As Ethan Yates admired the reflection of the rising sun on the still waters of Lake Bennett, he was determined to make his Saturday at work a good one. Normally, he wouldn’t spend a weekend on the water unless he was doing some fishing of his own, but today was reserved for a loyal customer who had hired Yates Fishing Tours to give his son an extra special tenth birthday.
How could he say no to that?
“Are you planning on helping me tie this off or what?”
He heard his best friend and employee, Jeremy Driggs, chuckling behind him, and he felt the heat rise to the back of his neck when he noticed he was still holding the bow line. “I’m sorry, man. I must’ve zoned out there for a second.” He hopped off his charter boat and pulled on the rope so he could anchor it to one of the tall pilings on the pier. He did the same with the stern line, and once the boat was safely tethered to the pier, he jumped back inside and began sorting through supplies for the fishing trip.
“Yeah, I noticed the way that cute barista was giving you the eye this morning at the coffee shop,” Jeremy commented. “You’d probably catch me daydreaming about her too. What’s her name again? Kelly? Or is it Shelly?”
Ethan shook his head and laughed as he checked the line on one of his fishing rods. “It’s Kelsie, and you’re imagining things. She was probably flirting with the man standing behind me in line. You know…her husband?”
Jeremy grinned. “Oops…my bad. I didn’t know she was hitched.”
Good ole Jeremy. Not a day went by when he wasn’t trying to fix Ethan up with someone. Yesterday it had been the (much) older widow they had escorted on a fishing trip with her two grandsons, and today it was a married barista. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you’re trying to set me up so I’ll be too busy to ask you to work another weekend.”
Jeremy gave him a feigned look of surprise. “What in the world gave you that idea?”
Ethan put the fishing rod down and made a sweeping gesture toward the open water. “But why would you want to miss out on something like this? Not a cloud in the sky and hardly a breeze. I bet we’ll catch a bunch of black bass today – maybe even some bream, if we’re lucky.”
Jeremy double-checked the boat’s fuel tank to make sure they had enough gasoline.
“Hmm…catching fish or snuggling up to a beautiful woman? How could I possibly choose?”
Ethan threw a plastic lure at him, but he ducked out of the way at the last second, and it landed with a thud against the side of the boat, where it stuck. His failed attempt made Jeremy laugh out loud.
“Look, Ethan, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy spending Saturdays on the water for our customers, and I admire how you’ve built this business from the ground up. Not everyone would uproot their life and move hundreds of miles from their hometown to a place they hardly know and start a new business. But do I have to remind you what they say about all work and no play?”
Ethan caught a movement over Jeremy’s left shoulder. He leaned to his right and looked toward the parking lot, where he saw his customer, Tommy Yelverton, and his son, Anthony, getting out of their vehicle. “Speaking of work.”
Jeremy turned to see what he was talking about, and Ethan grabbed the fishing lure, pried it loose from the boat, and shoved it inside his pants pocket.
“Hey, Mr. Yates!” Anthony called.
He smiled and waved at Anthony before the young boy took off in a sprint and raced along the pier toward their boat.
“Mr. Yates?” Jeremy snickered. “Just how old are you, anyway?”
Ethan chose to ignore the snide remark. It made him happy to see the excitement on Anthony’s face, and it reminded him so much of when he used to go fishing with his own dad when he was the same age. As Anthony neared the boat, Ethan held up a hand to stop him from jumping on board. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Don’t forget the captain’s rules. What comes first?”
Anthony gave him an eye roll. “I know…I know. Life jacket first.”
Ethan opened a utility hatch and pulled out two life jackets. “Yes! Well done.” He helped him put on the smaller one, and when his dad reached his side, he held out a hand to greet him. “Good morning, Mr. Yelverton. Ready to catch some bass?”
They shook hands, and he gave Tommy the other life jacket so he could put it on before boarding.
“More than you know. We’ve been looking forward to this all month. Thank you for letting us do it on a Saturday, since I couldn’t take time off work during the week. I really appreciate it.”
Ethan stepped aside so they could climb aboard. “It’s no problem at all. Give us a few more minutes to finish our maintenance check, and we’ll be on our way.”
He and Anthony sat near the stern while Ethan and Jeremy went back to work. As he pulled two more fishing rods from an overhead compartment, Ethan caught the father and son talking and laughing out of the corner of his eye, which made him smile. This was the part of the job he enjoyed the most – seeing his customers having a good time and making memories. He had taken numerous people on a wide assortment of fishing expeditions, from extremely loud bachelor parties where there was more partying than fishing, to retirement parties full of elderly people who were so quiet and intent on catching a fish you could almost hear a pin drop. Those were the trips that seemed to take forever. Well, actually, the bachelor parties seemed to last an eternity too.
As soon as he and Jeremy were through, they untied the boat from the pilings on the pier and headed north on Lake Bennett. “Hey, Anthony! Would you like to steer?”
He didn’t have to ask twice as the young boy ran to his side and clutched the steering wheel. It made Jeremy nervous, but he usually let the kids do the easy steering as long as the water wasn’t too choppy, and he never left their side. There was hardly a breeze, so the water was smooth as glass, and it didn’t take long at all before they reached one of his favorite fishing spots.
Ethan killed the engine and led Anthony and Tommy to the fishing equipment. He had a multitude of different sized rods and his most prized possession – an enormous tackle box with six rows of drawers for storage. “I bought some new rods since your last trip with us, and if you don’t like these, we have some more in the cabin. We have all kinds of new lures too, from my custom-made baits to jigs and spinners. There’s some plastic worms in here too – somewhere.”
Anyone would have thought Ethan hung the moon the way Anthony’s gaze widened in amazement as he sorted through the massive collection of fishing lures and bait. “This is so cool!” he exclaimed, as he held up one of Ethan’s custom-made spinners that was brightly colored and shimmered when the sun hit it just right.
Most of his customers knew how to fish, so he didn’t have to help very often, but Anthony was still a little wet behind the ears and needed some assistance. When his dad changed out his lure and helped him cast the line, Ethan and Jeremy stood back and watched. “I don’t know if I’ve said it before or not, but thank you for talking me into doing this.”
Jeremy cocked a brow and gave him a curious look. “Into what?”
Ethan kept his voice low, so he wouldn’t disturb their guests. “Starting this business. If it hadn’t been for you pushing me, I wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
Jeremy shrugged. “I don’t know about that. I’ve never seen you back down from a challenge. I’m just glad you decided to go through with it.”
Ethan looked out over the water and into the distance, where he could see the tip top of some buildings in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas. It wasn’t the rolling foothills of North Dakota, where he was born and raised, but it certainly wasn’t Afghanistan either. He had seen enough sand during his stint in the Marines to last a lifetime, and he’d take Arkansas over the desert and triple-digit heat any day of the week.
“I got one! I got one!” Anthony yelled.
Ethan and Jeremy immediately sprang into action. While Tommy helped his son reel in the fish, they grabbed a couple of nets from the utility hatch and leaned over the boat so they could help haul it in once it was close enough.
“You’re doing good,” Tommy said. “Now, pull up on the line a little bit more and get it tight. There you go.”
He stood behind Anthony and offered his encouragement, but he didn’t attempt to do it himself, even when Anthony almost dropped the fishing rod. He knew it had to be tough to stand back and watch, but he also knew how important it was for Anthony to do it himself so he could learn. The expression on his face was priceless, and as Ethan watched him reel the fish in, he felt an immense sense of pride. The youngster had been on several fishing trips with his company, but to date he hadn’t caught anything bigger than a bream, and from the looks of it, this fish was going to top that one by a long shot. When it swam close to the top of the water, it left a huge ripple of waves, and Ethan guessed it was probably a good-sized black bass. It put up quite a fight, but Anthony hung in there like a pro.
“You’ve almost got him,” Tommy said. “Just a little bit more.”
Ethan stretched out as far as he could when the fish swam around to his side, and as soon as Anthony reeled it in close enough, he dipped the net in the water and swooped it up. There was a collective gasp amongst the four of them when he hauled it from the water because it was a black bass, and it was quite large – at least seven to eight pounds. Anthony was ecstatic.
“Awesome!” Tommy exclaimed. “Way to go, son!”
He picked him up and gave him a big hug, which tugged at Ethan’s heart and reminded him once again of the way his late father used to react when they went fishing together. He clutched the fish’s lower jaw and pulled it free from the net so he could remove the hook from its mouth.
“Do I get to keep him?” Anthony asked.
Jeremy and Tommy took out their cell phones and snapped some pictures.
“That’s fine with me, but it’s up to you and your dad,” Ethan replied.
Tommy shrugged. “You caught it, son, so you decide.”
Ethan handed the fish to Anthony so they could take pictures of him holding it. He seemed hesitant at first as he grabbed on to its jaw, but his hesitation didn’t last long, and soon he was striking poses and smiling big for the camera.
“I want to let it go because I’d like to try and catch it again someday. That would be fun.”
Ethan grinned as he took the bass from Anthony and gently lowered it back into the water. He swirled it around a couple of times to let it acclimate before it darted off into the depths. “Do you want me to post one of these pictures on my business website so everyone can see what you caught?”
He looked anxiously at his dad, who nodded and approved, and Ethan promised Anthony he would upload it to the site as soon as he returned to the office. They spent a couple more hours fishing, and he and Anthony caught several more fish, but nothing as big as Anthony’s black bass. He considered it another successful expedition, and as he listened to Anthony talk excitedly about it on their way back to shore, he couldn’t think of anything else he would rather be doing.
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