With fishing rods in our hands, my youngest son, Michael, and I waded toward the salt marsh. Our attention was immediately drawn to the sunrise, a spectacular orange ball that hung just above a pale blue horizon. Bathed in the sun’s soft glow, I had a hunch this was going to be a beautiful morning. Just a short distance into the cool marsh waters we were greeted by a gathering of bleached-white egrets that stood out against the green of the spartina grass. The wily birds let us walk close to them, paying us no attention as they feasted on minnows. There was also a small flock of white ibises with their proud necks and curved beaks. Looking east toward the river the sun glistened on the rippled water like diamonds dancing. To our right there was marshland as far as the eye could see. The marsh grass was undulating in the breeze like waves on the ocean. It was already a beautiful day and we had yet to put a hook in the water.
After wading in the rising tidewaters up to our knees, we prepared our hooks with the likeness of the redfish’s favorite meal: mullet. We could see and hear the distinctive presence of mullet all around us as they jumped sometimes a foot out of the water. Their splash posed a distraction, until you trained your ear to hear another kind of splash – that of a six-pound redfish thrashing gently in the water. Michael taught me to look, not only for the tail fin of the red waving back and forth, but to read the water for the tell-tale out-of-place wave that sometimes looks like a very small submarine just under the water.
Because redfish are sensitive to the slightest foreign sound, we had to stalk them, moving silently through the water like cats sneaking up on a mouse. When we would cast, our lure had to touch the surface quietly or the fish would turn and bolt heading for safety, making a tremendous splash. Michael’s first cast hit the water like an award-winning belly flop, causing the prize to turn and run. Laughing at himself, my 33 year old son smiled and showed me the offending weighted hook. A lighter hook solved the problem.
The marshlands, just north of Charleston, were blessed with several small islands not far from a broad river. We slowly made our way toward the higher ground looking for the slightest sign of redfish. It was difficult to walk in some places because with every step the pluff-mud underfoot would become soft, pulling our shoes deep into its gooey embrace. Once on the island, we could move more freely. I had a hunch the marsh grass closer to the river would be a perfect spot for a redfish to feed, but this day that was not so. The waters were beautiful but benign.
As I walked back to investigate the side of the island facing land, I heard a splash that peaked my interest.
“Did you hear that?” I asked Michael excitedly.
“Go see,” he said.
Looking down I spied a pool of water that was a churning caldron of fins circling and splashing.
“Michael, come. Look!”
Okay, I will.
Just to be safe, I cast my line about 20 feet beyond the commotion in the water. I reeled in the bait and carefully placed it the middle of the swirling water. After a few seconds, thump, thump…..thump. Thump! I raised the rod tip and reeled gently taking the slack out of the line. Suddenly the fish shot forward like an arrow from a bow causing my drag to scream in protest, allowing the fish to take my line but not break it. My heart quickened as the huge red tugged at the line again and again causing the tip of the rod to shudder violently with his every move.
“You got one!” Michael shouted excitedly. “Walk toward him into the water.”
We made our way down into the marsh grass and I patiently reeled the fish into reach and Michael with hands of experience secured the prize and removed the circle hook from the side of its mouth. He laid the fish on the bank. It measured 26 inches long. He handed it to me and took a quick picture.
“Way to go, Dad!” Michael was all smiles. I could see the excitement in his eyes. He had said all along that he wanted me to catch a fish. “Did you see there were two reds in the pool? When you hooked one, the other took off and headed for deep water.”
I never saw the other red. But when I thought about it, I began to laugh inside. As we headed back across the marsh, the words of Isaiah came to mind:
“What eye has not seen, no has ear heard or has entered the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
I had walked the marsh for almost an hour and briefly saw the tail fin of one solitary redfish, only to stumble upon two reds frolicking in a pool. Outlandish. Too good to be true.
But was it more than just beginner’s luck? I choose to see this catch as a surprising gift from the same Lord who took great pleasure in showing his disciples where the fish were. The Gospels record that Jesus gifted his disciples twice in this manner on the Sea of Galilee. A surprising and stupendous catch each time.
Am I foolish to think that God would prepare such a surprise? I certainly don’t deserve any special blessings. I’m just an ordinary, occasional fisherman. Was it just a coincidence? Frederick Buechner, one of my heroes, claims that God uses coincidences to get our attention. Well, with the glorious sunrise, the beauty of the marshes, the water fowl, and the two redfish, God has captured my attention all over again.