We take a step back as a man tosses a 30 inch carp up onto the gravel road next to us. It flops around, gasping for air. My son says, “Wow”, and the four year old girl I am babysitting says, “Yucky”. Then my two year old mimics them both and says, “wowyucky”.
We ended up here because while in route to the playground, my curious mind and slight fishing addiction got the best of me. I pulled up to the drainage ditch after I saw about 50 people swiping their nets in the water and throwing fish around like they were in the Seattle Marketplace. Its a bit embarrassing that I have three kids here amidst all of the chaos and fish murdering, but I saw fish in nets and I had to explore further…
“What are they doing?” my son asks me.
I quickly come up with an answer after watching briefly: “They are netting all of the fish because the water is going to dry up soon”.
A short elderly woman down the road is carrying a bucket to her truck and she yells in Chinese to a young man in the water something we cannot understand. I assume she is making fun of the ‘awkward lady bringing her kids to this fish fest’, but she was probably just telling him to fish harder.
Without inhibition, my kids run over to her bucket to see what she has caught; she has two carp and three large bass.
I don’t know if she can understand me, but I ask her if she is going to eat them.
“No, No, No!”, she says loudly as if I cannot understand her…
“For Kitty. For Kitty!”
I smile and say thank you for letting my kids look and she walks away briskly, signaling the conversation is over. My kids sit at the edge of the road peering down into the water that is swarming with fish trying to escape the nets. A group of men are lined up on the bridge, watching over the happenings and spitting their chew dip into the murky water below them.
A younger Hispanic woman and her daughter are netting fish together next to a white man that looks like Joe Dirt and another man who looks like he could be a FBI agent (categorize people much? Sheesh). The mom grabs the fish by the gills and slams them onto the rocks like a pro wrestler, and then the daughter scoops them up and puts them in the bucket. The men chase the fish like they are in a pig wrestling contest at the fair.
My oldest son eventually notices and asks me why they are killing all of the fish. I reply,
“The water has been cut off to this canal so these fish will die anyways. They are going to eat the fish instead of letting them go to waste”. He says, “Its kind of sad and cool”.
And he is right: the scene is a dichotomy of horror and glee, with dead fish bodies and blood splashing along the shore, and a mix of people from various ethnicities, and ages, up to their knees in muddy water catching fish and all smiling.
My youngest child starts to throw rocks at the fish in the water. I threaten him with time-out, but then the other kids join in. I take a moment and laugh at myself- as I start to say outloud ‘Don’t throw the rocks at the dead fish’….What kind of mom takes their kids to a fish slaying instead of the park?
I can’t stop the rock throwing game, and feel so bad for the fish that are even more terrorized by the boulders they have to dodge, so reluctantly stop the strange field trip we are on and I load the kids back in the car to go home for nap time.
***(sorry this isn’t the end of the story yet…ok this is like an intermission of the story. Get some water, take a quick nap if you have to, but come back and finish it)***
The images of those fish were stuck in my mind for the rest of the day. I was thinking about how we could rescue them from the drying up water system. I was glad they were being harvested, but would they all be taken or would some be left to boil in the shallow water and scorching sun?
So after dinner I find a way to coax my family back to the drainage ditch- (gosh Im sounding even weirder when I am writing this out). I guess I am only thinking of my own curiosity itch that needs to be scratched, but I also figure we could do something different this evening for a change. I put on my work out clothes like maybe we will go running, but when I grab my fish net my husband knows I’ve got something strange on my mind.
We make it to the ‘carp harvesting fest’ and the hordes of netters are gone. About two hundred carp are dead or taking their final last breaths along the shore. I look over at my daughter, who missed the first outing this morning, and she starts to look sad-
“Mom they are all dying…..(I think oh she is so sweet and then she says)…I wanted to at least eat a couple of them”.
But then she really does get sad when we point out the ones that are trapped in the last few stretches of water. I get a crazy idea and I run back to the car to grab my tiny trout net.
“What are you going to do now”, my husband asks while semi-rolling his eyes like ‘seriously?’.
“We are going to save a couple of fish and drive them to the lake”, I joyously announce.
We find a pink bucket in our car that is also tiny. The few harvesters left on site literally laugh out loud and point, but I’m going to make sure we leave this massacre scene in good spirits.
“OK, throw rocks at that end of this stretch of water and it will send the fish this way and I will net them”, I instruct. My husband is carrying the two year old because there are dead carp everywhere and he keeps trying to kick them with his flip flops. My daughter, son, and husband throw as many rocks as they can and it scares the fish right to me. I catch a huge carp on accident and dump it back in because only its tail would fit in our pink bucket. ‘Die peacefully’, I wish it, and let it go again. With the next scoop I get a sun fish. I frantically yell, “Get the bucket, get the bucket!!!”
My daughter brings it over and I dump it in. The second it gets in the bucket it starts to roll around.
“This one is going belly up”, my daughter yells. Without further thought, or consultation, she tosses it back in the water to die with the others.
After about fifteen minutes of throwing rocks, stabbing the water with my net and building baracades, I find myself up to my knees in the dead carp water, sweating, and more determined than ever. I notice a caddis hatch going on and think about getting my fly rod for this- but I know I already look too crazy. I even start talking to the fish, “Im trying to save you! Let me save you!”
Finally I catch a perch and a couple more sun fish (one goes belly up so I throw it back immediately). My husband says, “OK I think we are good to go here”, trying to signal me to stop the insanity. Then he takes it a step further and says,
“Kait, our kids are literally walking around in dead rotting fish with flip flops on, this can’t be sanitary”. I look around at all of the dead bodies and then look at the fish that keep swimming away from me….
“OK fine”, I reluctantly respond.
We load into the car and my husband holds the bucket out the window while I drive slowly down the dirt road (he is my hero). The black lab in the back seat is whining because we didn’t take him to the river. I ask every one minute about the fish- “Are they ok?” One starts to go belly up and we decide its from the warm water effects so we hold it up to the air conditioner. My daughter is smiling so proudly in the back and my son keeps saying we are the heroes of the day.
We get to the only section of the lake we can access and it is cluttered with litter, broken bottles, and condom wrappers. I want to scream at the world- who does this?!!!! I instruct the kids to be very careful and to follow me in every foot step. We make it down to the water and we say “you’re welcome” and ceremoniously empty the bucket in the water.
All of a sudden the lab piles down the hill into the water, right where we had put the fish in.
He had jumped out of my husband’s side window of our car, and past the busy street, to barrel down into the water… I look at the water and dotty (sunfish) was swimming a little bit sideways so when the kids weren’t looking I put some seaweed over her so they thought she swam off…hopefully she did after we left?
The dog is bouncing around, the toddler is kicking because he wants down, and my son starts crying because he tried to pick up some sand and glass pricked his finger. My husband tells him to wash it in the water and I tell him not to because of the filthy water! We fight about how to get the dog and all of our kids back in the car without him getting hit by the busy cars and without our kids getting stabbed by the glassy bits in the sand.
After a couple moments of raised voices and quick dashes, we make it in the car in one piece. (I get kind of crazy when saving fish- just ask my husband about how I rescued all of the baby fish out of the fish tank at our house and now call them my babies as they grow in a separate fish tank- weirdo, I know).
We sit quiet for a moment in the car, while the air conditioner blasts. Then my daughter brilliantly says,
“I think God is proud of us for being heroes today. I wish everyone took care of the lake and fish like we do.”
To baths, to bed….and hopefully to dream of gallant rescues instead of dying fish. Parenting at its finest- well I wouldn’t go that far, but I hope they remember the heroic parts of this adventure. 😉
Dear World- take better care of the water systems we get to enjoy, please.