Thom B. Hancher, M.D.

A light north breeze ruffled the clear bay water along the lee side of Grass Island as Poppa Jim and the boy slowly stalked the edge of a shell reef. They had arrived just before sun up, so there had been plenty of time to open both thermoses, one for the old man and one for the boy. Poppa's had straight black with some chickory; Josh's was straight chocolate with marshmallows. The hot beverages helped cut the dawn chill of what was looking like a beautiful Christmas Eve morning. The front had passed several days before, leaving behind clear skies, crisp mornings, and tides that were starting to fill up after the post-front lows.

Josh had been looking forward to this morning since school had let out. Poppa had promised this fishing trip if he made his grades, and makes his grades he did! What Josh didn't know were the promises Poppa had to make to Uma so that they could both be released from chores at the house.

This was to be Josh's first wade-fishing trip in the winter. He had waded with Poppa the previous summer, and before that Poppa had pulled him along in an inner-tube contraption that allowed him to fish the same water. Now Josh had on his first pair of breathable waders, which were an early gift from Poppa. What Josh didn't know was that the waders were a lady's petite, the only size that would fit him at his age, but that was Poppa's secret. Underneath the waders, he was layered up with warm fleece pants and wool socks; perfect for this mid-winter day with the predicted high temperature in the 50s. Now if the fish would only cooperate!

"Poppa, do you think we will see any reds?" asked Josh with that are-we-there-yet interrogative all children seem to be born with.

"I believe there is a good chance we will when the sun warms this reef and shoreline, and then maybe we can share in God's bounty," answered Poppa.

"What's bounty mean?"

"It means a whole lot of a good thing, which in our case means a lot of beautiful fish which He is willing to share with us. Of course, He expects us to be good stewards of that bounty."

"Do we steward fish with a Shimano, Poppa?" queried Josh with perfect innocence.

"No Josh, a steward is like a quail hunter who has sense enough to know that you don't harvest every bird in the covey, but leave two or three pair to be seed for the next year?

As Josh thought about stewards and seed birds, he and Poppa slowly waded up the shoreline. The sun's rays were now slipping above their shoulders and penetrating the shallow, chilled water. Baitfish were starting some activity as the tide began to drop out of the back lacks and feed into the small reefs and grass beds along the shoreline. The young one was throwing a Mansfield Mauler with a tequila gold Norton Sand Eel, and Poppa was using a cigar float with a gold spoon.

"Say, Poppa, do you think we could fish tomorrow morning?" said Josh with a sly grin. "We could open presents later."

"Well, you have almost got things in the right order, but not quite."

"Where did I go wrong?"

"You are forgetting that tomorrow I am celebrating."

"What are you celebrating, a new rod and reel?"

"No," replied the gray-haired grandfather. "I am celebrating God's greatest gift to man. God gave us his Son, the most precious gift ever given."

"You mean Jesus, don't you Poppa? When he was born in the stables and put in a manager."

"That's right. And did you know that when he grew up, some of his favorite people were fishermen? So you can see we have something even more important to celebrate than fishing tomorrow."

"That's saying a lot, Poppa." And with that, Josh spotted a slowly waving triangle of bluish tail just above the water's surface. He made a perfect cast, going just beyond the tail. With a great swirl, the red took the plastic and raced away, making the Shimano drag squeal. Josh's eyes were wide as he whooped "Look Poppa, fish on! He's a giant red!"

Poppa Jim watched the boy proudly as he fought the bronze torpedo. Looking at the child's beautiful expression as he played the fish assured him that this boy was definitely a chip of his Grandpa's fishing block. Josh was able to handle several mad-dashes the red made as he came within shadow-fall of the boy, and finally the 22" red fatigued and laid slightly akilter. His hand net slipped under the red, and Josh whooped, "He's mine, look what a great fish Poppa!"

"I agree; that fish is beautiful. Look, it even got two extra spots."

As Josh admired the fish, his brows furrowed slightly and he asked, "Don't we have some red fillets at home?"

"We do indeed. We've got all the reds on a half-shell that we can eat for Christmas dinner tonight, and several extra in the freezer."

You know Poppa; I believe we ought to let this fish go. Maybe I can catch him again later today."

"Son, that would make me proud to see you do that."

With the decision made, Josh carefully removed the Sand Eel from the red's tough lip, and then lowered the net to release the fish. As the bronze beauty slowly swam away, a big grin appeared on Josh's face. "Come on Poppa, let's go catch him again. I bet we can!"

"You go ahead Josh, I'll be right behind" replied the old man who was now smiling to himself. It seems another steward was developing just fine.