Thursday, June 7, 2012

Whiskey Lake (short story/fiction)

I used to write many short, fictional stories back in the day — that's how I started writing. Most were horror, some were gore and some were like this; a fond memory from a place back in time where you find yourself escaping to when you have a free moment. I wrote this this week. Enjoy.

“Fishing!” I said excitedly, not hiding my lisp.

My dad chuckled at my lisp and the way my tongue always seems to peek out of my teeth when I say “sss” and “sh” words.

“Let’s go fishing than,” he said to both of us, his daughters.

Whiskey Lake is a gem on top of the Chuska Mountains. It’s a green paradise protruding from the dead, desert reservation below. If you look north of the Chuska Mountains you can see the ugly Shiprock, which has become an iconic image of the Navajo reservation like Monument Valley is — I don’t know why.

We packed the ice chest and knew by heart what we needed to survive; hot dogs, bread, a fire poker, a spatula and a few gallons of water. Our tent and folding chairs were always at the ready in the outside storage. Our fishing poles and tackle boxes were never dusty either.

My pole was green with gold filigree. Lisha’s was blue and a little shorter than mine. My dad’s was the tallest black one and my mom’s was red and the shortest. We each had our own tackle boxes too filled with handpicked flies, baits, hooks, weights and extra line.

We packed a pair of clothes and loaded up on blankets and sleeping bags. We took a short stack of paper plates and a few trash bags. We could get ready and leave in less than an hour. It was spontaneous and it would always start with my dad asking everyone, “What should we do tomorrow?”

The first leg of our weekly adventure was to Gallup. Walmart was usually full with weekend shoppers and us. We picked up some hamburgers, charcoal and new bait.

In the outdoor isle, me and Lisha would be the only girls excited to see all the flies.

“Just pick one,” my dad said.

I scanned through small packages for something realistic; in size and color. What kind of insects have I seen near the lake? I’ve never seen ones with long tails. I’ve never seen purple ones. I’ve never seen bass in the lake or something that could swallow this giant keychain thing.

Rooster feathers fashioned into fake bugs. A brown one with a big fuzz in front and small, black wings on the side. Two tiny red spikes poke out where antennae would be. The hook was black and medium sized and big enough for a nice trout. 

Lisha always picks similar ones. We have the same mind. Dad always got the expensive ones. Mom usually stood by, smiled and bought everything.

With an ice chest now full of burgers, diet soda and ice, we were on our way to paradise 20 miles north of Gallup on a paved road and about 15 miles up the mountain on a dirt trail hardly fit for a vehicle.

Most of the time, when the dirt road came up, me and Lisha sat in the back bed of my dad’s blue Ford truck. This vehicle always took a beating. At some parts my heart would race and my dad would yell out the window at us to stay away from the edge. I could see him turning the wheel quick to get around a ditch or avoid hitting the bottom of the truck on a bump. He is a good driver that can make his truck do anything.

This road, I think, is the reason why a lot of people were never at Whiskey Lake when we were up there.

It’s a placid body of water that wraps around several oddly shaped banks. An island in the middle is host to a few trees. There are no bathrooms or silly park picnic areas. For a long time, there were no park rangers either, until about a year ago, when they had to regulate permits and laws and crap like that. For the longest time I never knew you needed permission to fish.

The lake sides were clean and green. The east side of the lake had the mountain’s shoulder and went up about 100 more feet. It was quiet, except for the sound of the trees and the air.

“Set up first,” mom said sternly before we all took off and started baiting our lines.
With all of us working together, we could set up the tent in about five minutes and lay down all our blankets and sleeping bags. Dad would start the grill and mom would prep the food and make everything ready for lunch.

I rummaged through the Walmart bag with the new flies and found mine. I clipped the old fly off and put it back in my tackle box. Lisha followed suit. In a special knot I learned from dad, I restrung the fly, wrapped the string around 13 times, did a little magic and tightened the whole thing.

“Dad,” I said and held out my fly for inspection.

With his big hands dirtied with black charcoal, he pulled on the fly and scrutinized the knot.

“It’s OK.”

He inspected Lisha’s and her knot was OK too. Working on his stomach and chest, he finished tying his fly. We were ready.

Finger on the line, let the stop go, make sure the hook is not caught on anything and swing everything toward the middle of the lake making sure you let go of the line before it flies. 

Plunk. Plunk. Plunk.

When fly fishing, the fly trails 3 or 4 feet behind the bubble weight, which keeps it all afloat. I reel it in slowly, but sometime I prefer the jerky movement; reel-reel-reel pause. Reel-reel-reel pause. Because some insects move like that.

In less than 10 minutes Lisha snags one. As soon as the fish nibbles and she’s sure she has one, she jerks her pole back to get the hook in for sure. We reel our lines in real fast, so the fish doesn’t cross lines and get everything tangled. My dad goes into his tackle box and gets his pliers and line retriever.

It’s a small trout. We don’t hoist the fish in the air like some people might do, we leave it on the ground and pick it up from there. I, personally, never like to hold the fish in the air on the line because I know that this ordeal is probably quite painful for it and it doesn’t need to be in the air hanging on a hook too. My dad picks it up and takes the hook out of its lip with the pliers. He doesn’t toss it back in the water either, he places it in there.

The smell of charcoal is making me hungry and Lisha’s first catch makes me want to be the next.

We throw our lines back in and reel them in slowly. Two times, three times, four times.
I can feel a small jerk from my pole. I slow down and go into that jerking motion like the fly is now injured. I see it under the water; he’s swimming by and picking at the fly. I can see its pretty tail, its green eyes and the spots on the top of its body.

“I got one!”

I start reeling it in fast and my pole bends a little. As it gets closer to the shore, the pole bends a lot.

“It’s a small one again,” I said, but I’m still happy with this catch.

It’s still one point for me, one for Lisha and zero for dad.

It flops on the ground a lot and I want to tell it to “stop, hold on a second, you’re hurting yourself.” But they never listen. My dad gets a hold of it, brings it up and drops it. He picks it up again and we can see blood. My dad grabs it firmly and assesses the damage.

Since its a little fish, the hook went through its mouth and into its eye. Me and Lisha do a reverse hiss.

My dad’s pliers get bloody when he wriggles the hook. Hooks are designed to keep the fish on there. While the hook is bending one way, tiny spikes poke out the opposite way. My dad struggles with the hook. It’s in the fish’s eye and he can’t pull it out easily. It’s stuck on the bone or something and it’s bleeding. Its eye turns inward and its mouth is still moving, gasping for water. For about a minute, dad struggles to get the hook out.

“Darn it,” he said when the pliers slipped or he couldn’t get a hold.

It’s out. Dad hurried to get it back in the water. He put his feet in the water and holds the fish there. It’s not moving much. While still holding the fish he glided it through the water, head first, to get the water going through its mouth and gills. He has to let it go.

It floats crookedly and bobs there for a while. Me and Lisha watch it while my dad washes his hands and pliers. A few shiny scales sparkle in the water where he rinses everything off.

It smells like fish. Poor little guy. It was only about 6 or 8 inches. I wonder if it can still see. I wonder if it felt anything. It looks traumatized.

It starts moving its mouth more and waving its fins. I dip my fly into the water to get the hook and feathers clean of the dirt and blood. 

It wriggles around more and slowly starts to swim strait. Me and Lisha watch it swim away and disappear.

“It’s gone, it swam away.”

What a relief.

I walk up the shore to my mom who is finishing up her food prep. There are sliced lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cheese stacked neatly on a plate and covered with plastic wrap. The hot dog package is open and the hamburgers are sprinkled with salt and pepper. Her hands work fast and diligent with the plastic wrap and the knife.

The coals in the grill are still black.

“I should put mine in, huh?” she asked me.

“Yeah. Me and Lisha already caught one.”

She tips a jug of water over her hands and rinses them quickly then wipes them dry on her white apron. She takes a look at the lake, scanning for a good spot.

She unhooks the fly from her line and attaches a bait line. In her tackle box she rummages around a few different bottles for a blue pasty bait with silver glitter and bright red fish eggs. She dips her finger in the blue paste and retrieves a small glob then enfolds it around the hook then smoothes it out to an oblong ball. From the other jar, she grabs one, two and three bright red fish eggs and pierces them on another hook.  At the bottom she removes one weight. At the top, she fills the bubble weight with a small amount of water, just enough so the weights will sit on the bottom and the bubble with bring the hooks up to full view. If the bubble is empty, the bait will move around too much and it might drag and get tangled.

With her pole ready and loaded she walks to the left edge of our fly fishing zone. Almost awkwardly, she swings the bait behind her shoulder, make sure it’s not stuck anywhere, positions her fingers, raises herself on her tip-toes and swings at the middle of the lake.


“Hahahaha,” we chuckle.

Her line went about 50 feet in the air and about 20 to 25 feet out. She laughed along with us and left it where it was. In her pocket she took out a bell and twisted it onto the end of her pole.

“Tim, I need something to hold the pole,” she said to dad.

He was pulling weeds off his fly, stopped and looked around for a stick. A few feet up the shore was the perfect one. He picked it up brought it over to my mom’s pole and stuck it in the ground. He put the pole inside the y-shape at the top.

“There,” he said.

Mom went back and set up her folding chair above us to watch. Dad cast out again. Me and Lisha tried again and again.

A few minutes of this; peaceful and extremely fun. We didn’t really have to talk to each other. Fishing together was bonding enough. The air was cool and fresh, the trees were quiet, the sky was brilliant blue and the trees were tall. It wasn’t so forested like other mountain areas, which can feel small and almost claustrophobic. There was so much space. This was our paradise.

“I think the grill’s ready,” mom said.

“Woo-hoo!” dad says.

“Dad got one!”

He starts reeling in fast and his pole bends, almost double.

“It’s a big one!”

For a big one, or one that puts up a fight you reel-reel-reel, let some slack and point your pole at the water, then swing it back the opposite way again and reel-reel-reel. My dad did this as we reeled in ours faster.

It fought all the way to the shore and jumped in and out in the last few feet. It was about 14 inches long and chubby. Its rainbow was very defined; pink, blue and green.
“Oh, wow,” I said.

“We’ll keep this one,” he said. 

Lisha goes inside his tackle box and untangles a long rope with a ring on one end and a 4-inch sharp metal length on the other.

With the pliers he takes the hook out and Lisha hands him the rope. He puts the metal end through the fish’s mouth and gills. He pulls the length of the rope through the fish’s gills and then through the ring at the end. He sticks the metal in the ground and lets the fish stay near the shore. It’s not dead and it still tries to get away.

“We need to start putting the hamburgers on,” my mom said to us.

Me and Lisha are looking at the fish. It’s still very much alive and breathing OK despite the rope in its gills. It’s a monster. I look at my dad and he’s looking at it too. He looks back at me and raises his eyebrows and smiles a silly smile. I smile back.

“We should just let it go,” I said.

“Yeah, dad, we have hamburgers,” Lisha said.

He looks at the fish again, still smiling.


He bends down, takes the metal out of the ground, lifts the fish up and takes the rope off. As with the other fish, he tries to lay it gently in the water, but it splashes in and takes off quick.

“Dang,” he said.

“I’m putting the hamburgers ooo-on,” my mom announces again.


“Ohhh,” she said in a playfully annoyed tone.

Her pole is wriggling and jerking at the shoreline. Her eyes light up and she smiles as she trots down to her pole. She reels in a medium size trout.

“I knew it,” she said. “It’s the blue bait!”

My dad unhooks it and lets it go.


  1. LOVE IT! I can read this over and over again and imagine every feeling, every thought and every memory that we had as a family going fishing! This is how good your writing is!
    We need to go back to paradise, we need to go back to Whiskey Lake for a weekend!!

  2. That sounds like something we should plan on :) I have always loved Whiskey Lake. Any other lake is just not the same. There are always people all over, noise, rangers and trash.

  3. What a great time we had up there at Whiskey Lake. Spending time together will always be remembered. Thank you Andi for writing that story. There are alot more you could probably write like the time we camped at Whiskey Lake and it rained so hard and our tent kept us nice and dry. We survived!

  4. We had our family (Roanhorse) reunion at Whiskey Lake. Grandma would herd her sheep up the mountain for the summer. This lake is a very special place to me and all the Roanhorse family Her 12 kids spent many a day and night at Whiskey Lake.