KENT ISLAND, Md - The saying appears on bumper stickers and license plate holders in varying iterations, "I'd rather be fishing" or "A bad day fishing beats a good day anywhere else." Most anglers see those phrases while trudging to the work in the morning and grunt under their breath, "Ain't that the truth."
More often than not, though, the thought is fleeting. A whisper on the wind lasting only the few seconds it takes to register the words scrawled across the back of the car or truck in front of us. Rarely do we take it to heart. But maybe we should. Maybe we should really think about those other places and what constitutes those other good days and what's replaced by a day on the water.
Early morning sun light glistening and dancing along the calm surface of the Bay replaces the harsh and sterile glare of fluorescent lights at a doctor's office.
The intermittent beep of a fish finder alerting to a big one below replaces the constant beeping of medical monitors and equipment.
A rod bent under the weight of a fighting fish replaces the winding IV tube connecting patient to chemotherapy machine.
For Matthew Lynch and his family, you better believe a bad day of fishing on the Bay beats the hell out of a good day anywhere else.
In December, Matt and his family got news so difficult to hear, no words can describe it. Doctors diagnosed the then 12-year-old with B-Cell Leukemia. At the time, the family was stationed in Germany. Matt's dad is active duty in the U.S. Army.
Within a week, the Army transferred the family to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. The move happened so quickly Matt's dad needed to return to Germany for about a month to pack up everything the family owned and ship it back to the States all while Matt began treatment for his leukemia.
So when Matt, mom Kaydee and younger sister Madison climbed aboard a boat at the Chesapeake Bay Beach Marina as part of the second Casey Cares charity Rockfish Tournament, it was a welcomed break from the whirlwind of the last few months.
The trip began under high, bluebird skies with the sun glinting off the surface of the flat, glass-like water. As we idled out of the marina it became clear Matt was quiet and reserved, speaking few words and those only softly to his mom. Madison was a near polar opposite of her big brother. The precocious 8-year-old with the strawberry blonde hair sang and danced unabashedly to the pop music playing on the radio.
After a short run south of the Bay Bridge, our guide for the day, Ray Patterson, put the boat in idle and set about putting the lines in the water.
As we began trolling, Kaydee and I talked about the family’s prior fishing excursions. Much of what they did before being stationed in Germany was on lakes and rivers in Texas, they’re previous post. They would catch bass, trout and catfish. Kaydee’s husband even talked about getting a boat back then. After the move to Germany, they didn’t fish much.
“Fishing in Germany is so expensive,” Kaydee told me. “It’s hours of classroom training and then 160 euros for a license. And then you have to pay for access to the water!”
As the trip wore on, Matt began opening up and showed just how intuitive he is. In between the quiet lulls broken up by the fish finder beeping and Madison yelling, “Big fish! Big fish!” Matt hit us with gems about his favorite food, “Pizza is great. It’s a circle cut into a triangle put into a square.”
He got me with one on the news, “Mom, isn’t the news the only time they say ‘Good evening.’ and then tell you about all the bad stuff that happened?”
Later, when the fishing slowed to a crawl, he suggested sprinkling some of his anti-nausea meds in the water to knock the fish out so we could catch them.
On the surface you wouldn’t know Matt lives with leukemia. He’s a typical 13-year-old, into superheroes, reading outdoor survival guides, and of course the ubiquitous fidget spinner.
But when you look just under the surface, listen just a bit more closely, it’s there. The curving scar on the right side of his neck from surgery, the thinning blond hair beneath his Batman baseball cap and the concern in his mom’s voice while urging him to put more sunscreen on his fair skin.
His reply back every bit the average 13-year-old, except more. “Mom, don’t worry. I haven’t had chemo in a couple days.”
Madison, too, has had her fair share of difficulty with the sudden change in her life.
Early in the afternoon she motioned for me come over and sit beside her. After asking me a few rapid fire questions, including how many people I interviewed she began telling me about her new school.
“I don’t like it as much as my school in Germany. I never want to forget that school. We left there in the middle of the night.
“The people at my new school aren’t as nice. The military kids we all get along. The kids at my new school bully me. They call me fat and ugly.”
I fumbled for words to make her feel, well anything other than the pain of those words, eventually coming up with, “Are those kids blind? Do they even look at you?”
“It’s okay. I start at my fourth school in the fall and it has a big, big, big, big, big playground.” And before you know it she talking about her joy of writing poems and stories, of soccer and running. And yes, she was dancing and singing to pop music again.
With time running short and having only boated five non-keeper fish, Ray told Kaydee and the kids he wished he could get one big one to bite. She laughed and waived him off.
“You know what? I’m still having fun! They’re still having fun!”
Little did she know the best moment was yet to come. The later the day grew, the more chop hit the bay. As we rode back to the marina, Kaydee and Matt sat in the back of the boat. Less than a minute into the trip it became obvious that wasn’t the best choice if you wanted to stay dry.
Then the magic happened. With Matt holding her arm and laying his head on her shoulder, Kaydee began laughing as if the spray from the boats wake had washed away all her troubles. It became infectious with Madison giggling and enjoying the waves for the first time all day, trying and hoping to find a spot where she could get as soaked as her mom.
We ended up not weighing in a fish that afternoon and it didn’t matter in the least. A bad day fishing beats a good day anywhere else.