The Fisherman’s Catch
A Wee Fable By John Paul Tucker
There once was a fisherman who depended on no one but himself.
“I’ve courted my wife and won her hand;
I’ve built my own house and tamed the land;
I’ve fathered plenty of children for my family tree,
And a finer fishing boat you’ll never see!”
Such was what he always said – and all the villagers agreed; there was ne’er a man as self-sufficient as he!
One day, as he had often done before, the fisherman – who depended on no one but himself – sailed far out to sea to see what he could catch; and whenever the fisherman ventured out to sea, he would not return until he caught something unusually big.
When he fished, the fisherman favoured single, strong lines, for as he had always said himself, “It feels like I’m doin’ the fishin’!” So the fisherman baited his lines and cast his hopes over the gunwale into the sea.
He did not wait long before his first line snapped taut and the fisherman drew in his catch; a tiny fish wriggled and danced upon his line.
“Ah, my little roe,” laughed the fisherman. “I must needs let you go. But do come back when you decide to grow!”
No sooner had the fisherman let the wee fish go, the bow of his boat suddenly heaved. The fisherman plucked up his line. It was all he could do to keep it from running away into the sea; but then, as suddenly as the it began, the struggle stopped.
“What sort of fish is this?” the fisherman thought. “It must be as large as a full grown bull, yet it doesn’t dive or as much as pull.”
The fisherman caught his breath. Slowly and steadily he drew in his line. Then, it appeared! It was as large a fish as ever the fisherman saw!
Scarcely daring to move the fisherman seized his gaff and when he was about to set his hook in the fish’s side, the great fish opened up its mouth and spoke!
“OH Fisherman, OH Fisherman!”
The fisherman stood still as stone and gazed back at the fish.
“Fisherman, fisherman!” the great fish sounded.
The fisherman stood for a moment – blinking. Then, he shook his head as if to clear a fog and carried on as if he hadn’t heard a thing. He took up his gaff and stretched it out over the fish to hook his catch.
The great fish bellowed, “Fisherman!”
The fisherman froze. “Me?” the fisherman squeaked.
“Shaken, beckon, broken, bubbles.
For a fisherman troubles, troubles!
His life, he thinks, is in his own hands,
But he is only shifting sand, shifting sand.”
“What’s this?” interrupted the fisherman, who was regaining his confidence.
“I’ve courted my wife and won her hand,
I’ve built my own house and tamed the land,
I’ve fathered plenty of children for my family tree,
And a finer fishing boat you’ll never see!
And as for you, dear fish, upon my line you’re hooked; and after that you’ll soon be cooked!”
The great fish suddenly rose up from the sea, spat out the fisherman’s hook and as soft as a sea breeze whispered, “It’s pride that comes before a fall and kneeling after you’ve grown tall.”
The fish plunged back into the sea and in an instant it was gone. The fisherman clutched the side of his boat and peered into the deep.
With one hand the fisherman rubbed his stomach round and round and with the other he cupped his forehead as if he had a fever. “It must have been my food,” said the fisherman aloud. “I’ve heard of this sort of thing before; the poison jumps straight from the belly into the brains and makes you see strange sights! I must be off to home at once; to safety and a cure!”
But before the fisherman could set his sail, a dark line spread across the horizon; and before you could say “foolish fisherman” the storm was upon him.
Tried as he might, the fisherman could not hold his boat steady and it reeled and tossed upon the sea.
Then the frightened fisherman did something he had never done before. The fisherman, who depended on no one but himself, lifted his face to heaven.
“Please, God,” he prayed; “See me safely home.”
When the fisherman awoke he was lying on his back amid a tangle of ropes and fishing lines. He gazed up into a brilliant blue sky. He struggled to sit up and laying his hand across his brow to shadow his eyes, the fisherman looked first one way, then the other. He saw the coastline that he knew was home.
It did not take long for everyone in the village to hear his tale, but curiously, the fisherman did not speak about the talking fish, nor did he mention his prayer. I’m afraid that if you had heard the account yourself you would have thought it much more of a tale than the truth. Yet still – for the first time in his life, the fisherman was thankful to be alive, to someone other than himself.
Time passed and the fisherman’s tale grew and grew. It swelled in the parts where the fisherman had to wrestle with the wind and keep his boat steady in the mountainous waves, as it withered in the parts where he was frightened, and weak, and lost.
But it was not long after that the fisherman ventured once again, far out upon the sea to catch more unusually large fish. And before a year had passed, the talking fish and the wild storm had drifted far from his mind. And so it came to pass, on a day like many others, the fisherman sailed his boat out to sea and set his lines for another catch.
He had not finished his first fishing song before his first line snapped tight and gave a stiff tug. The fisherman drew in his line. A fish, much too little for the likes of this fisherman, wiggled and wriggled upon his hook. The fisherman gave it a tickle, lowered it to the water and set it free.
As the fisherman watched the little fish flicker into the depths, a large shadow passed beneath his boat. The fisherman stood straight as a mast, as if he had seen a ghost. His second line plucked tight and the bow of his boat dipped.
Whether it was the heave of the boat, or the weight of the line, or the passing shadow, all at once the fisherman remembered the great talking fish.
Slowly the fisherman pulled in his line, and before he had finished another thought he was looking into the watery deep eye of a great fish.
The fisherman reached to his belt and took out his knife.
“I’ll be hearing from no more fish!” he shouted. And he reached down and cut his line.
But the great fish stayed where it was and ever so slowly as it sank back into the sea, it said, “First pride… then the fall, kneeling after you’ve grown tall.”
There the fisherman stood, gazing into the sea for what seemed a very long time. But then, he remembered the storm.
“I’ll not be caught unawares this time!” he said, and the fisherman prepared his boat for yet another storm. He tied and tightened, and fastened and secured; and when he had at last wrestled into his oil-coat to shun the rain, the fisherman waited.
He had even tied himself to the boat! “If the boat overturns, it will float and I will float with it!” he thought triumphantly.
But there was no sign of a storm and so the fisherman waited.
He waited and waited…all was very still.
There the fisherman stood for the rest of that day in his raincoat, looking as if he were in the middle of a furious storm, but on a perfectly calm sea with a gentle blue sky and the happy sun blazing brilliantly overhead.
One day passed and then the next. The fisherman was growing thirsty.
“No wind – no waves – Nothing!” thought the fisherman.
“This can be nothing but a drought!” he shouted. And if there was not a storm upon the sea one raged now, in the fisherman’s mind.
“I’ll not give in,” he whispered. “Never!”
The fisherman set his sail and waited for the wind. But the wind had gone; And the sail sagged, and the sea rolled and sighed, and the fisherman grew thirstier and thirstier; and the thirstier he got, the more bitter he became.
“Fish…Fish!” he rasped, “You haven’t caught me yet! I’ll find a way! Watch and see!”
The fisherman flopped down inside his boat in a coil of rope.
One thought rolled over the fisherman’s mind like waves. “Pride comes before a fall and kneeling after you’ve grown tall.”
Two days passed, and now the fisherman was out of water and out of words. The fisherman, who depended on no one but himself, was dying.
The image of the great fish filled his mind.
At last the fisherman propped himself up at the side of his boat, peered down into the sea and croaked, “Fish…Fish! Here I shall die – upon my own boat that my own hands have made!”
In a rage the fisherman stood up, raised his arms and shook his fists, but then he fainted for lack of water and fell into the sea.
His strength was gone. Without a struggle he drifted deeper and deeper into the sea.
“My end has come,” he thought. “Deliver me… and forgive my pride.”
It is with awe that I can tell you that the fisherman woke up lying in his own bed, his wife and children by his side, eagerly looking over him.
“You see!” exclaimed his wife. “He lives! He lives!”
She clutched his face. ”Oh husband!” she cried. “You’re alive!”
And all the fisherman’s family and all the fisherman’s friends raised a cheer!
Yes, the fisherman was alive and very happy to be alive, indeed! He thanked God for his life; he thanked God for his bed and his children and his wife; his friends, his house, the sky and sea.
“Oh husband,” said his wife. “Three days ago we found you on the beach.”
“Oh?” replied the fisherman.
“Yes,” said his wife, looking towards their family and friends. “You were lying beside a great fish, the likes of which no one has ever seen – and there you were, clutching its dorsal fin. Everyone in the village is saying it was your greatest catch and you wouldn’t let it go. They’re saying you are the greatest fisherman the village has ever known!”
“No!” the fisherman cried out. He turned his face away and wept.
“The great fish,” he sobbed. “It saved me…” His voice shrank to a whisper. “It saved me.”
The fisherman explained all that had happened and it was a good thing, for the people in the village had planned to stuff and roast that great fish to celebrate the fisherman’s return. The fisherman’s wife stopped them in time and, at her request, presented the great fish to the fisherman to do with it what he wished.
The fisherman laid the great fish in his cart, hauled it to his boat, which the villagers had recovered, and sailed out to sea along with his wife and children. He and his wife and children lifted the great fish and gently lay it on the water, then the fisherman turned away as it began to sink.
His children watched as the fish drifted down into the sea.
The fisherman gazed over the side of his boat and beheld, far below, a great fish swimming into the deep.
So ends the tale of The Fisherman’s Catch, and remember…
But faithful are the wounds of a friend!”