He was 11 years old when he went fishing with his father early in the evening on the day before the bass season opened. He tied on a small silver lure and practiced casting. The lure struck the water and caused colored ripples in the sunset.
When his pole doubled over, he knew something huge was on the other end. His father watched with admiration as the boy skillfully worked the fish alongside the dock.
Finally, he very gingerly lifted the exhausted fish from the water. It was the largest one he had ever seen, but it was a bass.
The boy and his father looked at the fish, gills playing back and forth in the moonlight. The father looked at his watch and it was 10pm – 2 hours before the season opened. He looked at the fish, then at the boy.
“You’ll have to put it back, son,” he said.
“Dad!” cried the boy.
“There will be other fish,” said his father.
“Not as big as this one,” cried the boy.
The boy looked around the lake. There were no other fishermen or boats around. He looked again at his father.
Even though no one had seen them, nor could anyone ever know what time he caught the fish, the boy could tell by the clarity of his father’s voice that the decision was not negotiable. He slowly worked the hook out of the lip of the huge bass and lowered it into the water.
The fish swished its body and disappeared. The boy suspected that he would never again see such a great fish.
That was 34 years ago. And he was right. He has never again caught such a magnificent fish as the one he landed that night long ago. But he does see the same fish – again and again – every time he comes up against a question of ethics.
His father taught him, ethics are simple matters of right and wrong. Only the practice of it that is difficult. Do we do right when no one is looking? Do we refuse to cut corners to get things in on time?
We would if we were taught to put the fish back when we were young. We would have learned the truth. The decision to do right would live fresh and fragrant in our memory.