SHADY COVE — As the Class of 2019 prepares to graduate, I’m reminded of one of my favorite high school memories: cross-country camp.
Though I switched to football when we got a team my senior year, cross-country camp was one of the highlights of high school, and it lives on in my mind.
Every day, we woke up and went on a run.
We’d come back, grab breakfast, do some sort of running game, take a break, and run again.
Lunch would come around, we’d have a short reprieve for the afternoon, then we’d go on an evening run, eat dinner, and play a running game at night.
At the time, I didn’t know how allergic I was to dairy and eggs, so the combination of muggy heat, running miles and miles every day, and fueling myself with a diet containing a lot of both did horrible things to my stomach, about which I won’t go into in detail.
Anyhow, our coach did a fantastic job of melding these incredibly fun games with running.
Whether the game was a timed obstacle course (this was my best game), Extreme Spoons (not my best game), scavenger hunts, or the Mileage Guess (where we’d run along a road and try to stop at exactly 1 mile), we got in shape while having a blast.
There was one game, however, that I lived for.
It was, as best as I can describe, what cross-country should be. We would be dropped off in a team of two or three at one location, given a map, then tasked with returning as fast as we could.
Just one caveat: We had to fill a gallon bag with ripe blackberries for the evening’s cobbler.
I lived for this. Outside of fishing, I’m honestly not very competitive. For whatever reason, this mattered to me, though. I had to win.
This time, I read the map and convinced my group to take a shortcut through the woods. It shaved off half of a mile and took us right along the lake shore.
I needed to pee, so I detoured from the group briefly as I drained the lizard. As I contemplated life, I noticed a handful of small fish bathing in the summer sun, maybe 5 feet from my excess hydration.
My drive to win was put on momentary hold, as those fish held my attention.
“You done yet?” came the cry that snapped me out of my daze. I closed up shop and returned to the group, but my heart wasn’t wholly in the competition anymore.
We won the race, but I was ambivalent. Sure, victory tasted almost as sweet as the cobbler I’d eat later that night, but those fish that clearly weren’t bass were on my mind.
Sleeping on the hard ground with dozens of teenagers giggling and freestyle rapping badly (yes, we did) all around you is difficult enough without the added distraction of a potential new fish species.
I wasn’t a species hunter then, but I was still intrigued by a new sunfish. At the time, I’d caught just 13 species of fish in my 16 years, and I craved new experiences.
I dozed off at some point after the neighboring campsite stopped banging the loud doors of their cooler an impossible number of times. I awoke, powered through the morning run and breakfast, then ran back to the water.
This was years before I was a good fisherman, but I still had the passion. God’s mercy alone got a single feisty fish to hit my brown Rooster Tail spinner (gross, right?) and sent my heart racing.
It fought much better than the tiny bass I expected, and I knew I’d hooked one of the mystery fish I’d seen the day before.
I didn’t exactly know what it was, but that’s OK because my heart stopped racing and calmed the at the sight of something new.
I snapped some pictures with my disposable camera (kids, be glad you have cell phones) and hoped at least one would turn out.
We returned to school, and after a week’s worth of reading and searching the still dial-up-enabled internet of the day, I learned it was a green sunfish. To-date, it’s still one of my favorite fish, despite how relatively common they are in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and California.
I don’t fish for greenies as much anymore, but they still make a hot summer day a little more enjoyable, and they can make yours, too.
Green sunfish are darn-near everywhere, so head to a local lake and fish the weed margins with a jig or small piece of worm and see why these feisty little fish stayed on my high school highlight reel.