All the Kings of Europe

by jkatejohnston

13 March 2017

Dear Max,

Yesterday was a great day for Enzo, a historical one. He caught two sturgeon, one baby and one keeper, and—to make it more delicious—he was the only one on the boat to catch any sturgeon, so he won the glory and the jackpot—eighty-five dollars. He would want me to include the statistics: 45 inches from nose to tail fork (Fish & Game measures that way) and 52 inches to the end of the tail (we measure that way) so it was almost as long as he is tall, and such a distinguished fish. We killed it, nevertheless, and tonight we’ll start eating it.

It was a warm, clear, nearly windless day. Green hills all around San Pablo Bay. But I don’t want to write about the fishing or the boat. It’s my diary, and I still don’t care about fish, so there. Besides, Enzo has been writing away like sixty in his red notebook that says Fishing Quest on the cover. It’s his subject.

My feeling was not so much victory as relief. When I booked the trip, the captain warned me that this might not be a very good trip for a kid. Sturgeon fishing is slow. You often don’t catch anything. But Enzo has been obsessed with sturgeon for years. Long before he started to read himself, he had us reading to him about all fish, but especially sturgeon, all the different kinds, the giants of the Columbia River, the record-catch for each species. (He’s bothered by the fact that the records coming out of the former Soviet Union probably aren’t reliable.) And now that he reads himself, he’s the same, obsessive, but in a good way. (Most obsessions are good, I think.)

After he caught the baby sturgeon and a diaper striper, the men on the boat were shaking their heads, “Kid’s got the lucky pole.” And then the big one hit. I was inside the cabin when it happened. I heard shouts. The deck hand called to the the captain, “It’s gonna be a keeper,” and the captain got the big net from the front of the boat. Enzo reeled and reeled. The fish made a run, and line whizzed out, then it swam around the boat, and the men held their poles up high and Enzo ducked under their lines, following the fish and reeling and tipping back and reeling some more. The men clustered around shouting advice. One kept touching his pole, and I had to back him off.

And then the fish was by the boat, and the captain got it into the giant net and brought it aboard. It flopped around the deck and then lay still, gills straining. The deck hand measured it, just to be sure, then gave it three or four hard blows on the head with a little wooden club. The fish was still. Everyone was excited. The boat hummed with happy anticipation. Men clapped Enzo on the shoulder and high-fived him. The captain took this picture.


Next Day:

On Monday morning, I told Enzo not to boast too much at school. Then I went to work and boasted to every single person I saw and made them look at pictures on my phone. When I got home, I told Enzo and Teresa about my boasting and asked Enzo how he did in that department. He said, “First, I asked them what they did on the weekend, and after that, it wasn’t really even boasting at all.”

I cooked some of the sturgeon, breaded in crushed Saltines a la Grandma Maxine. It was fantastic, pure and white and clean. Enzo said, “All the Kings of Europe ate this fish.”

I said that it bothered me a little how the deck hand killed the fish. As he clubbed it, he said, “Bad! Bad! Fish!” One word per blow. I said it seemed disrespectful and that our attitude should be more thankful.

Thankful? It’s not like it wanted to die.”

So I folded up my fine feelings and put them in my pocket and passed the tartar sauce.