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Miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, off Port Aransas, it hit. A massive fish just about yanked my puny 10-year-old self off the boat. For nearly 20 minutes I fought. Then, suddenly, there it was: a 48-inch king mackerel—not hooked, mind you, but lassoed and dragged tail-first to the surface. As my father and I helplessly watched the line unravel and the fish sink into the ocean depths, I had no idea my disappointment would be tempered in the years to come by the story that that kingfish left behind. With every telling, the fight would grow longer, the fish larger.

Dad, in the hours and summers between his job teaching high school, worked as a freelance photojournalist covering the outdoors. So we fished together…a lot, the gentle silence of nature occasionally punctuated by the buzz of a reel drag straining under the weight of a catch—or, of course, the animated retelling of our fish tales.

There was the time Dad was hit square in the chest by a mullet and knocked clear off his deck chair as he and a friend sped across Lake Houston; the time a group of old fishermen grumbled when I landed the biggest speckled trout of the night purely by accident; the time we spied a 15-foot hammerhead shark, doing some fishing of its own, floating just below the night lights of a friend’s 17-foot Boston Whaler off Galveston’s north jetty (we decided to mosey along).

Passed between fishing buddies on hot summer afternoons over a cold beer, among fellow anglers at lakeside bait shops in hazy pre-dawn spring mornings, and quietly from father to son just before bed, these were the fairy tales of my childhood, these were my bedtime stories. My dad is gone now, as are those almost-weekly trips to lakes, rivers, and bays across Texas, squelched by life’s frantic pace and pangs of loss I still feel every time I put a line in the water without him. But the tales live on.

Got a great fish tale of your own?

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