Have You Walked Your Fish Today?

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Every day, millions of people go through a familiar ritual – they take their dog out for a walk. This is good for both person and dog: both get exercise, a chance to blow off steam, and for the dog a chance to “do his business”. The problem is those business cards.

Master and pooch somehow find this potty break hike to be a bonding time. Perhaps it’s the commitment associated with dealing with the “business.”

There’s a special place in hell for dog walkers who think it’s fine to leave their dog’s advertising on their neighbor’s lawns.  In this section of hell, those dog walkers are compelled to spend an eternity cleaning up the “business” sans baggies; that residue being a gooey mess that attracts hell hounds and puts them in a nasty, aggressive mood.

But that’s not what this story is about. After all, walking your critters is supposed to be a warm and fuzzy bonding experience.

But walking a fish? How can that be?

I admit to having a saltwater aquarium, complete with fish I’ve know for many years now. I have two, a maroon clown and a powder brown tang.

You wouldn’t think it, but fish have personalities. The clown is a grouch, reminiscent of an old geezer sitting on his porch, shotgun in hand, yelling “get off my lawn!”  Territorial bugger.  The tang is a much more upbeat creature, curious, and quite demonstrative. When you go up to the tank, he’ll often show puppy like excitement that you’re there, swimming quick laps, figure eights, and sometimes even changing his color saturation or tapping away at the tank wall with his mouth, conversation like. Sometimes he’ll even follow your fingers along the tank wall, which could almost be interpreted as taking your fish for a walk.

But not really.  And that’s not what this story is about either.

This story’s about a dive I did some 20 years ago. We were up in Neah Bay, on the northwest tip of Washington state, diving a reef formation we call the fingers.  This reef has a series of walls jutting up, separated by valleys about 30-40 feet across.  While swimming along in one of these valleys I noticed some unusual movement up ahead, as if a couple of fish were having a ninja duel.  On closer inspection it turned out there was but one fish, and duel he was having was with a hook and fishing line.

It seems some fishman had hooked this creature, and while trying to land it snagged his line on the reef, and not being able to free it cut his line and moved on.  Unfortunately for the fish, his end of the line was still snagged. He appeared to be doomed, stuck on the hook and line, flopping around, growing tired and taking on that sideways position that suggests a fish that’s on its last fins.

It seemed Poseidon had sent me to this fish’s aid, but I had more nefarious thoughts. Members of our dive club often do spearfishing at this dive site, acquiring sustenance for our evening potluck, or stocking up for a fish dinner or two upon return to their homes.  I had thoughts of bringing this fish back to the boat, mocking my fellow divers for needing spears to capture their dinner,  whilst I simply grabbed fish barehanded and convinced them to follow me to the boat.

So I untangled the snarl, freed the fish, and took line in hand. At first it panicked a little, but soon calmed down, and after pulling it a few gentle passes through the water it resumed its normal upward position and looked like it would survive.

That’s how I found myself “walking a fish”.  It followed the lead very nicely, swimming at heel, acting ever so much like a well behaved dog that’s out with its human. As I meandered on with my dive, this friendly behavior began to suggest an attachment beyond the monofilament line that bound us together.   So when I encountered a couple of my dive buddies and did the pantomime that showed I had a fish in tow, I was not sorry when one of them freed it from the hook.  Off it swam, little the worse for wear, and hopefully with a new respect for fishing hooks that would keep it safe for years to come.

And as for me, I just hope that there’s not a particular hell for those who keep fish constrained in aquariums, even if they do walk them from time to time.

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