


Memory is like fishing. Out of the murk it swims, we pull it up, keeping even what’s too small to sustain us. In May the new motor fell into the Pacific and we floated, you and I, waiting to be towed. I carry an image of our catch hooked to the links of the heavy silver stringers until they made strange necklaces, the bass like charms, following our boat back to land. You said you’d never seen anything like it, the way the mullet jumped out of the ocean all around us that afternoon. I recall little of that day. The rest you told me. All I know for sure is that I had a bucket hat with a real starfish sewn onto it. That when I was a kid you sometimes fried up fish for breakfast.


Summers on Shasta Lake we’d reach the limit but keep fishing anyway, returning the bluegill to their home so we could delay returning to ours. You’d bring the poles, tackle, bait. Fluorescent salmon eggs, writhing worms, bobbers like miniature red beach balls. I could learn it all later. What fish like to eat. How to unsnag from the rocks. Failing that, how to snip and re-tie the line. Being on the water was this: Coors and sandwiches in the white cooler. Sun on our backs. The old boat rocking like a cradle. Those days like my deck of playing cards picturing a single boat on a tree-rimmed lake. Identically perfect. Thumbed over time. I know I was adrift then, uncertain of place and purpose. By handing me the pole, you were telling me to hang on, and I did.


You’d finally sell the boat, but for many years it was parked in the driveway, as though saying a fisherman is beached here. In early September you’d read the salmon updates, then call Dave or Tim to take us out on the Sacramento for a day. Their tackle; their favorite spots to wait. At dawn the river was cool, black, and empty. By the hot afternoon, blue-gray and crowded like a paved road. But despite it all, the familiar tug of the line, bent pole, screech of the reel. Sometimes I’d lose my fish. But you never did, rising up out of your seat, an old man grown strong again. In the last photograph, you hold the big salmon by its gills, your freckled hand stuffed into it until I can’t tell where the fish begins and you end.


Once I caught an old trout, battered like your big body would become over time. Gold and rose, with brown spots, grand in its own fashion. When you gutted the fish, you showed me its scarred mouth, someone else’s rusted hook deep in its belly. How many others caught that fish, then saw it break away. Some creatures fight harder to live than others do. In November you finally began to gasp for air, retreating to the lake, the river, the water. In the ICU, I closed your eyes. You spent so many years teaching me how to fish, while showing me other things, too. Where to cast out for our stories. How to be the vessel that would bring them from the sea even after you were gone.

Originally published in Under the Gum Tree. Click here to read Lynn’s reflection on writing about caregiving.

Lynn Mundell’s writing has appeared in Tin House, Five Points, The Masters Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her fiction chapbook Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us is available from the University of South Carolina. Lynn is co-founder of 100 Word Story and editor of Centaur, a literary journal dedicated to hybrid writing launching in spring 2023.

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