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U3A Writing: Off The Hook

"Grandpa, why do you always fish here? The fish could be biting over there or downstream a bit."

"This is where old Eustace hangs out, and I know I will catch him one day. You have to be patient, Billy if you want to hook the big ones."

And old Eustace is there to teach Billy an important lesson, as this story by Meryl Nickels reveals.

Billy's grandfather lived close to the river - his river - the mighty Murray. He had been a riverboat man in his youth. Billy's Dad said that Grandpa had river water instead of blood in his veins. He loved fishing and would spend hours in his boat, tied up to the huge snag near the bridge. He would often invite Billy and his Dad to fish with him on the weekends. The trouble was Grandpa's boat didn't have an outboard motor like his Dad's boat and Billy was expected to man the oars to row them to Grandpa's favourite spot alongside the snag.

Noisy motors scare the fish away, his grandfather told Billy. He loved his grandfather, but fishing with him was not very exciting. Grandpa liked to fish in the same spot all day long, but Billy liked to move from one spot to another, hoping to find where the fish were biting.

"Grandpa, why do you always fish here? The fish could be biting over there or downstream a bit."

"This is where old Eustace hangs out, and I know I will catch him one day. You have to be patient, Billy if you want to hook the big ones."

"You're always going on about this Eustace. How do you know he is down there and how do you know he is a big one?' Billy grumbled.

Well, Billy, I've hooked him a few times and brought him up near the surface where I could see him, that's how I know how big he is. He is a cunning devil and always manages to get away, try as I might to drag him in the boat."

Billy knew all about fishing stories. The big ones always got away. They all said that. He was happy to pull in a couple of perch, enough for a meal or two to grill over the campfire. He didn't understand how Grandpa could be bothered waiting for Eustace to take the bait.

Lately Grandpa had not been well enough to fish with Billy and his Dad.

"You two go out there and see if you can hook Eustace, but," he said, waving his finger at Billy," you'll have to be patient, young man."

For Grandpa's sake his father insisted that they spend some time fishing from the snag. Each time Grandpa would ask them if they'd had any luck there.

As the weeks went by Billy's grandfather grew weaker and was finally admitted to the local hospital for treatment. Each time he would ask Billy if he'd seen Eustace.

"I had some good bites near the snag," Billy would tell him," but no sign of Eustace."

Some weeks later while fishing at Grandpa's favourite spot, Billy felt a strong pull on his line. With his father's help he pulled the huge Murray cod to the surface.

"Get the gaff Dad. I think we've got Eustace. Grandpa will be pleased.

"No, Billy," his father said. He handed him a fishing knife. "Cut the line and let him go."

"Dad, you can't make me do that, it's not fair."

"He's Grandpa's fish and his lifeline, his dream," his dad said. "We'll tell him that Eustace got away."

Billy was angry. He hated his father and his grandpa. It wasn't fair. He'd caught the fish and wanted to keep him. He didn't want to visit grandpa that night, but his father insisted.

"We nearly had the old fellow today. Billy hooked him but he got away - the cunning old sod," his father told Grandpa. "He'll still be there for you next time, Dad."

Grandpa grinned and shook Billy's hand. "Congratulations, Billy". He could see that Billy was upset and understood why.

"He's my fish, Billy, and he knows it. When I'm gone he will be your fish. You'll hook him again, Billy."

'Next time I'll make sure I'll get him in the boat,' thought Billy. 'What did Grandpa mean when he said I'd hook him again?' he wondered.

It was not until after his grandfather died that he understood.

Eustace was his fish now.

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