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We all dream about winning the lottery and some of us fantasize about catching a goldfish that will grant us three wishes after we release it back into the water. You memorize your three wishes and sometimes debate over which one is most important. You also know that your chances are very slim if any of them will ever come true. The closest I came to the goldfish version of the fairy-tale was at Lake Simcoe near the Spirit Catcher. It was September 28, 2012, Friday afternoon around six o'clock when I drove to the lake with my youngest son Thomas. We threw our lines in and tried to catch one of the tagged perch that was valued from five hundred to ten thousand dollars. I have been fishing for decades and was always excited to prepare the fishing rod for the first cast. I was indifferent this time. I felt that I had an obligation to go and take my son even if fishing was the last thing on my mind on that day. The festival was running from September 21 to September 30 and just as we decided that the entire family should enter the contest, my wife Judit became ill on September 22. First, we thought it was just the flu and it will go away but the illness quickly progressed into an advanced stage of cellulitis, a serious and potentially life-threatening disease. She has received treatment and intravenous antibiotics for about a week and was hardly out of the woods when she decided that even being in the hospital couldn't hold us back from registering for the event. I was scheduled to work for ten hours a day at the same time when the tournament was running and had no chance to take any time off except for hospital visits. Fishing was a luxury, I could not even think about it; all I had on my mind all day is how to help my wife to get better and to take care of my kids. We don’t have any family nearby and even the kids stayed home from school to help, the entire family was in battle mode. We had to beat the disease. As soon as I went home, I have prepared meals for the next day and cleaned as much as I could. The first meal I made was chicken soup, schnitzel, mashed potatoes, and salad. Something must have been in the chicken soup or the medication because despite all of the problems my wife has decided to enter our family into the contest. She filled out the registration forms in between intravenous treatments. Her decision did not make any sense to me and I let her know about it in no uncertain terms. I didn’t think that she was thinking straight.
I drove to Lake Simcoe after work, where my youngest son, Thomas joined me for the shortest fishing trip we ever had. The contest was over for Friday at seven o’clock that evening. We had an hour to catch a tagged perch and I was still not in the mood for fishing. I looked miserable, I felt miserable, but I baited my size two pickerel rig with worms and threw my line in. Thomas was fishing next to me and in fifteen minutes, we have pulled out two sunfish, a bass and three perch without tags. When I threw my line in again, I felt an unusually aggressive strike and set the hook. When I reeled in the fish and noticed the inch-long orange tag on it, I was so surprised that I did not believe my eyes for a few seconds. The fish was not much longer than the tag, about 5 inches, just a baby. I felt sorry for it to wear a tag at such a young age. Several anglers were fishing around the same spot and I had the feeling that they were sight fishing for the tagged perch. That yellow tag was visible in the clear water, which was only 10 feet deep at the spot. I didn't want to scream about my catch and give away the location where the tagged fish was caught, just in case there is another one. I really wanted my kids to catch one. Especially, Peter, he was fishing the whole week, almost every afternoon. He had the best chance to catch a tagged perch. The other reason I stayed quiet because I didn't want to disappoint the other anglers and let them know that I pulled out the tagged fish that they were after the whole afternoon.
I took the fish off the hook and was holding it in my left hand; I knew I would need my right arm to pack up as fast as I could.
“Thomas let's pack up and go,” I said to my son in a stern voice.
“But why daddy we just came?” he complained. We had no time to fish all week and now we are packing up after fifteen minutes. That’s just plain crazy.
Let's go let's go let's go! I said even more decisively with the tagged fish in my hand. The bait bucket filled with water was eight feet down by the pier and I needed to put the fish in water as soon as possible. I could not put the fish down or pull up the bucket with one hand.
“Can we stay a bit longer?” asked Thomas.
“No, we have to leave right now!” I said and I have already had my backpack loaded. I grabbed the extra fishing rods.
“Pull up the bait bucket,” I said to Thomas. The fish was out of water for about a minute at this point. We had to act fast. You cannot enter a dead fish to win a prize. My son reluctantly followed my command. The fish bucket must have weighed ten pounds with all the water and a dozen fish in it. The bucket was on a thin rope and was difficult to pull out but he did it in a few seconds, which seemed like hours, while the fish was flopping around in my hand. When the yellow bucket was on the rocks, I quickly opened the lid and put the perch into the water. The fish was so small that Thomas didn't even notice when it slid into the bucket.
“Can we stay longer?” He pleaded again and it was time to convince him with a reason that would justify this panic-stricken departure.
“Come on, let's go fast!” I said,” I know where the tagged perch is.” Of course, I knew where it was. It was already in my bucket. I had made the announcement with such a conviction that he believed me and we started running toward the blue doors of the Cadet’s building, where you had to report your catch.
“I caught a tagged perch Thomas,” I said as I was speeding up my steps. “It’s in the bucket.”
“Really?” he asked with a tone of voice that revealed, he was questioning my sanity. He was fishing right next to me the whole time and I landed the fish in a second. Everything happened so fast, that he never even saw the tagged fish and now we are running. Nothing made sense to him. We fell into the cadets building, out of breath, surprised, confused and happy. I was convinced that you have to fish the whole week, preferably from six in the morning to seven in the evening to have the slightest chance of catching and deserving a tagged fish. In other words, you have to work for it hard.
I had spent about fifteen minutes and somehow didn’t think that I deserved my prize.
“I caught a tagged perch.” I made the announcement and reached into the bucket to retrieve my prized possession.
“Let’s see if it's this year's tag,” said Bruce one of the organizers and the person who had tagged all the fish. I carefully lifted the perch, which fit into the palm of my hand.
“You caught it?” asked Bruce looking at Thomas. Judging by the size of the fish it made perfect sense that probably the smaller person caught the tiny fish. Thomas looked at me and I would have loved nothing more than to say that he caught the fish but the truth was…
“I caught it,” I said to Bruce.
“ Isn't it exciting?” He asked with the biggest smile on his face.
“It is amazing”. I answered and held the fish gently so the organizers can take pictures of us and our lucky catch. It was frisky as I was holding it in both hands, forming a cup. It was a good sign; I knew it is going to survive this adventure when we release it back into the lake. I could just imagine the stories she will tell for her kids and grandkids about the day that she was caught and released. Bruce had removed the tag, we snapped a few quick pictures and then I put the fish it back into the water. Its mouth opened and closed again just before I have released it, near the spirit catcher, but I didn't pay attention. Even if it was ready to grant me the other two wishes, I was satisfied that my only and reluctant wish has been granted. I had caught a five hundred dollar tagged perch.
My wife is getting better and I shared the prize with everyone in my family. Erika has invested in a new guitar Thomas is enjoying a new DSI and Peter, of course, bought more fishing stuff. Judit and I are currently deciding how to spend our share. She definitely deserves hers. She had convinced me against all odds to enter the contest and to prove that fishing is more than just a hobby or sport. It can bring you joy and happiness to you and to your family and if you listen carefully, you might discover that your other wishes can come true too. I would like to send out a heartfelt thank you to the organizers of the Barrie Fall Fishing Festival especially to Bruce and Mike for entertaining and encouraging my kids throughout the event. You bet that we will be on the water again next year to collect more prizes. The bar is set high; everyone wants to catch a tagged perch. I will see you on the water. The jumbos are moving in…