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by Frederick Pfister | May 4, 2022 | FISHING, FRESHWATER
Dead Fish Tell No Lies


To think that this box might hold Harry’s legendary Atlantic salmon was too much for the club members to bear.
Postmortem jurisprudence. I believe that’s what they call it. This “executor of a will” responsibility is indeed an objectionable bit of business.

“Damn it, Harry,” I said as I folded the document and slipped it into my coat pocket. I was completely surprised when I read the letter at the law offices of Baker, Hohns and Baker. It was apparent that the late Harold F. Johnson, former friend, fishing partner and club member had requested that I be the executor of the sporting portion of his will. In his brief letter Harry requested that I divide his collection of hunting and fishing equipment among our club members, and he asked only that I perform my task fairly.

“Fritz, I have chosen you for this job because I know that you won’t let me down.”

Harry had died suddenly, but happily. He had to have been happy. He was doing what he loved to do most of all — fishing for Atlantic salmon on the George River in Quebec. And although it proved to be his last fishing trip, at least it had been a lucky one.

The night before he died, Harry telephoned us at the club. Certainly he was not calling all the way from Canada just to apologize for missing our monthly meeting. As Harry told it, he had caught a mammoth Atlantic salmon. The fish weighed nothing less than 33 pounds and was easily the biggest salmon taken from the river in recent years. Harry said that the fish made a spectacular run, stripping line off his reel, swam in circles, sounded, repeated the performance for the better part of an hour and then succumbed to the net. A local Canadian taxidermist had volunteered to mount the record fish and would be shipping it to Harry’s house as soon as it was completed.

“You should see this fish,” exclaimed Harry. “It’s longer than a pulled leg.”

“I don’t believe a word of it,” cried Thomas as he hung up the phone. “Harry’s lying about this fish like he lied about all of the others. He always calls with stories of record catches and strings of fish. But have we seen any of ’em? ever! Just wait until Harry gets back. He’ll have another wild tale about what happened to his record fish en route to the taxidermist. You mark my word. I don’t believe a word of it.”

When it came to stretching the truth, Harry was better than the best and he was never without a tall tale to tell when he returned from a fishing trip.

You see, it was Harry who first introduced me to the fraternal oath of all fishermen. Never be caught telling the whole truth about how big or how many fish were caught. Always lie about the catch.

The day after he called us from Canada, Harry died of a heart attack while fishing. An understandable wave of grief ran through our club when we received the word. But we knew that he would have preferred to go the way he did. You could say that Harry died with his waders on.

But there was another element to our anxiety — Harry’s fish. With Harry gone, how would we ever know whether or not he had really caught his record salmon? We all knew him to be a top-notch fisherman. And so, we eagerly awaited the arrival of his mounted salmon, secretly knowing that it was just possible he had caught the fish. It’ true that the only thing at which Harry was more proficient than fishing was lying about fishing. But with Harry gone, how would we ever know?

About six months after the funeral, I arranged to meet his niece at Harry’s old house. There were a few final items which needed to be retrieved from the attic and disbursed to friends.

I must admit that the business at hand could have been attended to at some later date. But a rumor was out that a wooden box had arrived from Canada addressed to Harry, and that his niece had ushered the crate into the attic where it sat to this very day.

To think that this box might hold Harry’s legendary Atlantic salmon was too much for the club members to bear. There was talk of breaking into Harry’s house to rip open the crate and reveal the truth which we all longed to know. After all, a record salmon given up by the George River in Quebec can play strange tricks on the mind. Besides, this was no ordinary fish; this was Harry’s fish.

Fearful of where this irrational thinking might lead, I volunteered, as executor of Harry’s sporting will, to solve the mystery of the unopened crate and relay to my fellow club members an appropriate description including, if applicable, the length and weight inscribed.

By the time I arrived, Harry’s niece, Diane, was already busy sorting things out. It was the first time that I had actually met her, although we had conversed by phone quite often over the past few months. She was a pleasant girl, married, with a family living in Fayetteville.

We exchanged social pleasantries and suffered the usual nervous small talk as I helped her carry a number of large clothing boxes into the garage. After moving the last of Harry’s clothing, we sat down on the back porch while I took a moment to smoke my pipe.

“There is something that I must tell you,” she volunteered. “Uncle Harry didn’t speak often about his friends or business associates, but he did mention your name when visiting us last Christmas.”

“Oh ?” I said.

“Yes, he was describing his latest fishing adventure on which you had accompanied him and he simply referred to you as ‘a fishing companion indeed.’

“Harry said that the only man who caught more fish than he caught was you,” (in truth, neither of us had caught any) “and that you were one of the few individuals who truly understood the nature of the sport.

“Harry thought highly of you and I am sure that is the reason he chose you to help me assign what he left behind.”

Her accounting of our friendship so reminded me of the man who was no longer with us that I became rather melancholy and decided to retire to the local pub to reminisce about past fishing experiences with Harry. All the while his words kept ringing in my ears,” ” . . . a fishing companion indeed . . . truly understood the nature of the sport.”

I left Harry’s house without violating the mysterious crate containing his alleged salmon. I simply no longer felt the need to validate his catch. I didn’t even enter the attic to confirm that the crate was there.

Well, I had been drinking Harry’s favorite libation, scotch on the rocks, for a long evening which seemed quite short, when in from the cold winter night came the club members making fast tracks toward my table. Shaking off the cold, each ordered a drink and then stared intently at my face, anxiously awaiting my report.

“Well, man, come on,” urged Thomas. “Did you see the fish?”

Staring across the room, a faint smile came across my face as I contemplated the fisherman’s fraternal oath, taught to me by Harry himself.

“Yes,” I answered, and the club members fell back in their seats. “The fish is 33, maybe 34 pounds, and longer than a pulled leg. Its color is a most mysterious blue-black dorsally with radiant silver sides. He has a crooked jaw sporting a Jock Scott I recognized as one of Harry’s ties. The fish had been sea-run, wild and free and if Harry were here today, he would want you all to see his fish in all of the splendor with which he described it to us, his closest friends.”

To this day I carry the torch, the legacy that Harry left me as executor of his sporting will.

Harry, you old liar, I hope I haven’t let you down.
 
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All dead fish do is stink.
 

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